by Ralph D. Winter
Whether you are making shoes or planting churches you face the constant problem of how much to emphasize quality and how much to emphasize quantity. And people may disagree about where to strike the balance.
Whether you are making shoes or planting churches you face the constant problem of how much to emphasize quality and how much to emphasize quantity. And people may disagree about where to strike the balance. Billy Graham, for example, has been accused of being more interested in quantities of converts than in their quality. Over the years, therefore, he has added great emphasis to a program of "follow up," which relates converts to existing churches, gives them Decision magazine, the Hour of Decision broadcast, printed sermons, modern speech versions of the Bible, even Bible dictionaries and other helps. A11 of this is the attempt to add quality to quantity.
Those who emphasize "church growth" are sometimes accused of being more interested in quantities of church members than in their quality. This is despite the fact that the very phrase church implies an additional dimension of emphasis beyond conversion, since it focuses not on how many raise their hands at an evangelistic service but on the incorporation of the new believer into church life. Other religions may consist of individuals worshipping at shrines. The essence of Christianity goes beyond individual experience. Thus, the very concept ofwilling, in the case of the Corinthians, to have merely "planted" while Apollos "watered", to have "preached" while someone else "baptized" (1 Cor. 1.17, 3.6). It is not strange then, to note that in one sense John the Baptist performed one role, Jesus another, and Paul a third. Each sought quality in the particular ministry in which he was involved. John did not "follow up" everyone he baptized. Jesus did not go as far as Paul in organizing churches among the Gentiles.
Thus it would be foolish to try to decide which of these three went for quantity and which for quality.
Every task, properly understood, has dimensions of both quality and quantity attached to it. a cannot choose between the two; we can only try to strike the right balance to meet the specific circumstances.
A similar warning is necessary in regard to a careless use of the two phrases, quantitative growth and qualitative growth. These must never be squared off against each other as if they were something entirely different. Why? Because all quantities are measurements of certain qualities! Whether we speak of a pint of ice cream, or even if we talk about the weight of ice cream per pint (a more complicated measurement), we are still talking about ice cream, and there is no ice cream that does not possess both weight and volume. If we speak of the number of church members, the average attendance, or, let us say, the number of people who both belong and regularly attend and have personal or family devotions, we are speaking of human beings who in some measure have been influenced by Christ. Whatever Christ does Ire does with countable people.
The crucial issue in missions in connection with quality arises when it is assumed, either that any numerical measurement of quality must be superficial, or that any important quality cannot be measured. When you stop to think of it, these common and erroneous assumptions fly in the face of Jesus’ insistence that "by their fruits you shall know them." ltd may well be true that those who count things have not always counted the most important things. But the reality of the impact of Christ on the world today is a phenomenon real enough to be counted and measured in a host of different ways. Our human judgment is not, of course, ultimate judgment. That is God’s. But if we ever get to the place where we are not quite sure whether the obedient following of Christ in the power of Ibis Spirit will make an evident, countable difference in a nation or community, we have most surely fallen away from biblical faith.
Thus, highly important qualities do have quantitatives, measurable dimensions, and quantitative statements cannot but refer to qualities of some kind, important or not. The challenge is to make sure the qualities we measure are important. In fact the people who set the quantitative in opposition to the qualitative are really trying to say that we are not measuring the right things. They may be more interested in how many people are engaged in public marches against civil policies rather than how many people go to church. In both cases, however, we are dealing with quantitative measurements of qualities, and we see that the issue of qualitative versus quantitative is at best a superficial and misleading way of talking. At worst it is an entirely false emphasis.
A letter from a church leader somewhat distantly acquainted with the Institute of Church Growth is an excellent example of what I have here suggested as an unintentionally improper opposition of the two terms:
…Granted that qualitative aspects are not as measureable as quantitative, they are still as important, if not more so…
…If (in your school) the same quality of scholarly research…as is given to the principles of numerical growth would be given simultaneously . . . to the concerns of qualitative growth . . . a contribution could be made to the Christian mission that not only would enhance the validity of numerical growth but would make numerical growth principles much more widely accepted and practiced….
