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Is Growth Always Good? Considering Church Growth Lovers and Haters

I’ve always wanted to learn Karate so I could break boards in a ninja-like way (and I realize Ninjas don’t use Karate, but humor the dream of an eight-year-old wimpy kid). There is a helpful Karate principle that appropriately applies to life and ministry. It pertains to the ancient art of breaking boards (very important coming of age moment for young ninjas).

If one is attempting to break through a board and is aiming for a central spot on the board, he will almost always fail. In trying to process the goal, the brain understands the barrier– and the potential pain involved– and the physical reaction is that the ninja stops short of his goal.

In order to successfully break a board, the ninja must aim about 2-3 inches below the board. In so doing, the brain is able to see past the board towards the ultimate goal, and the board naturally breaks in the process.

In recent years, churches in the West have gone through various transformations in their focus and goals. Much has been said both positively and negatively about the Church Growth Movement, and I will publish some further thoughts on that in the coming weeks.

While I do not totally jump on either bandwagon (love or hate), I think two important aspects to keep in mind are the goals of gospel fidelity and propagation.

More importantly: Growth cannot be the final goal.

While in many cases, growth can be the byproduct of health and right focus, it is not always the best litmus test.

I can think of very prominent, self-identified churches with tens of thousands of people coming each week who preach a loose gospel message of happiness, meeting personal needs, and positive-thinking.

Some of those are growing quickly, yet I don’t think their growth is exclusively a sign of the favor of God.

(Side note: most megachurches are more conservative biblically and have a higher level of involvement than smaller churches, but my point is that big is not necessarily more faithful.)

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and he has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves at his local church, Highpoint Church, as a teaching pastor. Dr. Stetzer is currently living in England and teaching at Oxford University.