By Scott Keith
Growth is good. Be it concerning the economy, a business, church attendance, our savings account, or even our places of learning, more seems to always be better. More money, bigger houses, more stuff, more butts in pews, bigger buildings, more students, and so forth. No matter which way we slice it in our culture; more always seems to be better. But is it? I would say no.
It is not that I am opposed to growth. Rather, it is that I am opposed to doing anything for arbitrary reasons, or reasons that seem to be strictly financial in nature. Our incessant desire to grow seems to be driven by some underlying American value that bigger always means better. Especially in business we seem to believe that if we have $100.00 more dollars on the revenue side we are more successful than we were, even if we have $150.00 on the expenditure side as a direct result of growing the business by $100.00.
This singular focus on growth seems to limit the idea of quality to excessive quantity. Quality is not defined by quantity. A thing is not good because there are more of it than other things. A thing is not good because it makes more money than another thing. A thing is not good because it grows at the rate of “x” instead of the rate of “y.” Further, an institution, organization, or business is not necessarily good or successful because it can post year to year growth figures that read positively rather than negatively. Excessive growth in business almost always ends in disaster. Remember the .com bubble, or the lending bubble, and now some would say we are in a higher education bubble.
It is important to remember that growth has its place, refining has its place, and gracefulness has its place. We can see this in our own natural development. A human body only grows to a certain size and then if growth continues, it is no longer good. Once a body is grown, the goal is to refine that body and keep it fit and healthy. Once the body is past its prime, the goal is to allow the body to grow old gracefully while still keeping it as healthy as possible.
Quality is good. Doing the right thing is good. Attempting to hone a craft, whatever that may be, is good. Fulfilling our vocations well is good. In a business, success ought to be measured by how well a business conducts their business, and by the quality of their product. Educational institutions ought to be known for the quality of their students, not for the quantity. The goal of an educational institution is to provide the highest quality education possible to students who are prepared to learn, not an education to everyone at any cost. Within a congregational setting, the goal is not more butts in pews at any cost. Rather, the goal of the church is to preach Christ as the only salvation and freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil to all who don the doors so that they may find life in the freedom Christ has won for them. Growth can be good, but in order to be good, growth needs to be tempered by quality. I don’t mind quantity as one measure of success, but I’ll take quality over quantity every time.