When you’re in the business of church, the easiest way to measure success is numerical growth. Are new people coming to your church? Are you retaining them? Are they bringing their friends along? Are the pews full on a Sunday morning? These are quick and obvious measures of how “successful” your church is. However, the growth we’re supposed to be looking for is spiritual in nature. Ephesians 4 makes it clear that the purpose of church is maturity. What we call success – more people coming to the church – can actually become a problem.
A few years ago, a church strategist gave us some wise advice. If something is going well in your church, don’t advertise it. You’ll attract tourists. Then you’ll have to babysit them. They’ll take up all your time and resources, and you won’t be able to achieve your original goals.
If your goal is butts on pews, watch out – you might just get it. At the beginning, you’ll be busy trying to attract them in – but then you’ll be kept even more busy keeping them happy once they come. They have expectations. You’ll need to maintain the service delivery at the same standard you began with, if not higher. If you pulled a rabbit out of the hat last Sunday, you need to do it again next Sunday. And the Sunday after. The more people who come, the more services you need to provide for them. You’ve become a big babysitter.
Attracting people to your church community is fine – if it’s a secondary thing. Empowering people has to be primary goal. When you put your effort into attracting new people, you have to use all your resources to keep them there. The newcomers who sit back and consume your resources will dilute, rather than concentrate, spiritual growth. Relationships will become shallower and more thinly spread. If you put your effort into empowering God’s people, you’ll be concentrating and building your spiritual resources, deepening relationships, and watching people mature and become spiritual elders.
It’s a bad thing to let people come and just sit back in a pew, week after week. It shuts them down spiritually from all the things that will help them grow – honesty, participation, one-another ministry. It sends a message that growth comes through passive listening, not active participation. It’s kind of like letting your kids sit and watch T.V. all day, and hoping they will develop into mature adults that way.
Success should never be measured in numbers. Success is when God’s people start to find their own voice, find their own gifts, when they bring a word of prophecy, when they speak the truth in love, when they confess to one another, forgive one another, teach one another and build each other up. If you’re building a community of people who need to be served and fed each week, you’re doing something wrong. It’s fine for new babies to sit back and be fed. It’s an embarrassment and a tragedy when adults, who should already be mature, get comfortable and wait for you to feed them.
Are you operating from an attractional model, where you provide a sit-back-and-watch-me-perform service to bring in the tourists? Or is your church willing to invest in an empowerment model, where God’s people are given a voice and a value, where participation is a priority, and spiritual growth happens naturally? Attractional models aim for numerical growth. Empowerment models aim for spiritual growth. Stop focussing on the wrong measures of success, and reshape the way you meet to see God’s people grow from spiritual infancy to maturity.