Are All Healthy Churches Growing?

February 19, 2009 by

So earlier this week Tony Morgan got all a twitter about a quick little post from the Out of Ur blog that poked fun at megachurches:

“Is this helpful to the Kingdom? Don’t you just love it when Christianity Today blogs attack churches?”

Christianity Today even tried to distance themselves from the Out of Ur post.

Really? Over-reacting much?

Believe it or not, this all reignites that age old discussion on church growth.

Recapping the Conversation
Tony Morgan went on to clarify his position, explaining that “the ‘Out of UR’ deal is funny. And it’s also perpetrating the lie that God wants his churches to stay small. Satan wants small churches.”

Then Ryan Guard, a high school pastor in California, called him out on it, saying, “That could be a pretty discouraging thing for a pastor of a small church to hear.”

So Morgan clarified again: “Point taken. Typed too fast. Wanted to say ‘stay small.’ All healthy churches should be growing … no matter the size.”

Then I jumped in and asked Morgan if he meant numerical growth or any growth. He said both, as modeled in Acts.

What’s the Point?
So why am I rehashing a Twitter conversation from two days ago? Because I think it’s important.

Morgan got upset when the Out of Ur blog poked fun at megachurches. Morgan didn’t like that the Out of Ur blog perpetuated a myth about megachurches (Technically, Out of Ur insinuated that megachurches are impersonal. Morgan interpreted that as an attack and a stance that churches should be small).

But I think this is bigger than small or large churches. I think it’s really about a much bigger question, the oft-debated can of worms about church growth. Are all healthy churches growing?

And here we might enter into a semantics debate.

What do you mean by healthy?
Amputating a leg doesn’t sound very healthy, but it’s a lot healthier than the leg rotting from gangrene.

What do you mean by growing?
Numerical growth is only one kind of growth, though it’s easily the first thing people think of when you talk about growing churches.

I don’t have any answers here. I have questions, but no answers. Since the Out of Ur blog doesn’t seem to be approving comments to the post in question, let’s talk about it here.

  • Is your church growing?
  • How is it growing?
  • Is your church healthy?
  • What makes it healthy?
  • Does size have anything to do with it?

This shouldn’t be a debate over big vs. small. Morgan wants to defend the cause of large churches. And Shane Claiborne might be a good advocate to defend the cause of small churches.

But to paraphrase Claiborne, what the world really needs is not big churches or small churches but a Church.

You might also want to check out a series on church growth we did in 2006, especially my wrap-up post talking about how it doesn’t help when we assume the worst about one another. (Somewhat ironically, Tony Morgan comes up in that series as well.) And for a biblical take on numbers, here’s a 2007 post.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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15 Responses to “Are All Healthy Churches Growing?”

  • Kathy H
    February 19, 2009

    I don’t think a church has to be growing to be healthy. It’s good that there are churches of all sizes, so they can serve people with different needs.
    That said, remember that a church needs to continue to attract new members to even stay the same size. People die, move away, or (oh no!) leave the church. So a church can be growing and shrinking at the same time and still look the same size.
    What’s important in all of this is whether God’s word is being spoken and people are trying to live according to His commandments.

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  • Aaron
    February 19, 2009

    Perhaps this whole debate should be more about the Church (big “C”) growing rather than churches (little “c”) growing.
    Even with the increase in size and numbers of megachurches, I think it is still true that more and more people are leaving the Church…
    Are we not spending too much time debating about congregational size?
    Perhaps a small congregation is growing in their impact on their community, but choosing to remain small to encourage other small church groups to emerge and maintain the intimacy that is so missing and potentially lost in the megachurch…
    I mean I could go to a magachurch for years and no one could never know… and it is really easy to make that work. However, if I go to a small church group and I don’t show for a week… Well I think you get the idea :)

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  • adam mclane
    February 19, 2009

    Let’s not forget that the cartoon was a joke. And a funny one at that.
    The corporate nature of mega-church is funny! I don’t want to call my phone company and deal with a voicemail prompt… much less my church!

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  • simon d
    February 20, 2009

    Next question: is this gossip? Or is tony cool with you paintin him in a negative light?
    Does this grow churchs or make small ones stay small…or get smaller?
    Just curious how this blog is going to “help” people by throwing someone under the bus to make your “point”
    So thanks for the “locker talk” like were in highschool musical…real refreshing!

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  • Russ Hutto
    February 20, 2009

    A healthy church should be a giving church and a reproducing church.

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  • Jeremy
    February 20, 2009

    I’ll back Russ on the reproductive element. I think a church can be dying and the Church be perfectly healthy if reproduction is going on.
    It’s like cells in a body – when cells only grow and multiply it’s not called health, it’s called cancer.

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  • ryan guard
    February 20, 2009

    I wouldn’t say that I was “calling him out”. I knew Tony had simply spoken too quickly, and that his comment could be misunderstood.
    I like this quote from Dallas Willard. He was talking about scaling back on the marketing efforts in churches.
    “We may not soon have bigger crowds around us- and in fact they may for a while even get smaller- but we will soon have bigger Christians for sure. This is what I call ‘Church growth for those who hate it.’ And bigger crowds are sure to follow, for the simple reason that human beings desperately need what we bring to them, the word and reality of The Kingdom Among Us.”
    This sort of backwards thinking doesn’t seem popular in the church. Why not?

