Do all healthy things grow? Yes.
Do all healthy churches become big churches? No.
But many of us have been ministering under that false assumption. We've been told there’s one set of ingredients. Use them to become a healthy church and it will inevitably become a big church.
The truth is, there’s not just one list of ingredients.
There are two lists.
One for a healthy church, one for a big church.
And the lists don’t overlap.
Thankfully, they're not mutually exclusive, either. A church can be both big and healthy – or small and healthy.
Let’s take a look at both lists.
List 1: Ingredients for a Healthy Church
There are two ingredients needed for a great, healthy church. We see them in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
- Love and worship Jesus.
- Love, serve and make disciples of others.
That’s it. One list with two simple items.
If you're doing the Great Commandment and Great Commission you have a great church. No matter the size, the denomination, or the liturgy.
We can even break them into bite-size pieces. The most common way of doing that is using the five elements of Worship, Ministry, Discipleship, Evangelism and Fellowship. Loving Jesus and loving others is what those five are all about.
But won’t a healthy church grow? Of course. But not all growth is numerical.
Healthy peas and healthy pumpkins grow to different sizes for different purposes. So do different churches.
Sometimes church growth means a bigger pumpkin. Most of the time it means more peas.
List 2: Ingredients for a Big Church
When it comes to building a big church, there’s another list of ingredients. And it’s a long one, with more being added as a church gets bigger.
For a megachurch, it’s a really long list. Here are just a few of those ingredients:
- Lots of people
- Lots of money
- Lots of land
- A large facility (or network of facilities)
- Years of hard work and sacrifice
- A government that hasn’t outlawed the church
- A culture that doesn’t persecute Christians
- A large base of wealthy, generous Christians
- The ability to hire, pay and coordinate architects, designers and contractors
- A cooperative city government
- Lack of opposition from neighbors
- A long-term pastorate
- Highly complex administrative and delegation skills
- The ability to cast and maintain a big vision for a long time
- Multiple departments for multiple ministries
- The gift of raising funds (see my previous post about The Big Ask)
- and more
Bigness and Greatness are Friendly, But Not Married
None of the elements needed to build a big church are wrong. But the fact that there are two lists means we should be careful about using numerical growth as the primary indicator of church health.
First, the elements required for a great church aren’t required for a big church – or even for a growing church, even though they’re required for a healthy church. After all, there are some big churches that aren't healthy.
Second, there are great temptations to compromise or appease on core issues in order to maintain many of the elements on the big church list. Money being the biggest challenge. No, that doesn’t mean that all, or even most big churches are compromisers or appeasers. But the temptation is very real. I admire pastors who have experienced massive numerical growth without succumbing to those temptations.
Third, there’s the equal, but opposite temptation for small churches to use posts like this as an excuse to become lazy and self-righteous. Smallness is never an excuse for not loving Jesus and others with everything we have, or for not learning new leadership skills.
Great, But Not Big, Is Normal
Take a look at the second list again. Very few churches or their pastors are able to do most, let alone all of the elements on it. I know I can’t. As I wrote in The Grasshopper Myth, it wasn’t because I didn’t try. It wasn’t in my mix of gifts, skills and personality type. I’m a small church pastor by calling, gifting and temperament.
Too many good pastors of good churches have been living in unnecessary guilt, frustration and self-condemnation because their church isn’t getting bigger. We’ve been told that if our church isn’t getting bigger it must not be healthy. And we've believed it.
But the second list shows us that’s not true. There’s an entirely separate list of skills, assets and exterior circumstances needed for the kind of consistent church growth that leads to bigness. And, while it’s great when those two lists combine, they rarely do.
So, if you’re in a great, healthy church that’s not becoming the big church you were told was inevitable, that’s okay. You’re not failing. You’re normal.
Keep loving Jesus and leading people to love him and love others in his name.
Big churches can be great. But bigness isn’t necessary for greatness. Small churches can be great, too.
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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