Support the Café

Search our Site

Growth versus depth

Growth versus depth

The Rev. Joey Reed says he is tired of “growing the church.”

Yes, you read that right. I’m done.

No more outreach strategies to fill the pews. No more ideas to draw young people. No more switching out the hard stuff for lighter fare in hopes that we will appeal to a larger audience.

No more “growing the church.”

It seems that every time I sit down to think of ways to lead people to Jesus, I find a new way to “align a program” or “bring focus to an issue” — or worse, I find good people who mistakenly think that my job is to be a chaplain, or just their “professional visitor.” Gotta get those visitors to close the deal and join up.

Too many people think that mission of the Church is to swell the ranks and fill the pews. Too many people think that this task is my job. Too many people find me a failure for not getting this done.

So. No more just “growing the church.”

Unless. Unless you mean something different when you say, “Grow, Church.”

Perhaps you mean, “Growing in Grace.” Perhaps the church is learning to become more mature about forgiveness. Maybe that would mean that the churches in the USA would be more willing to reach across boundaries of age, race, gender, and politics (yeah, I said it) in order to develop real relationships.

I would love to grow that church.

Maybe you mean, “Growing in Love.” That could mean that the church is learning to become more selfless. That could turn into giving our time and our money to help people who are in a bad way — even people we don’t think really deserve it.

I could see myself growing a cool church like that.

Maybe you mean “Growing in Depth.” Would that mean that people were learning to accept their flaws without glossing them over? Would that mean an outbreak of patience and kindness that only comes from realizing that we are all screwed up in one way or another, and God loves us anyway? Would that mean that folks realized that they are unqualified to do ministry – just like the minister – and would commit to doing ministry anyway? Would that mean that you realized the value of what you have in Christ is too valuable to not give it away?

I would give my right arm to grow that church.

What do you mean when you say, “Grow the church?” Because if you are looking for growth strategies that capitalize on market demographics and creative sales pitches, I’m probably busy that day you want to talk.

What do you mean when you say, “Grow the church?” Because if you are trying to find ways to impress kids, add some flash to your worship, and pray that they will give enough to pay for the brand new $2.3 million, 2500 seat worship center, I’ve got another appointment to keep.

But if you mean that you are interested in growing disciples into deeply committed Christians, let me invite you to pull up a chair, stop pulling out your hair, give up on pulling up your own bootstraps, and let’s get down to brass tacks.

Reed is pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill Dilworth

Not to put too fine a point on it, but has the Rev Mr Reed actually had success in growing the church (in the sense of the word that he speaks against)? Is he actually tired of growing the church, or tired of trying to grow the church?


Hi Harriet!

You’ve misread the article. Cheers!



“As Christians, we want to live in a world where religiosity is wide-spread and socially acceptable–a default.”

We do?

I rather thought we, as Christians, were supposed to expect the Cross.

JC Fisher

Harriet Baber

What a rationalizing cop-out! Mainline “pastor” explaining that it’s all about commitment, and making disciples rather than getting more warm bodies into churches! There are two reasons why churches need to get in those warm bodies:

(1) As Christians, we want to live in a world where religiosity is wide-spread and socially acceptable–a default. I live in a social world where religion is just not done. I know few “out” theists. People I know are either indifferent to religion–it’s something that just doesn’t cross their horizon–or contemptuous. People think of it as, at best, fairy tales for the kiddies or something of merely historical interest. I want to live in a world where religion is socially acceptable, where peers don’t assume that. I would certainly not have been one of Jesus’ early followers. But I wasn’t called to be one because I happen to have been born in the 20th century rather than the 1st

(2) We need to maintain church buildings and keep the ceremonies going. Sure, it’s all very edifying to yap about “growing in grace,” “growing in love” or such pious stuff. I care about buildings and rituals. That’s what brought me to the church, and if they aren’t around I have no interest in religion. God is incarnate in those buildings, in the silverware and brocade, the smells and bells. The church, and by that I mean the material stuff of churches, is a window in the Other World. It is God incarnate, God with us.

Now maybe your religiosity is different. Maybe you’re interested in “growing in love,” goody-goody do good work and social action. But lots of us aren’t. We’re human beings too, consubstantial with the 2nd Person of the Trinity in his human nature. What is your justification, you clergy and pious ecclesiastical insiders, for writing us off–for promoting your model of the church, church as you like it, rather than church as we, and most people throughout history have liked it: as a body of buildings, ceremonies, customs and folk religion–religion broad and shallow, Chaucer’s Merry England, Byzantium? A world of casual but pervasive religiosity

How dare you write us off, sniff down your noses, and complain self-righteously that we don’t count–that the church is for the Righteous Remnant who don’t mind being in a despised minority, who don’t care about fancy buildings or ceremonies or folk religion.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café