The most heated discussion our little group of 12 had, in the end, was over the question of whether church growth should be a goal, or is better thought of as an outcome of church health.
On the goal side are those who believe that our way of doing religion has a saving message for the world and we should make a goal of reaching more of those people. On the outcome side are those who believe that the goal should be a healthy church and a program which feeds the spiritual hungers of the community (not the church as it stands, but the larger community, however that is defined.) The "Growth as a Goal" folks are gung ho for setting growth goals, since you gotta have a dream, and we who have such an important message outta dream big. The "Growth as an Outcome" folks believe that you should only set goals about things you can control, and you can't in the end, control whether people visit and like you when they do. They were further somewhat suspicious of numerical goals; it sounds like a too-simple, "bigger is better" trip.
Ours was a multi-generational group of ministers, ranging from three to going on 30 years in ministry and twentys to fifties in age. This particular conversation divided starkly along these generational lines. Newer, younger ministers had growth goals for themselves and their churches. Older, more experienced ministers spoke for growth as an outcome of a healthy, serving church. There was some passion in both groups for their chosen style.
This could be more of a difference in language than substance (the "Growth as a goal" folks know that to get growth, you have to have a vital program, and the "Growth as an outcome" ministers had experienced plenty of growth in spite of not aiming for it.) It could be a result of sadder-but-wiser ministers who have endured plateaus and declines in spite of all the good programming and church health they could muster. It could be that the younger folks are braver and bolder and more willing to take the risk of setting goals.
An observer commented that it seemed that this group of ministers believed that Unitarian Unitarianism has a saving message for the world and that growth is a good thing. The stunned silence that greeted that statement was eloquent testimony to this group's unquestioning passion for our movement and what it has to offer our world.
What about you? Is growth a goal in your church? Why or why not?