Christian Living

A False Assumption About Church Growth

A Lesson in Reacting to the Unexpected

In college I heard an account about a struggling church who hired a minister to help them grow. He was full of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. In no time he connected with the local community.

They responded by showing up for church on Sunday morning and for the community programs throughout the week.

By the time he reached his one-year anniversary as their pastor, the church had added programs, went to two Sunday-morning services, and had more than doubled their attendance.

And the church fired him.

A False Assumption

What neither the church leaders nor the congregation were aware of when they hired their pastor, their goal to grow their church carried an unspoken expectation, a false assumption. They anticipated the new attendees would be people just like them.

When their growth came from people who differed from them, they realized they weren’t getting the results they wanted and blamed their new pastor.

This church was in an urban location. The members, however, drove from their suburban homes to this inner-city church each Sunday.

These white-collar, middle-class people carried the false assumption that their increase in numbers would come from people just like them: white-collar, middle-class.

Yet the church didn’t reside in a white-collar, middle-class neighborhood. It sat in the middle of a diverse community of blue-collar workers along with the underemployed and unemployed.

The church members didn’t feel comfortable with this rapid shift in the demographic of their church. They blamed the minister and got rid of the problem.

The church soon returned to what it once was. Most of the locals stopped attending, the church retreated to one service, and its members ceased their outreach into the community.

Though the church members’ desire for numeric growth is admirable, their failure to embrace the outcome isn’t. Though we can understand their false assumption of what the growth would look like, we can’t excuse their reaction to it.

Love and Embrace Everyone

Their surprised results should have caused them to look inside themselves, to uncover their biases of people and who they wanted to go to church with.

Yes, embracing a different socioeconomic group might have been uncomfortable for a time, but it would’ve been a necessary interpersonal development for each of them on their spiritual journey.

Instead of embracing their commonality in Jesus and the unity he prayed for, they sought solace in the status quo and what made them feel most comfortable.

It’s easy to be critical of this close-minded congregation, yet I wonder if we are all a bit like them, just in diverse ways.

God, reveal to us our blind spots—any false assumption we may carry—and show us how to love all your people, not just those who are just like us.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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