From the laity to the largest church pastors I have heard this phrase, "you are either growing or you are dying." Like many dichotomies that set up an either/or scenario in order to categorize good and bad, this "growing or dying" dichotomy is not Gospel but Empire building.
To begin with this grow or die idea puts out there that there is prefered option - growth. And because we tend to have an unhealthy relationship with death, church leaders will lie to ourselves in order to paint the picture that our church is growing (just to show we are not dying). This is part of the reason why it has taken the UMC decades to come to terms with the fact that we are in rapid decline.
Because fundamentally this growing or dying question is in our minds and we all desire to grow, we forget that the Gospel is not about growth but about dying. It is about dying to self. It is about dying in order to be raised by God. As such, in our efforts to always grow, Churches never learn how to die - as a body or as individuals. We are so growth focused that we shun death and dying thus retarding a healthy developmental relationship with death.
It may be the influences of Empire that Christians began to read the story of Jesus and elevate Matthew 28's commission over the other commissions of Jesus. The "Great Commission" of Matthew 28 is not great because Jesus said it was great. Jesus gave many commissions - forgive, heal, reconcile, welcome, visit, feed, etc. But it is the "Go and make disciples" commission that also helps fuel the growing or dying dichotomy.
As an example of what is might look like to add an additional way to the grow or die mentality lets talk about beer. Specifically the beer that is brewed by the Westvieteren Brewery. This brewery is run by the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Belgium. Their three beers have been talked about as some of the best beers in the world. With such high demand you might think this brewery is looking to expand, because we all know if they are not growing they are dying.
However, the monks there make a set amount each year to meet the financial needs of the monastery and their mission. At that is all they will make until the next year when they make roughly the same amount of beer.
When asked by commercial businesses why they do not make more beer to meet the demands of the market I imagine the monks might say something like, We do not make beer for the market, we make the beer for God who has put before us a specific mission and purpose. To be move too far away or become focused on growth we miss the mission God has set in our hearts."
Of course it is exciting to hear about the visions growing churches have. It is equally humbling to hear of the dreams that dying churches hold on to to preserve the saintly work of the past. But it should also be admirable to the churches that seek to be who they are because that is what God is calling them to be.
These churches are not growing or dying perhaps they are, like the monks in Belgium, focused on meeting the call of God and not the demands of the market.