It seems that in small churches we devote an extraordinary amount of energy to church growth—to the point that a few weeks of attendance being down can cause the next leadership meeting to be almost entirely about that. Although we know it’s fundamentally wrong, the media publicity of large communities makes us feel like they’ve somehow won, and prompts us small communities to try to be like them. Capitalism doesn’t help since it measures success by numbers. In focusing so much of our energy on numbers we small communities (albeit unintentionally) turn away from spiritual growth. Yet, most megachurch pastors I know are trying to move their churches towards spiritual growth. The irony is astounding: The small church is trying to be big, while the big church is trying to disciple like its small. Maybe we in the small churches should pick up on the lesson.
This problem, like so many others, is also rooted in the lack of spiritual offices and the lack of focus on spiritual gifts in our communities.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV).
Growth was meant to look like people getting closer to Jesus, not like numbers. There’s nothing wrong with growth in numbers: Jesus told His disciples to preach the gospel to anyone willing to listen and to make disciples of all nations. There’s something wrong with a focus on numbers coming on Sunday. Our numbers should be about people choosing Jesus. That’s success. And the only way to that success is helping those in our communities grow spirituality.
For this reason, Paul tells those with spiritual offices to speak “the truth in love.” And notice how he phrases the outcome: “grow up in every way into him who is the head [of the body, being all believers], into Christ.” He then says why: “so that it [being the believers, the body] grows so that it builds itself up in love.” It’s again, like in 1 Corinthians where Paul mentions spiritual offices and gifts, about love. The way to growth is by equipping believers, so that they can work together properly, for the purpose of showing the great love Christ has shown us.
How often do we make it about getting someone to a service instead? And how sad is that, when the purpose is getting someone into a relationship—with the God who made them? Spiritual offices are about leading others to hear this call and react to it.
The lesson for the small church: Don’t be like Mike—don’t even be like you—be who Jesus wants you to be. The lesson for the big church: discipleship will continue to be the way forward.
How can you help those in spiritual offices in your community lead people towards growth in their relationships with Jesus? If you’re in a spiritual office, how are you currently doing this work?