In a journal entry dated November 17, 1968, Thomas Merton wrote, “Too much ‘looking for’ something breeds illusion.” When your church isn’t growing or has reached a plateau you start looking for something…some explanation, something you are doing that’s wrong or not doing that’s right. “Why aren’t we growing? There must be a reason.”
We’ve been told that, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.”, or, “If you just focus on health, growth will follow naturally.” Have you heard this before? I know you have. So we assume that the “all healthy things grow and reproduce” thing is true and our assumption sets in motion a series of reactions. Now follow me on this…
Your church isn’t growing so there must be something wrong or broken. You begin to search for what’s wrong so that you can fix it. Once you fix it your church will be healthy and grow. Once you decide that something needs to be fixed you’ll find something that needs to be fixed. So…you start “looking for” what’s broken, find it, and start working on correcting it. Now it’s corrected. Great.
But what do you do if after having fixed it…you still don’t grow? Have you ever done something that you thought would result in growth but it didn’t? I know you have. So amidst your discouragement and confusion you begin to search for something else. Now you do this too many times and you will run out of things to fix. When that happens the only thing left to change or fix is you. So you begin to doubt your calling, or you begin to wonder if maybe it’s time to move on, or someone in your church begins to wonder about your ability to lead. Know what I mean?
What if your lack of growth is not because of a lack of health? What if nothing is broken? What if there isn’t anything to correct or change? What if the things you came up with during your “search” weren’t really the problem you thought they were? What if they were an illusion? What if you’ve put your hope, time, energy, and money in an illusion? What if the reason why your church isn’t growing is simply because it’s hard to grow a church?
Sometimes healthy churches don’t grow. Sometimes unhealthy churches grow. There might be things that need correcting in your church, but correcting them is no guarantee that the result will be numerical growth. By all means…focus on church health. No matter how well you’re doing there is always room for improvement. Improve, but don’t assume that the reason you’re small is because something is wrong. Too much “looking for” something breeds illusion.
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