We all know that when a garden is planted, what determines its growth is the conditions of the environment it’s in. The soil, sunlight and water have to be right or it won’t grow how its designed to.
Outside of that, we have no idea how the plants grow. They just do. Growth emerges from the life inside of the seed.
The same is the case with human reproduction. The life is in the seed and the conditions of the womb determine if a baby grows and is born. The growth of life is quite mysterious.
We have some control over the conditions of environments, but we really have no control over growth. Nor were we designed to. This is something ultra-important to consider and remember, because a church is made up of relationships that contain life. Since they’re Christian relationships, they contain Divine Life (2 Peter 1:3-4).
For them to grow and flourish, we have to be careful that we don’t try and control them. We were only meant to have some control over the conditions of their environment.
Why we’re tempted to control growth
This is where big mistakes happen when it comes to church growth. In his book Organic Community, Joseph Myers explains why humans get so tempted to control growth…
Our culture has taught us that growth is an expectation. Businesses are expected to deliver double-digit returns every year in order to satisfy shareholders. Individuals are instructed to maximize their potential. Over and over the message is “grow or die.”
[Attempts to control growth can] provide outward evidence of growth sooner. The enormous house, the number of active small groups, the increased attendance in our church services—all demonstrate that growth has occurred.
But when attempts are made to program growth, the Life of Christ by which the relationships are supposed to operate gets programmed right out of the church.
One or a few people come up with plans or programs that they recruit, persuade, or even guilt people into.
It may be something like getting everyone in a small group. Or maybe it’s the hottest, hippest new discipleship program. Whatever it is, it’s their best current answer for how the church is going to grow and meet whatever goal they’ve set. While the intentions might be good, they’ve unknowingly created an agenda to control growth.
How growth should happen
But, relationships won’t work that way. They weren’t designed to operate with this kind of mechanical order. (See this post for more on “mechanical vs. organic order.”)
Attempts to control growth can be devastating to the community whether it seems like the plan was successful or not.
Instead, relationships – just like any living thing – need an environment that operates by organic order for them to grow and flourish. In organic order, growth progresses as life determines it will. To allow that to happen, the key is to tend to the health of the environment while remaining patient.
So everyone ended up in a small group. But if that’s wasn’t what was best for the health of the relationships in the community at that time, the plan that seems to have been executed with success ultimately results in damage done.
How a church grows matters.
If it’s going to grow by the Life of Christ, the key is to focus on health, not growth. If you focus on growth, decisions will inevitably be made that sacrifice health. If you focus on health, you’ll grow in ways you’ll have no control over and you wouldn’t have imagined.
Letting go leads to healthy growth
Yeah, I know. That can be a scary thing. You have to let go of expectations and be alright with periods that seem dormant. You have to have faith that Life is always at work and progressing if we create the right conditions to activate it, even if they’re not immediately apparent.
That’s what it means for a church to be ordered by the Life of Christ.
That’s what it means to be organic.
The rest of the posts in the What It Means To Be Organic series are here.