Why Congregations might not want growth.

It is always assumed that growth is good and that congregations are always in favour of growth. I have come to the conclusion that a congregation may well be cautious about growth and that the reasons they are cautious are powerful reasons.

Firstly the easiest one to get hold of. Growth implies change. It is highly unlikely that if you attract new people to join you that they will be exactly in the same mould as current members. Simply because if they were the chances are they would already be members. Now it is true that the people comining in will change to fit in with the congregation, but to a lesser extent the congregation will have to change to fit with the new members. However many people in the church look for to the church as a place of stability in a world of change. The idea that new people coming into the church will change how the congregation does things, is not attractive.

Secondly new people within the congregation are very likely to reset where the power exactly lies. This may be because they happen to relate more easily to one group of current members than another. This may be because they have specific skills, this maybe because they naturally do things differently and thus question the common place assumptions of the congregation. When power starts to move between people it is an uncomfortable experience.

Thirdly size makes a difference to how you can do things. A congregation that likes to do things together, to involve everyone and does not like to be separated up, is going to find it has it increases size to over one hundred it is harder and harder to do things that way. This is because humans do not sustain endless relationships but normally about 150. You simply have to work much harder to be tight knit sort of congregation if you have 150 members than you do if you have 50 members. I suspect congregations over 250 simply don’t function that way.

Fourthly outreach seems to me to entail a level of being open and vulnerable, that a congregation has to be open to rejection by people outside it, to being told it is not wanted and probably to having things not done how it would like them if it is truly to engage with people who are outside the church.

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One comment

  1. I agree with you, I’ve seen the first point in action when a church near a friend started getting new people. The congregation was close-knit, mostly older adults, and often had been going to the church for a long time. When some younger people started joining, the church had to ‘make room’ for them: they started things like singles’ study groups that you might find in a larger church. It’s not that this was bad so much as the church didn’t really have the room or resources needed for these things, and the congregation before had its own way of doing things. I’m not sure how it turned out but I wanted to say that I knew of ‘real-life’ examples of your point.

    -BD

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