Growing healthy congregations
by Ray Moulton, Lt. Colonel –
General John Gowans (Ret.) has defined our mission as: Save souls; Grow saints; and Serve suffering humanity. This mission is represented as three points; however we do not have three missions, but rather a single mission that can be defined as three facets of one whole.
With the unity of our mission in mind it can be useful for our understanding and assessing our mission results to look at a few selected statistical results that may reflect our results of mission activity in recent years.
To assess our “Saving souls” facet of mission we can look in the number of seekers recorded. This is certainly not the whole of the story, but may be a useful indication. Our records for the past few years in seekers are:
2000 2001 2002 2003
Total Seekers 24,748 23,269 23,267 32,553
Our “Saving souls” activities show a 32% increase in 2003 over 2000, with the two years in between showing a slight decrease following 2000. However, this is not our full mission—nor are we called to make seekers only, rather we are called to make disciples.
To assess our results of “Serving suffering humanity” we can look at the total person served and cases opened in the territory. These results are:
Serving Suffering Humanity
2000 2001 2002 2003
Persons Served 1,016,089 1,177,882 1,276,704 1,284,983
This aspect of our ministry also shows an increase each year over the previous in persons served. This is also not our full mission; however is what we are known for, and with suffering increasing, these efforts should also be increasing.
To assess the results of “Growing saints” we look at the record of congregational ministry and in particular, for a quick understanding, we can look at Sunday morning attendance at worship. These are:
2000 2001 2002 2003
Attendance 1,127,826 1,136,674 1,104,638 1,069,965
The results show a slight decline in attendance at worship over the time period.
We may conclude from the above that our fulfillment of our mission is growing in Saving souls and Serving suffering humanity, while our results in Growing saints is sliding. During this time most evangelical churches are showing some growth, as is the population in general. While we may be having growth in introducing persons to faith, and serving more people, this is not reflected in those choosing to worship with us.
Congregational life in Scripture is often described as a plant, or a growing and living body. In Isaiah 60:21 “All your people will live right and well, in permanent possession of the land. They’re the green shoot that I planted, planted with my own hands to display my glory.” God depicts his people as a green shoot that he has planted. In I Corinthians 3:9 the world is described as a field, “You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.” The parable of the Vineyard in Matt. 21 represents God’s Kingdom as the vine, down through the centuries. I will conclude this mini Scripture study with John 15:5, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.”
These and other references would indicate that we could think of our congregations as organic, as plants to be nurtured, fed, possibly re-potted, and as needed, pruned. Over the past decade much of church literature has embraced this notion, and has been discerning lessons for congregational health, and growth from this analogy. We introduced congregational reviews based on a health focus a few years ago. Our tools are based in good theology, however our statistical reports show we are not growing, we continue to decline in key congregational life. It is evident that while we have the right principles and good tools in place we do not give informed time and hold congregational leaders responsible for achieving results in God’s field.
Somehow some of our plants in God’s vineyard are weak and undernourished and not producing the fruit intended. Not all of our plants are weak; some are vibrant and growing—however, taken as a whole, some good gardening is needed.