When it comes to working out there are show muscles and there are go muscles. Biceps are the show muscles. Wear a Polo shirt that's a little tight in the sleeves and you can easily flex your way to impressing others around you (assuming you have enough bicep bulk.) Put simply, big biceps impress. They can't help themselves. Arnold trained us all to be enamored by that compressed ball of muscle between our shoulders and our elbows.
But you can't flex the muscle that matters most...your heart. Although the heart muscle is infinitely more important it doesn't have the wow factor of it's flashy, arm-bound cousin.
Oiled-up, Speedo-wearing, flexed-out bodybuilders may have more impressive external muscles but that doesn't mean they are necessarily in good cardio condition. The health of a person's heart is way more important than the circumference of a person's arms. Why? You can live without a bicep but you can't live without a heart.
Those bodybuilders who only focus on their show muscles flex for awhile and then die of a heart attack. But those who work on building a healthy heart will most likely live a lot longer.
When it comes to ministry there are show muscles and there are go muscles. Show muscles range from church attendance, budget size and number of baptisms. Go muscles have more to do with spiritual growth (harder to measure) and % of new believers plugged into the church (easier to measure.)
This kind of new believer numeric growth shows actual kingdom advancement and is the great equalizer. It shows kingdom advancement because the attendance growth of the faith community is not merely from sheep switching pens (church shoppers and youth group hoppers.) Instead it's the result of the kingdom of darkness shrinking due to the evangelistic efforts of Christians and new believers actually plugging into a church community.
It's the great equalizer in the sense that a growing percentage of new believers attending a church/youth group becomes more important than weekly attendance numbers. For instance a small youth group of 20 teenagers, 10 of whom trusted in Jesus as a result of the group's evangelistic efforts, is 10x's more effective at evangelism as a youth group of 200 teenagers, 10 of whom trusted in Jesus as a result of the group's evangelistic efforts.
The youth group of 200 may flex it biceps of attendance but the youth group of 20 is much more healthy on an outreach level. This reality applies to both young and old, youth groups and churches.
I can't help but think of Transformation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina where my good friend, Derwin Gray (aka "The Evangelism Linebacker"), pastors. In 2012 his church was on Outreach Magazine's list of fastest growing churches.
How has this multi-cultural church grown so quickly? Well, in the last two years they have seen 1,300 decisions for Jesus Christ! Although I don't know the percentages it's obvious that Transformation Church's growth is due to people coming to Christ and plugging into the church community. In a recent article for Outreach Magazine Derwin wrote, "Local churches are missionary training centers so everyday missionaries can be released into every sphere of life. As we say at Transformation Church, the service is the huddle so we can go out and play the game of life on mission."
Derwin has got show muscles (after all he did play in the NFL!) but the go muscles at Transformation Church are the result of the "everyday missionaries" in his congregation who reach everyday people with the good news of Jesus.
What's true of the evangelism linebacker's church can be true of your youth group or congregation if you pray for others with passion, pursue others with love and persuade others with the truth of Jesus Christ. Start focusing, not on attendance numbers, but on making disciples who make disciples (aka "everyday missionaries!") The right kind of growth will happen as a result.
And in the midst of all this growth please remember the cardinal rule...no flexing or Speedos allowed in church.