Thousands of people in church every Sunday, mostly under 40… where could this be?

It could only be the United States. Few churches in Canada even dream of finding 1,000 worshipers in their pews on Sunday.

But, no, “The Edmonton Journal” reports that churches in the city of Edmonton are finding not just hundreds, but thousands of faithful flocking to church every Sunday.

What could possibly cause this kind of church attendance?

According to the Edmonton Journal article, some of the components of these large and growing churches include:

no hard wooden pews, no musty hymn books, no aging pipe organ

latte bar

rock concert, complete with a light show and exuberant performers

40-minute message

jeans and a sports coat

video announcements

a multimedia spectacle

practical application of the word of God to our daily life

multi-staff ministry

a range of programming

culturally relevant in style

anchored to the core of Christian teaching

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts

bouncy castle, petting zoo with llamas, goats and rabbits, short service, and an iPad mini draw

glossy invites the size of business cards

free food

It is tempting for those of us who cannot even dream of drawing the kind of crowds these churches seem to attract, to be dismissive of such strategies for gathering a flock on Sunday. But, it is hard to argue with “success”. If you sense God is calling you to open your church doors to 1,000’s, then you may need to bring on the bouncy castles, fire up your Twitter account, and add a barista to your church staff.

I personally do not feel called to stand before crowds of 1,000’s on Sunday morning. God may be calling some pastors to lead their churches to spectacular numerical growth. I do not believe this is my calling.

My vision for growth does not involve petting zoos and “an iPad mini draw.” My vision for growth will never build a mega-church. I see something much quieter and more modest.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus used an agricultural image to speak of the growth of God’s work in the world.

26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ (Mark 4:26-29)

The farmer presumably has prepared the soil and waters the seed after it has been sown. But, the emphasis in the parable is on the fact that the growth comes from a power the farmer does not possess (“The earth produces of itself”) and that the process of growth is a mystery (“the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how”).

As Paul said,

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (I Corinthians 3:6)

The only growth that interests me is the growth God brings. And I am not sure I am always going to notice the growth created by God. It may not always look splashy and showy.

God’s growth may be growth in gentleness; it may manifest in acts of kindness seen by almost no one. The growth that comes from God may be the hidden change of a heart that softens and opens more fully to the presence of love.

I am interested in people growing in their ability live peaceful and compassionate lives. I pray for growth in surrender and the ability to live beyond the tyrannical control of the ego.

I not so concerned about having a “multi-staff ministry” as I am in having a community where we live respectfully in relationship with all life forms and serve the well-being of all creation. I am less interested in the range of our programming and more concerned that we become adept at bearing our own wounds and the wounds of the world.

I am less interested in the quality of our coffee in church on Sunday and more concerned that we grow in patience.

I love good music and heart-felt worship. But I really want to know if we are getting better at listening to one another and if we are becoming more able to enter into the life experiences of people who see the world through a different lens.

The church growth I want to see is the growth of openness to the wonder and mystery of life. I want the church to be more flexible, softer, more vulnerable, honest, and transparent. I want us to cherish beauty and become more childlike and less judgmental. I want us to be a sign of faith that, in Christ, all things have been reconciled “whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20)

The growth for which I long may not be easily charted on a graph. It may not bring more cars flooding into our parking lot. But the growth I long for may bear the marks of eternity and carry the fragrance of God’s presence.