David Fitch’s first chapter begins with a line that made me smile:
“When going from ten to a thousand members in five years is the sign of a sick church.”
Quite frankly, as a pastor, I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had that centered around attendance. I think we all know what I mean. We hear the story about the new church that grew from ten to several hundred or a thousand in several years and we think, “Wow!” It’s not only automatically assumed that it’s a good thing, but it’s placed before us as a model of success. No one ever says about the rapidly growing church, “How sad. Now the pastor can’t pastor all of his people anymore.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone state something as Fitch has. Perhaps a swelling church is a sick church.
When I go in for a physical, the doctor doesn’t check my weight and say, “Great! You’ve gone from 170 pounds to 210 pounds in 1 year. You’re really healthy!” In fact, he usually says the opposite. Rapid weight gain isn’t usually a sign of health in an adult body. Other tests are performed and measurements taken to assess a body’s health. The same must be true for Christ’s body.
Unfortunately, because of our distorted values of success, the typical questions we usually hear about churches revolve around attendance, doctrine, programs or preaching series. Rarely does anyone ask questions like:
• How’s your church’s prayer life?
• In what ways are the people loving each other?
• What kind of things is God speaking to the congregation?
• How are you bringing about justice in your community?
• How is God’s love being demonstrated in the people’s lives?
• How are the people exhibiting Christ’s life, character and power in their daily lives?
• How is the sense of authentic community among the people?
• Are conflicts being reconciled?
Not that our local faith community is stellar at these things. It just seems that questions like these (and many others) are better indicators of a church’s health.
Perhaps a day is coming when we hear about the church that rapidly swelled in attendance and our first response is to pray for its healing.