Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Barth on Church Growth

So, I’m reading through Barth’s ecclesiology paragraphs in volume 4 of the Church Dogmatics, and I’m finding – as usual with Barth – some really good stuff. Here is one bit that I thought I would share. Barth is talking here about what it means to speak of the church’s growth. He has already explained that the church is not one organism, but that the metaphor of organic growth is helpful insofar as the church does extend itself out of its own internal resources (it being the body of Christ) rather than by means of external resources. Next comes the question of whether the church’s growth is extensive or intensive. Although Barth certainly affirms that the church adds new members, he is wary of what happens when this becomes a church’s focus. And so he gives us the following.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2, 648.

“The true growth which is the secret of the upbuilding of the community is not extensive but intensive; its vertical growth in height and depth. If things are well—and there is no reason why they should not be—this is the basis. The numerical increase of the community indicates that it is also engaged in this very different increase. But the relationship cannot be reversed. It is not the case that its intensive increase necessarily involves an extensive. We cannot, therefore, strive for vertical renewal merely to produce greater horizontal extension and a wider audience. At some point and in some way, where it is really engaged in vertical renewal, it will always experience the arising of new Christians and therefore an increase in its constituency, but perhaps at a very different point and in a very different manner and compass from that expected. If it is used only as a means for extensive renewal, the internal will at once lose its meaning and power. It can be fulfilled only for its own sake, and then—unplanned and unarranged—it will bear its own fruits. As the communion of saints takes place, the dominant and effective force is always primarily and properly that of intensive, vertical and spiritual growth.”

4 comments:

Watcher said...

In the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, we are enthusiastically attempting the horizontal growth. Resources going to vertical growth are, to my mind, minimal. In my own parish there is work in this area, but it fails, IMO in producing a consistent loving outworking of the Spirit shown in his fruit.
I also have not noticed a great preparation for mission through extensive prayer, study and reflection on the word of God and work to grow in faith.
Seems doomed to me !

bruce hamil said...

"The numerical increase of the community indicates that it is also engaged in this very different increase. But the relationship cannot be reversed. It is not the case that its intensive increase necessarily involves an extensive."
This seems contradictory. How can he say that that 'extensive increase' is an indicator of 'intensive increase' and then say that 'intensive increase' doesn't necessarily involve 'extensive'? If it doesn't then the extensive won't be a good indicator. It might indicate (for example) effective church marketing.

WTM said...

Bruce,

Thanks for stopping by!

Two points:

(1) Barth doesn't say its a "good" indicator, just an indicator. One might even gloss it the other direction by saying "possible" indicator.

(2) When Barth is here talking about extensive growth, he doesn't necessarily mean Sunday attendance. What he means is actual, honest-to-goodness conversion. Of course, we can never be sure about such occurrence.

Chris TerryNelson said...

Travis, I love this quote. The same pattern is applied in Barth's discussion about the personal liberation of the Christian in CD IV/3.2. While all sorts of things can jam and mar the message and the experience of our liberation in Christ, it does not change the fact that we are truly liberated and that "at some point" there should be a sense of conversion and renewal. That is to say, a Christianity shouldn't be equated with phenomenology, but it should produce phenomenon that witnesses to our liberation in Christ. Barth speaks of our vertical liberation as the source of our witness, such that if we forget our own liberation we fail to be true witnesses to the liberation of others. Or, more succinctly, I must seek to hear the Gospel for me personally even as I seek to share it with the world.