Fifty years ago the Mattel Toy Co. introduced the Barbie Doll for young girls. Wikipedia notes. “One of the most common criticisms of Barbie is that she promotes an unrealistic idea of body image for a young woman, leading to a risk that girls who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic.” If you do the numbers Barbie is 5’7″ tall and has a 13 inch waist – about the size of your upper arm. Clearly an unattainable goal for real girls.
I fear that we have done something similar with church planting instruction. Go to nearly any CP conference today and note that nearly all of the speakers are gifted leaders of numerically large congregations. We all glory in their success and praise God for the remarkable gifts that have produced the numbers. Sometimes the numbers are a right time/right place situation. The Scripture does refer to “the place where God chooses to set His Name.” (Deut 14:24) My first church was in California’s Silicon Valley in the early 1970s. I was inexperienced and inept but the church exploded. Our little town just south of San Jose was growing at 20% per year.
Amway is famous for its lavish conventions. A handful of sales associates come to the microphone and tell of how they made $500,000 in their first year in the business, while the 3,000 people in the audience often have a garage full of soap that they cannot sell.
So from a CP perspective if you are struggling numerically are you a failure? What is critical mass and how many people do you need to attain it? 1Sam 14:6 “Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.””
There are two kinds of critical mass; theological and practical.
Theological critical mass is any number of people present when Jesus is there. The two men on their way to Emmaus had the spiritual highpoint of their lives in a group of only three because Jesus was one of them. “Did not our hearts burn within us.” they said.
Practical critical mass is the number of people relative to the size of the room you put them in. Twenty people in your living room have critical mass. Twenty people in a high school gym do not. Don’t lose sight of this: Having Jesus present in your meetings is the first and most important metric by which to evaluate success/failure.
If He is there, everything else will ultimately fall into place. If Jesus visits your church each week you are blessed indeed. The number of people He brings with Him is not the measure of your accomplishment. We have done marketing programs for church plants that have had 600-800 people show up for their launch. But I do not included that information anywhere on my website. Unrealistic expectations will crush your spirit if unfulfilled.
Do not however, confuse expectations with dreams and aspirations. It was William Cary who said, “”Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”