Big does not (always) mean blessing

Apr 4, 2024Archive, blog

Big numbers are proof that a ministry is “good” and beyond reproach, right? Doesn’t that success mean God is blessing that entity? If a ministry is growing and bringing people in the front door, those numbers prove God is at work, so the reasoning goes that anyone who criticizes the successful ministry is bent on opposing God.

The problem with that logic is this: numbers are fickle. And kingdom math is not the same as the world’s calculus. While of course numbers can be an indication of blessing, they are not the only measure of a church’s flourishing. A church should not merely grow in numbers, as this study indicates (and this was conducted before Bill Hybels resigned). Therein lies the possibility that a church can grow wide, but hopelessly shallow. In other words, you can bring people in the door, but the door revolves and spits them back out because there is a scant opportunity to grow in discipleship. The old camp song, Deep and Wide, comes to mind. We must grow both ways.

To say you can’t criticize because bodies are in seats is problematic.

Besides the fact that God doesn’t demonstrate this laissez-faire attitude with the people he loves. God deeply loved the nation of Israel, which was vast in number, so much so that he often and continuously warned them about idolatry. He pled with them, called them adulterers, and sent prophets to help them leave their doomsday path they so willingly walked. Jesus, when confronted with the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his time loved them by telling them the truth. He corrected his disciples, too. He called people out who were harming others, and he told stories that made oppressive people the bad guys. Paul, too, assigned the enormous task of caring for the churches, often corrected leaders, church members, and even the pillars of the church.

This is love. To love so much that you’re willing to step into the mess and speak up–not for your glory, but for the sake of the flourishing of the church.

Numbers can indicate God’s favor, but that is a flimsy metric. We all know stories of saints who shared the gospel for years, yet saw little or no fruit. Of people quietly toiling in obscurity for the glory of the only One who noticed their sacrifice. The whole of Hebrews 11 hints far more at faithfulness in the midst of failure than big, splashy success.

And perhaps the opposite is true. When a church achieves worldly success, the leaders need far MORE accountability. Songwriter Michael Card wrote, “Never cease praying that you will not become a star or celebrity. Donald Davidson has said, ‘Our culture places an absolute premium upon various kinds of stardom. This degrades and impoverishes ordinary life, ordinary work, ordinary experience.’” (from this book). Sadly, the opposite typically happens. The more celebrity status a leader achieves, the more isolation he/she creates, dismantling systems of accountability, demanding unearned respect, and serving more to protect the institution they created than to shepherd and help those under their care.

Fame and power and success tell lies. All can become a siren call away from the simplicity of the gospel.

To love the church is to correct her. 1 Peter 4:17 reminds us, “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household.” To disdain scrutiny is to disobey the very Scriptures we say we believe. Whether big numbers or small, God loves the local church, and he will raise up people to gently bring correction precisely because of his love. To conflate his measured correction with a satanic assault is egregious indeed.


  1. Leita

    Hi, Mary, I have followed your work for several years and I thought I would share a ministry that I have found to be biblically based and very helpful as I have faced many of the things you talk about. This is an article on the church growth concept that is driving the merchandising and marketing issues you are discussing. I thought this might be helpful background information for any article you decide to write. I am a writer too and have been seeking the Lord in how I need to be using my writing to serve Him.

  2. Becky Castle Miller

    I’ve been thinking of you amidst the hubub this past week and imagining how painful it has been for you, to know things but not be ready or able to say them. Holding space for you.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Becky, you’re my favorite. Thank you.

  3. Missy Buchanan

    Thank you for sharing these very wise words, Mary. My prayer is that church leaders everywhere will read them and invite the Spirit to move in their lives to build healthier churches and deeper disciples.

    • Mary

      Missy, thank you for your encouraging words.