When considering this question, it is also important to work with a clear definition of “the church.” As our Lutheran Confessions remind us, the church on earth is “the people of God gathered around his Word and Sacraments.” Atonement Lutheran Church is then one flock of God’s fold. We are “members of the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:12-13) who gather together corporately, as one body of believers, on Sunday morning to hear God’s Word and receive his Sacraments.
If a Christian congregation is defined as a group of believers in Christ gathered around the Word of God and the Sacraments, then a congregation is growing when people are being connected to Christ and the universal church through the Word of God and the Sacraments. A Christian congregation is growing when the members of the congregation are continuing to grow in Christ through the presence of God’s Spirit active through his Word and Sacraments.
That is to say that “church growth” is not just numerical growth. Church growth is also members of the church growing in their Christian faith. In recent years, particularly among Christian denominations in the United States, there has been a great amount of emphasis put on the numerical growth of congregations. This type of approach is undoubtedly influenced by the business world which defines success and growth in terms of numerical, measurable goals—“How much and how many?”
But a Christian congregation is a part of the universal church. It is not a business. To be sure, sensible business practices like good accounting and good organization are helpful. Having goals in mind as a congregation and developing a mission and vision statement are practical components to the governance and operation of a Christian congregation. Yet, ultimately, the message of the Gospel and the presence of the Spirit at work through it connect people to Christ and grow people in Christ. The success of the proclamation of the Gospel cannot be defined primarily by measurable goals or constrained in strict mathematical terms.
So what does all of this mean for Atonement Lutheran Church? First, it means that the Gospel as proclaimed through the Word of God and the Sacraments should always be at the center of our life together as a congregation. Second, it means that if God is going to use our congregation to bless the universal Christian church with numerical growth, it will only come by way of the Word and the Sacraments, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Third, it means that as long as the Gospel is the center of our life together as a congregation, we always have reason to thank God for growing our congregation. Even if for some reason our Lord decides not to bless the universal Christian church with numerical growth through Atonement Lutheran, we are still a congregation gathered around the Word of God and the Sacraments. The Gospel is still being preached purely in the pulpit. This means that the current members of Atonement will continue to grow in Christ by the power of the Gospel. The members of Atonement will continue to grow closer to one another as we celebrate our life together in Christ. And we should never underestimate the power of this kind of church growth to impact the health and stability of our congregation, as well as to impact the spreading of the Gospel to our family, friends, and neighbors. God will continue to bless us with his Word!
 “Article VII” of the Augsburg Confession, found in the Book of Concord , edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, 2000.