The Curious Case of the Growth Conference image

The Curious Case of the Growth Conference

I went to a conference recently that left a rather curious taste in the mouth. If you’ve been around the church for a while, especially in a leadership capacity, you may even have been to it yourself. It was called the Growth conference, and it was all about how people can get bigger. The speakers were all large people, especially the Americans. The audience, if conversations in the coffee queue were anything to go by, were all there because they wanted to be large themselves. It was fascinating.

There was lots about the Growth conference that was impressive. It was well marketed and superbly run. The speakers were excellent communicators, and were able to share all sorts of principles from their own experience of growing; clearly, they were practising what they were preaching (virtually every speaker there was several times larger than I was, for instance). They were also, from what I could tell, genuine and humble individuals with a passion to help people put on weight. Personally I haven’t implemented everything they said, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, but I’m confident that if I did, I would get bigger myself.

Yet there was also something odd about it. My concerns started when I noticed was that all of the speakers, and most of the delegates, were operating on the same assumption: that if you were getting bigger, it was because you were healthy. Everyone talked as if growing and putting on muscle were the same thing; if you’re growing in bulk, and need to buy larger clothes, it’s because you’re becoming stronger. But this, it seemed to me, was obviously untrue. Some people who grow are getting stronger, to be sure—but plenty of people are simply getting fatter. In fact, there are all sorts of people whose physical growth is not a result of exercise, effort and a healthy diet at all. Rather, their growth is a sign that they either aren’t doing enough, or are eating too much fast food, or both.

That bothered me, because it was clear that the speakers (and many of the delegates I talked to) already knew this. It’s self-evident: there are plenty of muscular small people, and plenty of flabby big ones. (It’s like Charles Spurgeon’s comment: sometimes we grow because we have a tumour.) Yet even though everyone knew that growth was not in itself a good thing, and that it could be a result of either a healthy or a harmful lifestyle, the conference was entirely focused on how to get larger, as opposed to stronger, more muscular, or whatever. There were seminars on managing size, growing pains, designing a house for larger people, how you source bigger trousers, how you overcome small person thinking, and so on—but very few on the disciplines that actually make for healthy, strong, muscular people. It was, as I say, somewhat odd.

There was still plenty to learn, of course. If you are a large person, it can be quite useful to share ideas on how to cope with growth—what pressures, responsibilities, habits and practices can help you manage and steward your size well—and as someone who is fairly large myself, there was plenty to glean there. At times it was refreshing; big people can often feel squashed in conferences that are entirely aimed at small people. And the speakers were, as I say, lovely and humble individuals. So there was plenty to appreciate.

At the same time, the focus of the conference was so relentlessly on growth, as opposed to health, strength, activity, productivity, exercise, diet or whatever, that I found it a bit unsettling. Personally I do want to grow, but I want the right kind of growth—the kind that comes through eating well and exercising faithfully—rather than the kind that comes from doing those things badly (let alone the kind that comes from taking food from other people). So I feel ambivalent about the Growth conference. I may go to the Strength conference next year instead.

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