This is, unfortunately, a widely promoted myth that simply isn’t true. Part of the problem is that no one ever defines what they mean by the terms quality and quantity. Let me give you my definitions.
Quality refers to the kind of disciples a church is producing. Are people being genuinely transformed into the likeness of Christ? Are believers grounded in the Word? Are they maturing in Christ? Are they using their talents in service and ministry? Are they sharing their faith regularly with others? These are just a few ways to measure the quality of a church.
Quantity refers to the number of disciples a church is producing. How many people are being brought to Christ, developed to maturity, and mobilized for ministry and missions?
Once the terms are defined, it’s obvious that quality and quantity are not in opposition of each other. They are not mutually exclusive. You do not have to choose between the two. Every church should want both. In fact, an exclusive focus on either quality or quantity will produce an unhealthy church. Don’t be fooled by either/or thinking.
When you go fishing, do you want quality or quantity? I want both! I want to catch the biggest fish I can, and I want to catch as many as I can. Every church should desire to reach as many people for Christ as possible as well as desire to help those people become as spiritually mature as possible.
The fact that many pastors wish to ignore is this: Quality produces quantity. A church full of genuinely changed people attracts others. If you study healthy churches you’ll discover that when God finds a church that is doing a quality job of winning, nurturing, equipping, and sending out believers, he sends that church plenty of raw material. On the other hand, why would God send a lot of prospects to a church that doesn’t know what to do with them?
In any church where lives are being changed, marriages are being saved, and love is flowing freely, you’ll have to lock the doors to keep people from attending. People are attracted to churches with quality worship, preaching, ministry, and fellowship. Quality attracts quantity. Every pastor needs to ask a very tough question: If most of our members never invite anyone to come to our church, what are they saying (by their actions) about the quality of what our church offers?
It is also true that quantity creates quality in some areas of church life. For instance, the bigger your church gets, the better your music gets. Would you rather sing with eleven people or eleven hundred people? Would you rather be a part of a single-adult program with two people or two hundred people?
Some churches excuse their lack of growth by insisting that the smaller a church is, the more quality it can maintain. This reasoning is faulty. If quality is inherent in smallness, then, logically, the highest quality churches would consist of only one person! On the contrary, having spent much of my life prior to Saddleback in small churches, I have observed that one reason many churches remain small is because there is little quality in the life and ministry of those churches. There is no correlation between the size and the quality of a ministry.
What if your parents had applied the quality versus quantity myth to having children? What if, after their first child, they had said, “One kid is enough. Let’s focus on making this child a quality kid. Let’s not worry about quantity.” Most of us wouldn’t be here if our parents had thought that!
A church that has no interest at all in increasing its number of converts is, in essence, saying to the rest of the world, “You all can go to hell.” If my three kids were lost on a wilderness trip, my wife and I would be consumed with finding them. We’d spare no expense to seek and save our lost children. And when we found one child, we wouldn’t think of calling off the search and just focusing on the one “quality” kid we had left. We’d keep looking as long as any child was still lost.
In the church’s case, as long as there are lost people in the world we must care about quantity as well as quality. At Saddleback, we count people because people count. Those numbers represent people Jesus died for. Anytime someone says, “You can’t measure success by numbers,” my response is, “It all depends on what you’re counting!” If you’re counting marriages saved, lives transformed, broken people healed, unbelievers becoming worshipers of Jesus, and members being mobilized for ministry and missions, numbers are extremely important. They have eternal significance.
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).