Monday, 8 March 2010

Growth for growth's sake - NOT!

As someone who is passionate about the growth of congregations that make a difference in people's lives, I think that the derisive phrase 'growth for growth's sake' is easily the most irritating four words I have ever heard.

What would that even mean?  I suppose some of the nerdiest among us might like numbers for their own sake and enjoy graphing arbitrary quantities and how they change...  Maybe people with a statistics fetish could really get into this!  "ooh, yes, fit that curve baby! Oh yes, your third degree polynomial drives me wild!!!"

Let's imagine for a moment that we are talking about a hospital. After all, both congregations and hospitals offer healing - admittedly of a different sort, but healing nonetheless.

If the hospital is intent on increasing the number of people it treats, do we consider that a bad thing? Of course not. Increasing numbers means more people being helped. In my congregation, growth is sought because we know that each person who joins us is another person who gains the support and love that we offer and another chance to help make a better world. So, we try to grow. It's not because growth sounds good or makes us happy, it's because we have a sense that this is part of our moral duty - no less than to share plentiful food with the starving.

The phrase 'growth for growth's sake' is a form of sour grapes - discounting something because we are afraid of not being able to achieve it. Many congregations run away from the pursuit of growth because they know that failing will make them feel even worse that they already do.

People who use this ridiculous phrase usually want to say that growth doesn't matter and then follow that by saying something like "it's not how many people we have, but the quality of our experience. We should focus on perfecting our congregation and then people will come."

On the surface, that notion - perfect the product and people will flock to you - seems sensible. It has three fatal flaws:
  1. It is selfish.  If you have something wonderful that has changed your life and it doesn't cost you anything to share it, what kind of person are you if you don't try to share it as widely as you can?
  2. No product - no matter how wonderful - sells itself. No one would have an iPod without advertising. Imagine if Apple produced a great product and marketed it like many congregations share their 'products'! A tiny sign, no indication of when the product is available, no suggestion of what it's even good for!  Good luck!
  3. Finally, this is not a product that we perfect and then hope that 'customers' come. The product is made by the customers. Every new person who comes brings new life and new ideas and substantially changes and makes the product their own. 
We are not growing for growth's sake. There is no such thing. We are growing for the sake of the people who can be healed by being part of an accepting, engaging, enlivening spiritual community.

1 comment:

  1. We are growing for the sake of the people who can be healed by being part of an accepting, engaging, enlivening spiritual community.

    That is the best way to look at growth that I've seen. It is a natural extension of being who we are and sharing and learning from others.