There was a boy in search of truth. He followed a trail of pebbles up a well worn trail. Each pebble contained a tiny portion of truth. Previous travelers had polished them and laid them out along the way.
The trail was long, and as he traveled the boy grew into a man. He continued following the trail of stones in the hope that he would finally reach the source.
One day when he was resting he looked to the side and saw a great boulder on a hillside. It was rough, not polished or handled by anyone, and placed without any clear intention. Yet it filled him with strange wonder, like something from a dream, and attracted him like nothing he had encountered before.
To reach that place, he had to leave the trail, descend, and traverse. He could surely get there, he considered, but there was no telling what he would see from that vantage.
He looked for a long time, then he returned to the trail of pebbles that he knew so well. He had climbed a long way already, and the great rock was perched on a slippery slope after all.
During the 1980’s evangelicals embarked on the church growth movement in an attempt to apply social sciences to achieve growing numbers of Christians and churches. The idea was controversial from the start, but the church growth movement had a huge impact that continues to reverberate. Although many have pushed back against the emphasis on numbers, countering with the need for qualitative growth as well, and the term “church growth” is no longer in vogue, the legacy of the church growth movement is a continuing urgency to foster and guide Christian movements of conversion and institutional expansion.
Today I was reading an economist writing about development theory, and I was struck by the parallels between people who want to promote and control growth — whether economic or spiritual — on a large scale. William Easterly writes on “The Anarchy of Success“:
Humans are suckers for finding patterns where none really exist, like seeing the shapes of lions and giraffes in the clouds. It wasn’t that economists had no explanations of what causes growth. On the contrary, we had too many. One survey of the field counted no fewer than 145 separate factors that had been found to be associated