What's interesting about this to me is that even after a zillion unsuccessful campaigns to "grow" churches numerically, churches are still experiencing numerical and demographic decline, while the "no religious affiliation" demographic grows in number with every poll. And even KNOWING these two (dare I suggest related?) facts, people still incessantly talk about church growth and mean getting more people on the rolls and in the pews. For some reason church growth is pretty much only about membership.
Please tell me this is not what growth means. Because ultimately, the church is not the same as the purely capitalist economy, which must continually grow or die. Besides that, we won't even talk about how "membership" is an increasingly irrelevant thing, not just in the church but in all kinds of organizations.
The church is about being the people of God in the world. Which means we're supposed to be about loving people and creation, caring for one another, serving others, feeding the hungry (in all aspects of the word "hunger"), building community, etc...in other words, we're about living good news, exhibiting the kingdom of heaven to the world.
When people wonder why unchurched people are unchurched (or dechurched), I always remind them that the church is overwhelmingly known in our culture for *bad* news, not good news. It's hard to grow numerically when what we see of church is mostly exclusion, hate, and fighting.
But besides that, church growth shouldn't be about the number of people on our rolls. What if, instead, we measured as Reggie McNeal suggests--in numbers of people engaged in serving others or numbers of people who view their everyday jobs as ministry? What if "growing the church" was about communities cooperating with the Holy Spirit rather than trying to do what we think we're "supposed" to do as a church? What if growth has more to do with love and understanding than it does with numbers? What if growth is about people living the good news in every place where they are, about *being* the church in every context in which we find ourselves, about being the body of Christ out in the world...and has nothing whatsoever to do with how many people are in our Sunday School classes?
Nothing I'm saying is new or even news. (though some conversations I've had the past few days have shown me that it is a radical idea for some.) Jan and others have been talking about these things for a very long time, and I suspect we'll still be talking about them for a good long while yet. I just hope we can reframe the conversations into something not about a slick new marketing technique (because who needs more products, religious or otherwise, marketed at them?), conforming, and pew-filling, but instead about growth.