Change and growth are the focus of great conversation and planning in church life relative to both the individual and the community. There is a “church growth movement” which seeks to provide impetus and skills in order to facilitate growing churches. In earlier years the prime focus seemed to be on numbers, but in recent years has seen a development of the notion of healthy churches.
We probably do not need to be convinced of the value and importance of growth. In most of life we accept it as a natural part of being human. A baby who fails to develop in any respect causes a great deal of concern, and is often the focus of intense support and care to assist. At some stage along the journey, however, it seems that we have exempted adults from this expectation and requirement of growth.
But growth for the sake of growth? I wonder if that is a concept we need to call into question. Perhaps the defining illness of our era is cancer – cell multiplication which is unhealthy. Growth which is destructive. Some interventions (medical and otherwise) to stimulate growth create unwanted side-effects – growth which is contra-indicated.
One thing I have learned from my limited experience as a gardener: when the conditions are right, growth occurs naturally. If I concentrate on the environment in which plants are situated, growth occurs naturally. If I concentrate on the growth of the plant to the neglect of the environment, growth may occur for a time, but is ultimately destroyed. Surely this is a lesson from the parable of the sower, where weeds grow up and destroy what has already grown.
Adolescents, on the other hand, are ever concerned about numerical growth: height, age, muscles, breasts... easily measurable, yet hardly enduring characteristics of being. Do we allow ourselves to be lured into such evaluations of value, even when it comes to church?
There is no doubt that growth is an important part of our developing spirituality and humanity. But it comes as we pay attention to the environment and nourishment of our lives – to a regular diet of prayer, scripture, service, and sacrifice. Following in the footsteps of Jesus is a pathway to growth at every level.
But we might not always be able to measure it.
June 9, 2002