Numbers Count

In my last post, I talked about Elevation Church’s Code. In this post, I delve deeper into the thought “it’s all about the numbers”.

How important are “the numbers” in terms of the health of a church?

Often numerical growth is juxtaposed against spiritual depth as if they are diametrical opposites. In 2008, those who railed against “seeker friendly” churches rejoiced in Bill Hybels’ admission of the model’s failure. Critics quickly pounced on this statement made by Hybels:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

I don’t know much about what goes on in Willow Creek, but they were really one of the first megachurches in America.

Megachurches have the capacity to massively shake and transform the community of which they are a part moreso than small churches. It’s simply because they have a lot more resources and visibility.

But does that mean members of megachurches necessarily have less spiritual depth?

I think you can have both depth and numbers! No organisation should celebrate smallness. It should be the intent and goal of every organisation to keep growing; and often (although not always) that growth will result in an increase in numbers. If a church is doing something right, both Christians and the unchurched will be attracted to it.

I would suggest that numerical growth is a natural consequence of increasing depth. My wife likes to use the illustration of a tree (obviously). She says, you can’t have a tree with massive roots below ground being tiny above ground. In fact, the opposite is true (and indeed logical). The larger a tree gets above ground, the bigger its roots will also be. Growth in both directions happen contemporaneously.

Acts 2:42-47 says this:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Here, the spiritually deep activities of the early disciples led to a noticeable increase in numbers. In the Message version, it says that as the disciples “followed a daily discipline of worship … people generally liked what they saw”. The early church was both “Spirit-friendly” and “seeker-friendly”.

That should be the goal of every church.

How does this apply to worship leading?

Most who study church growth will point to two things which immediately attract visitors to a church: the sermon and the worship. After all, these are the two things visitors experience the most before they get to experience the other aspects of the church community. I realised that, when I’ve been visiting churches, those are the two things I evaluate first (even though in some sense I know that a church is so much more than just what they do on a Sunday).

As a worship leader then, I have to make sure that the worship has all the elements of excellence that make the music naturally attractive and accessible, but I must also ensure that I create an atmosphere that is conducive to the move of the Spirit. Again, one is not at the expense of the other.

I have been in services that are so “spiritual” that only the most spiritual can engage. Even though I’m a worship leader, I have to admit there are times when I simply don’t have the motivation to lead myself in worship when I’m offstage. I can get lazy. (I shouldn’t really confess that, should I? But I’m just being honest here). That’s where the onstage worship leader has an important role to play. Those who come ready to worship don’t need any more help! It’s the rest of the congregation that needs to be led; so it is important that the worship leader doesn’t just run with the forerunners, but the worship leader should lag slightly behind and bring as many people with them as possible. A worship leader who leads those who don’t need to be led should get a redundancy package!

At a practical level, I try to plan my worship sets as best I can. I try to visualise the entire set from start to finish, and I try to communicate that vision to the rest of the team so that they know exactly where I am going. I try to anticipate the points at which spontaneous elements may invade, or be generated. That way, the only surprises are the surprises of the Holy Spirit rather than the unpleasant surprises of dissonance when chords and parts clash.

First Corinthians 14 is a manual on orderly worship. And yet, Paul insists that in the midst of ordered prophecy, a seeker or inquirer who happens upon the worship will be convicted of sin as the secrets of their hearts are laid bear. And they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming “God is really among you!” (vv 24,25).

I think the key to it is this: bring forward your hearing from God a couple of weeks in advance so you have plenty of time to communicate with the rest of the team (and even other stakeholders in the service) so that you can then, by consensus, confirm that you have heard right. That’s better than thinking that God only speaks to you whist you are on stage! If you and God are on speaking terms, why should he seek to surprise you so late in the piece when he could have told you his secrets much earlier? Of course, once we have heard and planned, we should always be open to the Spirit’s prompting as the set unfolds.

So back to numbers. I think a healthy church must grow in numbers as we grow in our methodologies, experiences, knowledge and faith (depth). It is possible and logical to do both just as it is possible (and necessary) to be both seeker and Spirit friendly.

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