We had about twenty new people at our newcomers event last time we ran it. But in the week afterwards, a couple of church families warned me they might be moving away for job reasons.
Still, twenty new adults in, four adults out, 20-4=16 – sounds like church growth, doesn’t it?
Not so fast, young Jedi.
The new people – well, some aren’t Christians yet, they’re just curious; some are Christians who are ‘considering joining’ us; and a few are keen Christians whom we are now going to work to hook up with a small group, and then we can chat about where they might serve.
In other words, if they are actually joining, they are joining the outermost circles of the church, where they hardly know anyone, and don’t yet play a significant part in the church. Even keen, well-taught and self-sacrificial Christians can only join a church at the edges.
The two families, though, are core, and will leave a hole if they go.
So, the bare sum total tells us little.
Once again, it points out that churches need an intentional process to help people grow as Christians, and play their role in the body. We need a series of clearly marked out pathways and entrance points for people to travel through to Christian maturity and ministry, so that we have growing servants waiting to take the place of the core Christians themselves, and to help those joining to move increasingly close to being core themselves.
We can’t rely on that happening by accident.
But, in the meantime, remember that not all numbers are created equal – in this case, minus four is larger than plus twenty.
As church leaders begin to get ready for their annual congregational meetings, one of the central facts we check before the meeting is the number of members – in, out. And you’ve prayed, worked, hoped for a positive number in that column.
But look underneath the numbers to the reality, and you’ll find that even if your total is static, (gained five, lost five) your church is not in the same position it was. People can only join at the circumference, but they can leave from anywhere, even the core.
We can make this even sharper: if we are being deliberate about evangelism and God blesses our church with new Christians, then that pushes the average spiritual maturity down. Effective obedience to the Great Commission will increase the number of immature Christians, and therefore increase the need for us to build and mature them. Who would have thought that effective ministry produced a more immature church? Hence the need for fruitful evangelism to connect with intentional disciple-making.
Who would have thought that effective ministry produced a more immature church?
And sharper yet: if your church intends to plant, then it must become even more intentional about that deliberate approach to maturity and ministry. You’ll need to increase the number of people who can leave in order to serve, and those who can replace them and serve, because you only ever plant from the core.
So, what have you put in place to move people from the circumference to the centre, so that you can say goodbye without bursting into tears?
I wrote a ton of stuff about being an intentional church in ‘The Message of the Church’ for the Bible Speaks Today series.
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