Sometimes it feels that churches view themselves less like faith communities who are sharing life together and more like shopping malls in competition with other shopping malls to see which can get a bigger profit. A few years ago I served on staff at a church where I remember another staff member referring to a neighboring congregation as “the competition”. We even had meetings to brainstorm how to out-do the competition!
That mindset disturbed me then but it bothers me even more now that I am the pastor of the congregation I now serve. The church’s goal is not to grow up but to grow out. We need to remember that we are not building a ‘tower of Babel’ on the corner where the church’s buildings are located. Our ‘tower’ is not in competition with another church’s ‘tower’. Leaders of larger churches need to take a hard look at their congregation and ask some tough questions. Are you just trying to keep programs afloat and add more programs? Are your programs just making your congregation busier? How does this affect the family? How does this affect marriages? How does this hinder rather than help foster genuine life-sharing relationships? How does your size frustrate true community from developing? Is ‘reaching people for Christ’ really the goal or has reaching people become a necessity to keeping programs afloat and roles filled?
The purpose of the local church is to magnify God’s glory through life and witness. This is a missionary lifestyle that displays Christ to others by how we live with integrity, put the good news to words, and share life through authentic committed relationships within the congregation. My congregation has seen a peak and decline. We have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask those same questions on the backside of numerical growth. We genuinely want to reach people but not to make ‘reaching people’ a means to build back our ‘tower’.
Our goal now is to grow out. Right now we have about 75 active members in our congregation. Through the preaching and teaching of the Word my desire is to see our people grow spiritually and reach out to their neighbors, family members, and co-workers. As the Lord blesses and uses us to make more disciples we want to stay connected to one another so that our relationships are a witness. That may happen through church planting, starting home groups, or sending members to dying congregations to reinvigorate the mission there. That’s the vision the Lord has given us for the local church. What’s your vision?