Humans measure success by numbers. People clamor for more followers, more subscribers, more attention, more money, more buildings. Success is measured numerically.
All pastors feel pressure to get higher numbers: More attenders, more members, more baptisms, more conversions, more money, more buildings, more programs, etc. More, more, more.
Unfortunately (although this is actually fortunate), spiritual success cannot be measured numerically. The Pharisees sought justification in the sight of people. Their success was known because it was seen. Jesus thought they were the least righteous people He ever met.
God judges success completely differently than we do.
Which leads me to my point: why do you want a bigger church? I am the pastor of a small church. Many would be shocked by how small I mean “small“ to be. I have come to notice that there are specific times I want a bigger church.
1. When a visitor comes.
Why is it that whenever a visitor comes, or an out of town family member of a person at church visits, no one else shows up? Why is the lowest attended service the one new people come to? This happens especially when I have an out of town visitor or family member of my own come! People pick that day to skip. How humiliating.
2. When I talk to other pastors.
Pastors, who should all be on the same team, love comparing our successes. As Paul would warn, “they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Pastors, who should feel the most sensitive about pastoral depression, are one of the leading groups of people who make me feel terrible about myself and my church. Pastor conferences, books, blogs, podcasts, eventually all slip into the mentality that the only time God is present or blessing a place is when it is growing.
3. When my family asks questions.
“Got any new people?” begins pretty much every conversation with any out of town family member. “Are you growing?” “You making any more money?” I feel terrible that I don’t have a bigger church that allows me to make more money that allows me to compete with Christmas present giving and the ability to afford going out to eat like they do. “No, I can’t provide for your grandkids how I’d like to. Stupid church keeps us poor.” I only feel this way around family, who again, should be a group of people with some sensitivity on the issue, but alas, it’s too easy to dump on the dumb young generation and their incompetence. Plus it gives them visible reason not to take anything I say about the Bible seriously. It’s all a mess.
4. Anytime anyone talks to me about my church.
If it weren’t for other people and their judgments, I’d feel just fine about my church. If I had no idea what other churches were doing, if no one compared me, judged me, lectured me, or gave me one more unasked for stupid opinion about how I should be doing things since obviously you don’t know, what with no one coming to your church, I’d be just fine.
Which leads me to my larger point:
Why is church growth advice a thing? What lies behind it?
A desire to save souls and edify believers? Or perhaps it’s more to bolster our ego and our reputation so we can outdo other pastors and show our families we’re not as dumb as you think. Do we want bigger churches because we want to serve the Lord and His people, or do we want bigger churches so the talk around the dinner table at Christmas is more comfortable for us? Do we want bigger churches to edify people, or to be able to brag about our successful programs we instituted, and aren’t we geniuses for having done so? When the church is hopping, then I can tell people how busy and stressed I am. Being busy and stressed is the height of cool in our day.
What lies behind it? What drives us? Why do you want a bigger church?
For me I can say I want a bigger church for me. So I look better and feel better about myself. I only get discouraged with my church when others judge it and therefore, they judge me. My pride is hurt. My ego took a shot. Stupid church keeping me down.
So pastors move on to bigger and supposedly better churches, so then, maybe once, people will stop with the judging. We can finally feel good about ourselves, pat ourselves on the back, tell people we’re busy, and maybe buy our wife an actual nice piece of clothing for once. The church is the means to our end. Unfortunately, our end is usually pride.
Ben Franklin allegedly said, “The eyes of other people are the eyes that ruin us. If all but myself were blind, I should want neither fine clothes, fine houses, nor fine furniture.” And I would also not need a fine church.