A Local View of Church Growth

May 8, 2008

A couple of my favorite blogs have been talking about church growth recently. I’ve joined the discussion in a couple of my recent posts.

To talk about church growth, you have to talk about church membership.

Shepherds have a unique perspective on membership. Ezekiel 34 charges shepherds with going after strays — they still belong to the flock. Those whose membership some people question are the very ones at the forefront of the shepherd’s mind. Those are the sheep most needing his care. So the “membership” of the church might vary depending on whom you ask!

In our congregation, counting membership is harder than it should be. I wonder whether other congregations have the same difficulty. We have people moving in, moving out, and moving around. When people move in, we help them find one of our family groups to join. We try to keep track of the membership roll through our family groups. There are two difficulties with that. First, we have people who have been attending for awhile but have not actually joined a family group. Second, people move around between family groups–sometimes resulting in them being counted in two different family groups, and sometimes resulting in people not being counted in either group. And occasionally, we don’t learn about someone leaving the congregation until after the fact, making it impossible to be as thorough as we would like to be as shepherds. We have recently assigned one of our deacons to help with making sure people are connected to one of our family groups, and that we provide a proper welcome and orientation for new arrivals. And we are working to better equip our family group leaders to maintain effective connection with the members of their groups.

From time to time, a few folks leave for one of the other area congregations. Our congregation is racially diverse, but has a higher percentage of African Americans (a little over 50%) than the community. Most often, those who have moved from our congregation to others in the area have been white. We have seen other congregations lose their diversity as a result of people moving around to find a place where they feel more comfortable. We do not want that to happen in our case, but it could happen. The best defense against that, as far as I can tell, is to build family, to make sure people’s spiritual needs are met, to teach about the need for diversity, and to reach out to all segments of the surrounding community. At least we are trying to do those things.

From the old Atlanta Church of Christ, there are at least four groups now meeting in Gwinnett County on Sundays. Members are still moving from group to group. Some of that movement is cultural. Sometimes there is more to it than that. The cause can be something good or something bad. But whatever the cause, the Body of Christ does not lose a member when someone leaves our congregation for another congregation of Christians. It does make it more difficult to care for the sheep due to a lack of continuity.

A dozen or so members of our congregation have moved to one of the other area congregation over the past few months. Obviously I would prefer that these people had been satisfied to stay in our congregation. I can’t speak for the underlying motives of these folks, but some of them have been looking for something and not finding it for several years now. As a shepherd, I’m interested in making sure people who leave our congregation are immediately connected to another congregation where their spiritual needs will be met. I’m also interested to make sure that any problems or issues motivating their move are addressed. The leaders of their new congregation have those same interests.

The Body of Christ neither grows nor shrinks when a Christian moves from one congregation to another. For meaningful numerical growth, we need to be reaching the lost in the community. That is happening once again in our congregation.

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