By Michael C. Mack
How you view the statistics in this and the next two issues depends on the attitude you decide to take.
I suppose you could look at the numbers with a competitive spirit, comparing your figures with those of a nearby church or one in your size category, with envy, suspicion, or snobbery. Some of us might do the same with churches of Bible college friends (and foes), churches where we used to work, or those hip, one-word-name churches—you know, like Vibe, Collage, 24|7, and TheUnpretentiousDeliberatelyIntentionalChurchofAuthenticRelevantChristianCommunity (“Unpretentious” for short).
I’d like to suggest two healthier ways to look at the numbers.
What if we looked at the list of churches—and all our churches—as one big multisite church? In a way, this is a New Testament perspective. “There is one body and one Spirit,” Paul said (Ephesians 4:4). “The church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one,” said Thomas Campbell in his Declaration and Address, “consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures.”
What would it look like if we as Christ’s church took on the attitude of the Three Musketeers: “All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall”? I know; I have a wild imagination. But what if churches on the list, especially those in the same communities or regions, banded together and worked together to grow God’s church? What if they reached out to and served people in their communities, and carried out God’s mission, regardless of which church building they showed up at, whose membership they joined, or who got credit on an annual listing? Imagine a pastor telling a young couple that a neighboring church was the best fit for their family. Imagine a large church sending some of their people to a smaller, struggling church to help them carry out God’s mission there. Imagine small, medium, large and mega churches working together for God’s kingdom and his glory.
That is what we have in mind when we publish these lists of churches. (By the way, for the first time, we are including churches of all sizes in our reports this year! We start this month with megachurches and emerging megachurches. In June we’ll report on large and medium churches, and in July we’ll report on small and very small churches. For more information, see “Special Church Report.”)
Another healthy way of looking at the churches on these lists is as a family of churches, a concept I gleaned from David Dummitt’s column.
In healthy families, parents raise their children with the goal of seeing them grow up and eventually leave home. The same should happen in healthy churches. In a healthy family, we celebrate each other’s wins and provide support and help in times of loss or failure. We should be doing the same with the churches who are part of our family tree—all of them!
When attendance or baptisms rise at a church, it’s my hope that other churches celebrate with them, even if their own numbers were not so good that year. The priority is always Christ’s church.
Like Ken Idleman (see his article about “The State of Our Christian Churches Today”), I am optimistic about the future, but I also see areas we must improve. One such area concerns the struggling state of many of our ministers today, which Steve Reeves addresses in his article. I think you’ll love reading our 10 “Spotlight” stories of churches across the country. Note that several of these churches have gone through major leadership transitions over the last two years. You’ll see different methods of transition but some common principles for transitioning well.
Christ does not have multiple brides. All the churches on our lists, and those who opted not to participate this year, are one church with one common purpose, serving together to bring glory to our one God. We are all better together than any of us can be alone.