This is the blog entry where I turn everything I said in the previous entries upside down. We’ve looked at growing churches in the CRC — churches whose attendance and membership grew by more than 20% in a recent five year period. We examined the characteristics of those churches and evaluated their leadership. We’ve thought about the issues that arise when a church is in a season of growth.
But, if we dig a little bit deeper into the statistics this report is based upon, maybe we’ll find that we’re missing an important segment of living, active — and yes, growing — churches in our denomination.
I recently heard a report on a CRC in Texas, a church that was not included in the list of growing churches because its statistics didn’t fall within the requirements of growth in attendance and membership. However, it was obvious that this church was growing, just not in the traditional way we tend to ‘count’ growth.
This CRC has spun off multiple, diverse Missional Communities, smaller worshipping and serving groups of people that embody the characteristics of the church but don’t show up on denominational statistics. The foundational parent church was not that large but, when you count the number of people impacted through the affiliate communities they started, the church becomes up to three times bigger.
How do we think about growth? According to our denominational statistics as listed in the yearbook, we count growth by the number of people or households that become members of our churches. The denomination also keeps track of attendance numbers in churches, but these numbers are not published.
Either way, we count growth in terms of people that come inside our church buildings each week for Sunday worship. Is this the main calling of a church? Is this the church of Acts 2?
What if we began counting differently? What if we counted the people who came for a Wednesday night meal and GEMS or Cadets but never came on Sunday mornings? What if we counted the people who play on our church softball team but have never worshipped with us? What if we counted the small group that meets in one of our member's homes, even though those people have never been in the church building?
Here’s the interesting thing: if you talk to these people, people who come for Cadets or play on our softball team but have never come to worship, they would say that they are part of our church. Crazy, isn’t it, to our traditional picture of church ideas? There are people on our church softball team who say that they are part of our church, even though we’ve never worshipped with them on Sunday mornings. They are still an important part of our community. They are in various stages of discipleship with people from our church community. Do they deserve to be ‘counted?’ Does a church making these connections in the community deserve to have their efforts recognized through denominational statistics? How should we count? Or, what type of growth counts? What do you think?