Not by the Numbers: Acknowledging building-center church experience bias, reimagining church growth (revised)
It is fairly unavoidable and often nearly impossible to approach Bible texts or biblical topics without some level of bias, not just from denominational tradition or theological inclination, but, even, more so from our regular social experiences (i.e., social mapping) and everyday habits (i.e., social construction). We often begin our understanding of a biblical text or topic within the space our social experiences and habits have created for us, often leading us to confuse application for interpretation. And, as a result, interpretative conclusions, in turn, have an affect on our social relationships—an often-overlooked outcome of interpretation. This can be seen within the arena of church growth. Growth outcomes typically are understood in numbers of people that, correspondingly, affect social relationships. In turn, these outcomes determine particular “church” activities that may include or exclude certain people, by design or by unintended consequence.” Our building-centered church experience, along with its weekly habits, form interpretative bias and project what qualifies as church growth and what activities are determinative to bring such growth.
When the topic of church growth is on the table, numbers are the chief and, for most, the sole outcome that is measured. This, however, may very well be formed through our building-centered church experience and habits, rarely questioning the validity of our assumed biblical foundation; thus, biasing how we imagine church growth. Our social mapping (i.e., our social relationships) and our socially constructed building-centered church experience inform as to what qualifies as (or not as) “church growth” texts, providing a grid for acceptable parameters for interpretation. Yet, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians offers another way to imagine how church growth should be measured. The Ephesians 5 filling command (5:15-21) and the household code that follows (i.e., the haustafeln, 5:22-6:9) is one such overlooked church growth text. The filling of the Spirit (v. 18) is dynamically related to social and domestic relationships implied by the relationship-trio (wives-husbands, children-fathers, slaves-masters), offering another frame for imagining biblical church growth.
 Berger and Luckman, Social Construction of Reality, 1.
 See chapter 6 of Wasted Evangelism.
 Although there are some that point out that growing “spiritually” can be considered church growth, however such growth is typically measured individually, not typically as a church.
*For those interested, I like to post drafts of my current research and writing. Here is the introduction to my up-coming paper that I will present at the November (2016) annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, GA. See introduction and thesis >>
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.