…I am sure the curriculum of the School of World Mission must include offerings in the area of qualitative church growth, but the image given thus far to many, I fear, is one of such emphasis on numerical growth that qualitative growth must not be considered very important.
What I think this leader really is saying is, " You are measuring some qualities. I think there are other qualities that should be measured as well." Perhaps he feels we are satisfied with overall growth in church membership. Perhaps he does not see that membership statistics properly interpreted are a significant way of understanding qualities. His uneasiness about statistical measurements is fairly common among some Christian leaders. If such attitudes concerned only the graduate School of Missions and Institute of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary, I would not mention it; but it is typical of a wide-spread way of thinking among some church leaders and missionaries which (unintentionally I am sure) damages Christ’s cause by confusing the issue and underscoring how easily people misunderstand the quantitative aspect of all qualities. The error sets good Christians all across the world against the very thing to which they are giving their lives – namely the propagation of the gospel.
QUANTITIES AS CLUES TO QUALITIES
The correct way to look at quantitative measurements is to regard them–properly handled–as reliable indications of qualities. Let me illustrate the point from the seminary where I teach. We certainly do teach national leaders and career missionaries to calculate memberships accurately. But these membership fgures are not so much glorified as qualified, and statistics as such occupy only a tiny percentage of our time.
We are almost always more interested in changes in church membership – and in the hundreds of factors that may or may not be related to such changes – and we recognize at least six components of net increase in membership (conversion in, reversion out, transfer in, transfer out, born in, die out), so that simple net growth is rarely in itself considered definitive. We talk not only about amounts of growth but rates of growth, and also rates relative to the growth of population and sub-population. We talk about the relative numerical proportions of at least five different kinds of important leaders in a movement, the ratio of pastors to organized churches, the relative expenditure of income on theological education, and the costs of producing an ordained minister. These are just a few of dozens of measurements of qualities other than, and in addition to, gross membership. One of our recent studies (on the California Friends Church in Central America) has over 30 graphs and charts, only a few of which focus exclusively on church membership.
In any case, most of our time is spent on the biblical, historical, theological, and sociological realities of the world Christian movement without any quantitative charts and diagrams involved. A very major use of time results from our concern that a new church should develop naturally within its own linguistic and cultural forms. We are concerned that the full meaning of the Gospel of Christ might be transmitted, and that individuals and groups – as many as possible – might be incorporated into meaningful, growing, self-healing communities of faith that are durable and sound enough to witness effectively on every level of their particular society, acting as a salt of the earth and a light to the world. Anyone who has studied in our school or who has read a broad selection of our books and articles realizes that our use of numbers is only a means to an end that is far more profound than membership figures. We continually deny that membership increase is a goal in itself. But I have described our procedures believing that they are typical of good procedures in all churches.
Nevertheless, while membership totals are not adequate as goals in themselves, in many situations in missions today they are a "necessary though not sufficient" evidence of faithfulness to God in evangelism. A medical doctor cannot be properly described as a man "preoccupied with body temperatures" just because he often (almost routinely) takes the temperature of his patients, and is not content when the temperature is not normal. He is certainly interested in body temperature, but only as a clue to something else. Body temperature is simply a "necessary though not sufficient" evidence of health or sickness.
Similarly in churches, 10 percent membership increase per year in a given church may not prove the presence there of all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, but on the other hand the absence of any growth, or a constant loss of membership may often be a vital clue to the absence of certain fruits of the Holy Spirit. This is especially likely in many non-Western environments, where membership is mainly first-generation and a huge percentage of the population is yet to be won.
Can we not agree that if there are unreached winnable men anywhere, there must then not be complacent Christians anywhere? This is why it is important that if men and peoples are hungry and searching and responsive there are likely some measurable clues to this fact. Something must be wrong if 78 percent of the Japanese (in a government census) name Jesus Christ as the greatest religious leader in history, but less than 1 percent belong to any fellowship in which they will learn more about Christ. At the same time tens of millions of Japanese are surging into Soka Gakkai.
Even churches that are apparently growing well may be better understood by means of quantitative clues to qualities.
There are two ways of looking at the growth of the Vietnamese section of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam.
