Growth or Impact?
I’ll never forget my first Monday as a pastor. It was July 1994 and we had moved the previous Wednesday, arriving just in time for the Wednesday evening service. My wife, two small daughters, and I had experienced the excitement of our first Sunday along with 19 other people (most of whom I soon learned weren’t regular attenders). On Monday I walked into the dark and quiet church office. Although there were 400,000 people in this city, it dawned on me that 99.999% of them did not come to this church. This church was a few funerals and a fuss away from being extinct. I had been trained with a ministerial degree, raised in a ministry home, and surrounded by the work of the ministry my entire life. I knew what this church needed. This church needed growth. I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to grow this church!
Although we did see growth, I soon learned that church growth and church impact are not the same. During the course of our time there I learned a few very powerful lessons about this matter of church growth.
Church growth is not all that difficult. With the right approach and enough energy and determination, assimilating more people in our buildings will happen. The first Sunday of August we launched a promotional plan and on the last Sunday of September celebrated with 115 people. I thought to myself, “This isn’t all that difficult.”
Church growth does not change lives. Now that we had the interest and involvement of several dozen more people, I quickly learned that seeing them transformed by the power of Christ was a whole different matter. As much as being in church on Sunday is a good thing, merely assimilating people does not change their lives.
Church growth is not the goal. It took me longer than it should have to understand that the mandate of the Gospel is not assimilation but transformation. I’m embarrassed to admit that the measure of my week was often determined by the size of the crowd on Sunday. What really is the measure of any church is not its growth but its impact upon the world.
Burning in the heart of every genuine pastor is this desire to make a difference in the world for Christ. However, in our pursuit of effectiveness it is easy to mistake growth for impact. God has called us to be more than just an established church with great numbers of people; He has called us to be a powerful force for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
Through the study of Scripture and the help of the Holy Spirit we come to understand that the most healthy churches are not those that are simply the largest, but those that make a supernatural impact in the world for the sake of the Gospel!
When we study the church in Acts, we realize that the early church was a church that had mighty impact without much of what we consider today to be essential to a local church. The early church teaches us that 11 people transformed and sent into the world is greater than 1,000 people hanging out on Sunday, drinking coffee and simply talking about Jesus.
Jesus gives us a picture of what church impact should look like in His final instructions in Acts chapter 1 verse 8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
His description is one of supernatural enabling for the purpose of spreading the Gospel throughout the world. In these instructions it is not at all about assimilation but dispersion. As we watch the church grow in the early chapters of Acts, although they possessed a special bond with one another and local fellowships formed, what is abundantly clear is that the desire of the Holy Spirit was that they spread, not huddle. “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
In chapter 9 Saul is converted, then the church takes off to another level of global impact: Antioch, then Selucia, Cypress, Iconium, Lystra, supernaturally to Macedonia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and eventually all the way to Rome.
Someone once said that in the first 300 years of Christianity the church went from a baby in a manger to the palace of the Roman Empire.
Success in the book of Acts didn’t mean that they clustered, it meant that they spread out and reached the entire world. The early church knew that growth and impact were not the same thing!
I am not speaking against large or growing churches. I love to see churches grow. Healthy churches always do grow, but there is a difference between simple church growth and Spirit-empowered impact upon the world.
- Growth is about numbers. Impact is about transformation.
- Growth is about one place. Impact is about the Kingdom of God.
- Growth says, “Come here.” Impact says, “Go there.”
- Growth hoards. Impact invests.
- Growth impresses the world. Impact transforms the world.
- Growth is short-term. Impact is long-term.
- Growth glorifies a person or a specific ministry. Impact glorifies Christ and HIS CHURCH.
- When an unhealthy church grows, it eventually implodes. When a healthy church grows, it always produces major impact in the world.
Unlike those early days, I now believe that the greatest measure of our church is not how many people come on Sunday but how many go out from there to make a difference in the world for the Kingdom of God.
As I ponder this I think about Jenny, a 13-year-old girl we met shortly after arriving there at our first pastorate; a young girl who Christ transformed out of a sinful home. She is now a young lady who is just days away from launching a Christian school to impact inner city kids, just like she once was impacted. Although she is no longer part of our number on Sunday, she is now multiplying Kingdom impact by reaching a whole new world for Christ.
As churches, let us forsake the man-made standards of success and let us return to embracing the mandate of Jesus to “Go” in the power that He has provided to impact the world with the Gospel!
Copyright © 2016 Troy Keaton. All rights reserved.
Troy, his wife Janel, and their 4 children came to EastLake Community Church in Moneta, VA as the founding pastor in 2005. Much has changed over the course of the past several years. His oldest daughter Natalie married a wonderful young man, Keith Bryan, and recently gave birth to Carson. Allyson has just graduated from Ohio Christian University and will be teaching at Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy. TJ is a student at Liberty University. And Trever is finishing up his sophomore year at SMLCA.
One thing has remained the same for Pastor Troy and his family. They are passionate about knowing God and doing something significant in the Kingdom.
Troy loves spending time with his wife and kids. He enjoys doing home improvement on their house in Hardy. He loves to golf and fish, and has an unfulfilled desire to run a marathon.