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  • Url Scaramanga
    February 20, 2009

    Thank you for the thoughtful recap and insight. You seem to be among the minority (or perhaps silent majority) that understood the point of my Ur Wisdom post.
    Every church model has its strengths and weaknesses. I was simply pointing out the lost-in-the-crowd reality of many megachurches. That is something we willingly sacrifice for other things like a wide buffet of relevant programs, engaging worship, or top notch speakers that we may not find at a small church.
    More Ur Wisdom will be coming that I’m sure will get under the skin of small church advocates too.
    Ah, the endless joy of blogs.

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  • Matt
    February 20, 2009

    Didn’t you answer the question? Both. What’s unbiblical about that answer? Obviously it’s also biblical to leave room for “pruning” (purging?) in churches. We can’t be legalistic about growth. But it is very fair, and very crucial, to say that overall, over time, churches should be growing. Better than that, they should be growing, then multiplying. No one church should “grow” ad infinitum. But making disciples involves (1) increasing the number of disciples, and (2) increasing the quality/maturity of those disciples. This is straight biblical theology… and utterly logical.
    Will small church pastors be offended by this? Of course! Because it means that someone(s) somewhere aren’t being faithful to the full extent of their calling. Too many pastors have a reductionistic view of the pastorate/priesthood in which they simply repeat, week after week, year after year, a set of skills or practices (e.g., preaching, counseling, burying and marrying, etc.). They’ve ignored the variety of issues inherent in their role as shepherd-leader and prophet. Rather than discouraging them, emphasizing the need for quantitative and qualitative growth (i’m doubtful, actually, as to whether either happens absent the other) should break them until they repent, and inspire them with what could, and should, be.

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  • Matt
    February 20, 2009

    Let me qualify that last parenthetical comment. Numerical growth can and does happen without spiritual growth… very frequently perhaps. But spiritual/qualitative growth is not happening if numerical/quantitative growth is not occurring. The latter flows from the former (and not vice versa). Thanks for allowing me to clarify. :)

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  • Jesse Phillips
    February 20, 2009

    Url, I think that was a little harsh.
    Tony, I think that was a little harsh response.
    Kevin, I think this blog is a little harsh on Tony. (the tone comes off a little harsh against him).
    I love you guys!
    Kevin, Url, I’m inclined to agree with y’all. If I’m truly honest, I think the mega model is plain unbiblical – but I also know that I’m probably wrong about that. (And ironically I work at Catalyst).
    I just WISH WISH WISH we could have another Jerusalem council or something to discuss this issue! Maybe an Atlanta council, or a Dallas council.
    I really think we need a loving, patient, honest, frank discussion about the philosophy behind small church vs mega church vs reproducing vs attractional vs missional etc, etc.
    I WISH WISH WISH we could have another “Jerusalem Council” like in Acts (maybe in Dallas or Atlanta or Denver) – what will it take to make that happen? does it already exist?
    How about July 23rd in Denver? Any wealthy Christians want to pay for a meeting venue?
    By faith, I’m personally inviting all the mega church guys Warren, Stanley, Groeschel, etc. + … actually who would represent the small churches? Frank Viola?

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  • katdish
    February 20, 2009

    Not that this will settle any debate, but I’ve always considered growth to be a by-product, not an end result. And while I wouldn’t be considered a green thumb on my best day, I like the analogy of a grove of fruit trees where a few are planted, fertilized, watered and cared for. Those trees are healthy and produce a harvest. Contrast that with a large number of trees that are not given proper care, weeds are allowed to choke off the roots, and they become unhealthy to a point producing no fruit or dying off altogether. I’m not saying that megachurches cannot be effective, but we are in the business of making disciples, not packing in a huge crowd every Sunday (said the gal from a tiny upstart church plant).

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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    February 23, 2009

    Good comments everybody. More than anything I was just trying to promote some discussion and thought on this, which seemed limited in the 140-character Twitter land and wasn’t happening on the Out of Ur blog.
    simon d, I’m not trying to make a point one way or the other. I’m trying to promote thought on the subject, and I think that’s helpful. As for being gossip or throwing anyone under the bus, I wasn’t trying to be harsh. I was trying to give an accurate context for the discussion. I hope I was being fair, but call me out if I wasn’t. As for being gossip, Tony Morgan commented publicly and it seems appropriate to debate those comments publicly. That seems more helpful than pretending it didn’t happen and isn’t an issue.

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  • Travis
    February 24, 2009

    I’m personally a fan of mega churches. I see churches like Fellowship Church in Dallas, TX and I drool. Not because of all their programs, but because they’ve found a way to get thousands of people saved. I come from a small town and our church has grown from 87 people 3 years ago, to 200 people today. I’d say we’ve been pretty successful at bringing in the lost and getting them saved. But if we could have 2,000 people in service I’d be more than happy. In the beginning of Acts it talks about thousands being won each day. I don’t think God is against large churches.

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  • Tony York
    April 24, 2009

    Hmmm… Tony Morgan in the middle of a church size frustration… who’d a thought it? :)

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