Thursday, November 25, 2010

Barth on 'Church Growth' (acc to Bender)

"Numerical growth certainly will mark the community, Barth maintains, but this growth is secondary and dependent upon its spiritual growth. The expansive and numerical growth of the community is growth on the horizontal plane that is dependent upon its prior spiritual growth, and thus growth on the vertical plane. This inner invisible growth and maturity of the community is the basis by which the other exists. To consider numerical increase for its own sake would be an abstraction, a consideration of visible growth apart from the invisible power that makes it possible. Worse, a church’s numerical growth could display not the true strength of the community, but may rather point to its weakness ....

While real spiritual growth will manifest itself in numerical growth, it is not simply a means toward this end: 'We cannot, therefore strive for vertical renewal merely to produce greater horizontal extension and a wider audience. At some point and in some way, where it is really engaged in vertical renewal, it will always experience the arising of new Christians and therefore an increase in its constituency, but perhaps at a very different point and in a very different manner and compass from that expected.... It can be fulfilled only for its own sake, and then—unplanned and unarranged—it will bear its own fruits'"

(From Kimlyn Bender, Karl Barth's Christological Ecclesiology, 180-181, quoting Barth's Church Dogmatics IV/2, 648. Emphasis all mine.)


Terry Reed said...

Barth is not my ususal cup of tea, but he is right on in this matter. I am trained in the church growth school of thought but when we get focused on numerical growth while ignoring spiritual growth it blurs the picture of the church that God desires. Balance is the key--both forms of growth should be the goal.

Terry Reed
Small Church Tools

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks Terry. Glad to hear from someone who is working at it, but keeping things in perspective too.