I never thought I’d look to André the Giant for life lessons. Turns out I’m wrong. It seems the 7’4″, French, ex-professional wrestler has wisdom to share for all.
I was fortunate enough to join 12 other church communication professionals in Chicago this past week for the Conclave Sessions. We talked influence, moving from gatekeeper to consultant and how to build a communications strategy with coherence. The Conclave Sessions gather thought leaders and experienced church communicators to leverage best practices and talk through challenges. (We’ll be having another round in San Diego this December, if you’re interested.)
One of the insights that’s still rumbling ’round in my brain came from Conclavian extraordinaire, Kem Meyer. On the topic of church growth, Kem stated that “healthy things grow.” She was quick to follow up with the reminder, “but growth doesn’t always mean numbers.”
I appreciated that.
In our megachurch world, sometimes the reality of what it means to be a healthy, growing church gets skewed by numbers. Do healthy churches grow? Yes. Does that always mean they grow numerically? Not necessarily.
Here’s where André is helpful.
André Rene Roussimoff, a.k.a. André “the Giant”, suffered from acromegaly, a disease that causes the body to produce too much growth hormone. Acromegaly zaps the body’s ability to say, “stop growing!” If left untreated, it can result in severe disfigurement, serious complicating conditions, and premature death. It is believed that acromegaly contributed to the congestive heart failure that caused Andre’s death in 1993.
What’s André Got to Do With It
When I think of church growth through the lens of André the Giant, I’m reminded that numeric growth isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes a major function of the body gets “hijacked” and produces too much of a good thing. In Andre’s case it was growth hormone. In our local churches it’s numbers.
André’s skeletal and muscle infrastructure wasn’t able to accommodate the massive amount of growth his body was producing. It led to disfigurement, pain, and ultimately, his death. He was taking medication that literally told his body, “stop growing now!”
Similarly, our local churches experience growth that they are ill-prepared to accommodate. The “infrastructure” that’s been setup cannot sustain the growth the body is experiencing. As a result, all sorts of disfunctions begin to show up; everything from staff back-biting to cowardly leadership decisions to fights in the church parking lot after service.
Does that mean that all large churches are somehow sick or diseased? Absolutely not. That’s preposterous and not what I’m suggesting. Look at Willow Creek, Granger Community Church and the Village Church (and hundreds more). All large churches. All, speaking from firsthand experience, amazingly healthy.
Is Our DNA Healthy?
If the local church is truly the body of Christ, then we have to believe that overgrowth is just as problematic as anemia. We have to peel back the growth question a few layers and ask a new one: Is our body growing in a healthy way? Are the building blocks of our organization solid or weak? Is our DNA healthy? Or are there overriding disfunctions that will take a good thing (i.e. growth) and pervert it into a bad thing?
Growth is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit causes growth, but we have a responsibility to prepare for and cultivate that growth once it happens. This is biblical (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9; Matthew 13:1-23).
We can’t control growth anymore than André had the ability to control his body’s out-of-control thyroid. But we do have a responsibility to “tend our flocks and know the state of our herds.”
Don’t Look to Growth For a Health-Assessment
The bottom line is that some big churches aren’t as healthy as they believe themselves to be. Some of these churches have neglected the handwork or inspecting their DNA and asking, “Holy Spirit, are we ready for what you have to give us?” Similarly, little congregations of 20, 30, 40 people aren’t as unhealthy as they’ve been led to believe. The challenge is figuring out where you are and what to do about it if you don’t like what you see.
Where are you at on the growth spectrum? What does your DNA look like? How are you seeing growth in your local church context?