By what measure?

“Would we be here, having this discussion, if someone hadn’t told you that healthy churches must be large and/or growing?”

I was the new conference minister of Illinois Mennonite Conference (MC USA). I was sitting with a small church’s leadership team who asked me to help them discern if they should close.

As we talked, it seemed to me like this group of leaders, and the church as a whole, enjoyed being together. They had healthy relationships rooted in mutual love and expressed in mutual aid. They had a common mission, providing gently used clothing to people in their small city.

They were small, that is true. They had not welcomed a new member in quite some time. Their kids had grown up and, mostly, moved away. They wondered about their future. But that wasn’t what was causing them to consider closing.

They didn’t know if what they were doing was valuable if it was primarily “just for them.”

They had internalized a particular metric that told them the most important measure of a church’s health was their size and their trajectory – are they big and/or getting bigger. This metric was so powerful that they didn’t stop to take notice of all the great stuff that was happening in their midst.

Bigger is better and “biggering” is better still is a terrible measure of a church’s health and value. I prefer shared lives, shared resources, radical hospitality, open invitation, loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself – all the stuff Jesus’ taught and modeled.

As I write this, the world is in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic. All the measures of “health” rooted in large gatherings within big buildings have given way to simpler measures rooted in human connection. I submit that what is important now is what has been important all along.

As a pastor and leader, how do you measure your congregations health and value? Do you really believe that?

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