Dave Everson

Kingdom, not empire

Photo: rulerEarlier this year, I shared my hunch that Mosaic is moving into a growth phase. But I also cautioned that church size is not a reliable metric of growth[1]. At least not in the way I define growth:

Growth is increased capacity to love God and people by producing fruit, shelter and beauty.

Under that definition, our work is not to grow larger, but to love God (honor and delight him) and to love people (feed, protect, and inspire them). Like a fruit tree, growing larger might help us do those things–but not always.[2]

Last week (Feb. 23), the sermon was about Engaging the Community. I defined “engagement” as the things we do that bring God’s peace into the world around us, wherever we go. I didn’t use the fruit metaphor last week, but engaging the community is like a farmer bringing produce to market. Engaging the community connects the orchard with the people it was intended to serve.

I want to thank all the people who have sent positive feedback about last week’s sermon. It seems to have resonated really well with many of you. But I’ve been nagged all week by a point I wish I had made:

Engaging the community is not the same as increasing the size of Mosaic.

I’ve said before, I think it is totally OK to want a church to grow. But it is not OK to push growth simply for the sake of providing a longer list of programs and services.

In the same way, it is totally OK to invite people to a church if you think they’ll be able to encounter God there in ways they haven’t yet at other places. But it is not OK to recruit people simply for the sake of making a church bigger.

I know all this is similar to what I said earlier. But the reason I make these distinctions is that I think we do damage to ourselves and the people we interact with, if we don’t.

Growth and engagement are so easily perverted into tactics to build attendance or income. But the minute that happens, we shift from Kingdom builders to empire builders.

That turns God and people into subjects of the organization. And that is fundamentally evil.

Engaging the community may mean we get bigger; they do often go hand in hand. But let’s be super careful not to start believing they are the same thing.

[1] Metrics are basically “measurable things.” If you define church growth in terms of increasing size, you would measure growth with metrics like attendance, giving, baptisms, volunteers, staff, etc. All of these are worth tracking, and they can certainly increase at the same time growth occurs. In fact, that is often the case.

Let’s say we agreed to rate Mosaic’s growth by counting attendance, the size of our bank account, and the number of years we’ve managed to stay afloat. Those numbers would be truly useful tools for gauging our ability to accomplish goals and projects. And doing well on those metrics would certainly go a long way toward making us feel secure and successful.

However, Jesus failed on every one of those metrics during his life on earth. Furthermore, we believe it was these precise failures that led to the explosive growth of his movement in the weeks and months after he ascended to Heaven. Certainly that growth came in terms of numbers of people. But it also came in terms of wealth shared and poverty overturned; brotherhood built across cultural lines and racism undermined; health and life restored and sickness and death overturned; lives reoriented toward righteousness and evil impeded.

These are harder growth metrics to measure. Sometimes, in fact, the cost of achieving them is allowing some size-related metrics to drop. But these are the direct evidence of the expansion of God’s influence in the world. And that’s why, to my dying day, I will refuse to believe a church has grown just because it got bigger.

Photo Credits
Ruler: Scott Akerman, CC-BY-2.0