The Church Growth Gap: Why We Must Change Church Metrics
A few weeks ago, a new study from Exponential by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.
“Growth is not absent from American churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But rapid growth through conversions is uncommon.”
“The primary purpose of this study was to obtain a set of objective measures on churches’ reproduction and multiplication behaviors today as well as to understand their core context of growth,” said Todd Wilson, chief executive officer of Exponential. “By combining these measures, we can help churches think about multiplication.”
In reading the results of the study, it focused on how to grow or multiple your church by examining data from a few key areas: church attendance and new commitments. As believers, the facts are here: the church is declining, in large congregations there are less conversion than in small ones, and the heartbreaking reality that our metrics shine light that we run God’s holy people like a business in America.
Although visitors and conversions are great metrics in our consumer society for all things capitalism, we must began to ask the question:
Is measuring the church in this way biblical?
This question should not come as a surprise, with recent publications such as Letters to the Church by Francis Chan, Come and See by Todd Wagner and the older Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal, an American Church that focuses on the consumer mind set of growing bodies in seats by using every marketing tactic available isn’t working. In fact, we are missing out on the greatest rule book on how to build the church: God’s Word.
In our examination of the Word, marketing tactics, measurement of attendances and a focus on conversion metrics is not found. What we do find, is that when we understand who Christ is, what He has done for us, we are compelled out of supernatural love to give our lives for others. In that love, we see lives transformed, disciples strengthened, and the Gospel lived out.
In the metrics, we find that Church has become tradition rather than a sacred place of heart change where attendance is measured by engaging in a one hour worship experience, rather than a holy abiding by God’s people. We must understand that church is not another social club based on our locations, demographics, socioeconomic status, or friendships.
Church is a people: reading God’s Word, praying to be connected to their Father and every facet of their lives being informed by this truth. Church is every single person in the body being a fully devoted follower of Christ and seeing that sacrificing their life for Christ is the very purpose of taking up the cross of Christ. Fist bumping our friends for one hour a week and then living lives completely devoid of God is so much less than God intended for His church.
The Church should be known by its love and for its people loving in such a supernatural way, that they belong to the community of Christ. It is impossible to live out our biblical calling of church community without the measurement of the church being based on the transformative work of Christ.
Why are the studies not measuring time in the word, time in prayer, addictions being overcome, marriages growing stronger, or communities feeling loved on by their local body? When we stay true to God’s Word, love radically and forget about paying for a building, it will not matter what size building the Church is in. We don’t need to measure small and large, attendance vs conversions, people’s lives will be changed to drop everything they are chasing in life, and instead follow Christ in everything they do.
Why are the studies not measuring time in the word, time in prayer, addictions being overcome, marriages growing stronger, or communities feeling loved on by their local body?
So what do we do? Do we just forget about metrics, recent church growth strategies, or the real life budget issues facing our congregations?
If God wants your local church body to stay open, it will stay open. If He wants it closed, He will close it. If He wants you in a bigger building, He will provide. If He wants you in a smaller building, you will need to humble yourselves and move. What do we do then?
We read our Bibles. We pray. We love. We are changed by Him. That is the power of the Gospel.
We can leave the metrics up to Him.