As we look to the organizational side, there is a different enemy to reckon with as the church grows. The personal hazard had to do with success shaping our identity-we called it growth idolatry. Now we will deal with the problem of growth complexity. In the growing church, success assaults clarity in the organization.
This unfolds in five different ways:
#1 Church growth can dilute redemptive passion. Every church is only 100 people away from diluting its redemptive culture. In other words, the next 100 people who arrive may threaten the very passion that attracted them. Think about it. Imagine a church planter walking into a Starbucks. How intentional is he as he engages the environment? Extremely! Every person is a potential new attendee! What happens as the church grows? The more dramatic the success, the more the senior pastor can loose the white-hot intentionality he started with. Before long, he begins to look for a quiet, secluded place to eat lunch. He ducks for cover when entering a Starbucks.
#2 Church growth can compromise “body” culture. Every church has an ethos and a collective soul. The culture is guided by boundaries and expectations that hold it together and define its best. But as a church grows, it can be tempted to make decisions out of alignment with its culture. What do we call growth in our body that is out of alignment with our DNA? Cancer. Think about it. That illustration wasn’t used at the pinnacle of our “Church Growth” era. Not all growth is good growth. If growth compromises a value, it’s not good.
#3 Church growth can scatter strategic focus. More people means more needs, more resources, and therefore, more options. More, more, more means more complexity and less focus. In fact, growth can kill focus. The deadly part about it is that you don’t feel it. While you are still buzzing with momentum, you start making decisions that create sideways energy. Silos pop up here and there. You are completely unaware of the dynamic until the growth slows and possibly stops. You are successful until you are not.
#4 Church growth can strong-arm bad scorecards. That is, growth can reinforce weak or ineffective measures of success. Speaking of the buzz of #3 above, when you are on a growth run, you get used to those appealing metrics- attendance, building, and cash. You get so into them, you may not want to live without them. As the church grows, the business-side metrics can dominate and take over the real-mission metrics of discipleship. That’s why you have Reggie McNeal and Ed Stetzer writing books with subtitles about “changing the scorecard.”
#5 Church growth can multiply competing pictures. At the end of the day, the true measure of clarity will boil down to some mental model or picture of the future. So do we multi-site, or do we plant a church? Do we start another worship service or not? Do we emphasize personal prayer or missional living in the next series? From a 3-year horizon to a 30-day horizon, it’s key for leadership teams to be on the same page. When the church grows, the multiplication possibilities for alternative pictures of the future are insane.
So how do you address these hazards? Allow me to offer a few words: In a nutshell, it’s team process. Time, dialogue, prayer, discernment, dialogue, articulation, vision casting, vision dripping.