I recently heard a speaker say something about churches that were thriving but not growing. The phrase caught my attention. Growing churches are the ones that usually get attention. Fast growing churches get the most attention. It is generally assumed that if a church is thriving it is growing numerically but that's not always true.
One piece of advise I received early in my ministry was that, if I wanted a growing church, I needed to be in a growing community. That makes sense but God wants churches everywhere even in communities that are not growing.
Those words, “thriving but not growing,” made me think of churches that are numerically small but still have vital ministries. One is Vieux Carre Baptist Church in New Orleans' French Quarter. Their geography puts them in an are of need but not growth. They converted some Sunday School space into dorms and installed showers. They serve the homeless community and provide lodging for mission teams visiting N.O. They have a vital ministry and are thriving but not growing.
Many downtown churches provide a vital ministry to their communities. They no longer have the large numbers and sizable contributions as they did in their hey day but they are still a relevant symbol of God's love and grace. They minister to their aging congregations, minister mercy to their neighbors and share their now excess space with others who benefit the community. First Baptist Church of Bennington,Vermont, is a church that is thriving but not growing. They rent space to non-profits and find ways to minister to their clients. For example, they offer cooking classes to the teen moms that come to one program that rents space.
Baptist Temple is experiencing some numerical growth but more important we are thriving. We have hundreds of people in our building almost every day of the week (Saturdays are still a little slow). The hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and the lost are saved. Our church has become, once again an important part of our community.
Gideon's reduced force of 300 were able to defeat the larger Midianite Army and a young David was able to defeat the giant Goliath. “'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty” Zechariah 4:6.
Not every plateaued church is dying and not every fast-growing church is living.
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:20 (NIV)