Figure A, which shows the annual totals of members, seems to climb more steeply on the right than on the left – that is, the number of new members per year is about 900 during the recent decade (1960-1970), while it was only 600 between 1927 and 1931. However, be careful: it is natural for a larger church to win more people per year! Figure B shows the rate of growth – not the size of the Church – by plotting the number of baptisms each year per hundred members. Comparing the same two periods we find a staggering difference: in the earlier period there were well over sixty baptisms per hundred members per year, while during the latter period there were only five per year.
These facts are merely clues, of course, and are worth nothing unless they lead the ministers or missionaries to see the many factors behind the half-century of experience in this Vietnamese Church. The leaders of this church must go on to learn more about the situation, using among other things the many clues these two charts give. But inattention to these quantitative clues could hide qualities that must not be hid!
I was asked to study a church which I will not identify so that I may suggest some of my personal conclusions about it. My task as I went to this country was not to graph the growth of the church, but to see what could be done about the development of leadership and self-support. However, I discovered on arrival that this church had kept relatively good records and that the data on various aspects of growth were quite readily available. Figure C gives communicant membership totals in sheer numbers. Is anything immediately obvious? Perhaps not. Somewhat routinely I plotted the data since sheer numbers are rarely enough to give an accurate picture of the situation.
Now look at Figure D which has been drawn accurately from the membership totals in Figure C. Note the fairly steady climb. Each jog upward shows a net increase in communicant members. Still nothing earthshaking. But now look at Figure E; this one plots the same data as the first, but each upward jog is proportional to the net increase divided by the previous year’s total. This is a logarithmic chart. It helps us see a most significant point which the list of numbers does not show at all and Figure D does not disclose either: namely that the 1936-47 period registered far faster growth (19 percent per year) than the 1947-1970 period. This sparked my curiosity. It was a clue worth investigating. During the first period there was an average increase of 19 new members for each 100 members. During the second period (almost a quarter of a century) this number dropped to three, which is no higher a rate of growth than that of the population in which the church was growing.
This quantitative clue led to other discoveries. I found that lay and national eadership predominated in the earlier period. Also there was a great deal of denominational self-consciousness surrounding the 200th anniversary celebration toward the end of the 1936-47 period, which challenged the church with concrete growth goals.
I discovered that in the earlier period there were far more active, evangelistic efforts, and there was a willingness to found congregations on a very humble base – in houses and shacks. An intermediate level of leadership was widely and effectively used in the earlier period; but was phased out as more missionaries arrived and more nationals were sent abroad for university and seminary training. Also, by 1947 money from the United States had become essential – in erecting buildings, in training pastors, and in paying highly trained pastors. When those funds could no longer increase each year, the church itself could not continue to increase. Each new congregation cost the church, say, a thousand dollars a year to run, and the mission board in North America, which was giving $70,000 a year to this field, would not keep on giving more.
All of these observations – revealed by clues from membership and baptismal charts – are intimately bound up with both quantity and quality. The crisis the church now faces also partakes of both aspects: two-thirds of its budget comes from abroad, but these foreign funds will be reduced year by year to zero by 1980. Either the church stands still in membership and triples its giving, or it discovers how to triple its membership without increasing its paid ministry. I recommended the latter, but then had to describe the many ways (qualities) in which the church would have to change in order to expand.
This, briefly, shows how quantities and qualities are inseparable parts of the same reality. It is apparent that those who are alert to the quantitative measure of qualitites are more likely to understand the situation better than those who neglect the quantitative measures available. The same is true in medicine. Nowadays doctors make more laboratory tests than ever. While some tests- may be unnecessary or yield no results, the enormous importance of quantitative measurements in the diagnosis of illness in the case of an individual human organism has been abundantly proved. Such measurements certainly have their parallels in the analysis of the living organism that is the church in all its various forms. The fact that we have sometimes made superficial or improper use of quantitative measures must not deter us from expanding and refining the quantitative measurements of the important qualities in the life and health of the Christian movement.
This matter is of crucial importance to the cause of Christ around the world in all six continents. As the churches grow in numbers and influence, in grace and power, in ability to serve and aid humanity, it is of the highest importance that Christian leaders learn how to measure qualities. Such measurement is helpful to the church. We do a disservice to the cause if we belittle part of our task.
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