Just because it is big doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Just because it’s growing doesn’t mean it is healthy. The Lie of Big & Healthy is primarily uttered in church planting and church growth circles. It’s usually said this way:
“Healthy things grow.” Sounds simple enough, right?
But greater intellectual honesty about the state of many of our churches insists that we take a deeper dive.
“Healthy things grow” might be too simple. There are two untruths stuck in that sentiment we need to dislodge.
First, we must not assume that if something is healthy it will grow. That’s true of churches, but it’s also true of human beings. At this stage of my life if I grow substantially it is most definitely a bad thing. I have a healthy size…and I’m at that size already. If my size doubled, that would not be a sign of health, but of unhealth. Lots of healthy things don’t grow. I saw a picture of a friend in her wedding dress the other day. She got married over twenty years ago. She hasn’t grown much. But she is healthy.
A lot of churches are about the same size they were twenty years ago, and it’s not because they’re unhealthy. It could be for any host of reasons — they’re located in a rural area, they send out missionaries as fast as they generate new believers, etc. “If something is healthy it will grow” is not true in every case, because some things that are healthy don’t grow.
Secondly, we must dispose of the notion that only healthy things grow. Just because a church is large or growing rapidly does not mean it is healthy. In past ministries I have been in fast-growing congregations and congregations that were considered large. One of them plummeted to a much smaller size because–even in all of its largeness–it was also sitting in a lot of unhealth.
Just as there may be multiple reasons a church does not grow (like being in a rural location), there may be multiple reasons a church grows, even if it is unhealthy. Maybe they’re located in a fast growing part of town. Maybe they have a dynamic leader. Just because something is growing doesn’t mean it is healthy, because not only healthy things grow. Cancer grows, for instance, and that’s not exactly an indicator of health. Robert Wadlow, the tallest man ever to live, had a jacked up pituitary gland. He grew to almost nine feet tall and died in his early twenties. He was huge, but he wasn’t healthy. Because not only healthy things grow.
If you are a church leader, hear me out on this — not only healthy things grow.
There have (almost) always been some super big churches. There are more super big churches now than there used to be. People fawn over these churches. I’m not sure that’s wise. I think we assume certain things that aren’t true. We assume that since it’s big it’s healthy. We assume that since it’s growing that it’s healthy. But not everything that is healthy grows. And not only healthy things grow.
A big church can be a healthy church, of course. And a small church isn’t necessarily healthy just because it isn’t large. The health of a church cannot be determined by it’s size, and we need to put the old “If it’s healthy, it’ll grow” trope to bed.
It’s just not true.