There are broken churches in the world. Broken churches with failing pastors.
Most of those churches are small. Thankfully. But that’s just because 90 percent of all churches in the world are small.
So yes, there are good reasons for failing pastors to leave failing churches.
But not all small churches are broken. And not all small church pastors are failures.
Overcoming that toxically dangerous mindset is why I opened my book, The Grasshopper Myth, by writing, “I am a Small Church pastor. And I am not a failure.”
How do I know I’m not a failure? Because I’m blessed to be the pastor of one of the best, healthiest, most innovative and outward-reaching churches I know.
It's just not very big.
The Myth of Inevitable Church Growth
I don’t think there’s been a month in the last 15 years in which a first time guest hasn’t told me, “Wow, what a great church! You guys won’t be small for long.”
I’m still waiting.
And working. And praying. And training leaders. And removing obstacles that hinder growth. And— (you get the idea).
But we’re still small.
Occasionally, after hearing about our attendance plateau, someone will tell me I need to step aside so the church can bring in a pastor who can grow it big. (It’s always someone who’s never been to the church, by the way.)
But I’ve decided to stay for the long haul. 23 years so far. Even though, as I admitted in The Surprising, Guilt-Free Reason 80% of Churches Don't Break the 200 Barrier, I stink at church growth.
And no, it's not about ego. If it was, I'd have followed my ego out the door over a decade ago. But I stayed. And I'm so grateful to God that I did.
Six Reasons I’m Not Leaving My Healthy Small Church
1. Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better
Smaller isn’t better either. But small is normal.
Not only are 90 percent of churches under 200, 80 percent are under 100. That’s a whole lot of small.
In regions where the church is experiencing the greatest growth as a percentage of the general population – like Asia, Africa and Latin America – the growth is almost exclusively through the multiplication of small churches, not through the growth of big ones.
Yet the perception remains, mostly in the western world, that a bigger church is a better church.
No, big churches aren’t bad either. I think they’re great. But they’re not automatically better.
2. Small Doesn’t Mean Broken
Declining or plateauing congregation numbers should never be ignored. They can help us zero in on problems that otherwise might not be found. But attendance numbers alone do not measure the health of a church.
Reaching a numerical plateau does not mean the church has stopped being effective, or that the pastor has reached the end of their leadership abilities. For more on this check out my post, How to Tell If a Small Church Is Strategic or Stuck.
3. Pastoral Transitions Are Momentum-Killers
Of all the ways to damage a church and kill momentum, pastoral transition is at or near the top of the list.
Pastors are not interchangeable parts. You can’t unplug one, plug in a new one and think everything will keep going full steam ahead. Especially in smaller churches, where the pastor knows most or all of the people personally.
Leaving an otherwise healthy church with the expectation that the next pastor can take over where the old pastor left off is so naïve, it’s almost breathtaking.
4. There Is No Church Growth Formula – Or I’d Be Doing It
We’ve been told that if you take the right steps, numerical congregational growth is inevitable.
I’ve read all the books and been to all the seminars on church growth that you have. And I’ve applied all the principles. They worked to a certain degree, but not entirely. There are no guarantees. They’re not wrong, but the results are not universal or inevitable.
Check out my post, The Myth of Inevitable Congregational Growth, for more about this.
5. Where Do These “Pastors Who Can Grow Churches” Come From?
When people suggest I leave to make way for a pastor who can grow the church, it makes me wonder. Do people think there's a magic garden where you can pick a pastor that will help your church grow?
If so, why not just start there?
I know that sounds more than a little sarcastic, but isn’t that the implication when people say “get out of the way and let someone who can grow the church take over for you?”
The idea that there’s a ready-to-go group of pastors who can grow churches might make some sense if 90 percent of the churches in the world were big and only 10 percent were small. But the numbers, as we've already seen, are exactly the opposite of that.
Individual congregational growth has always been hard to do.
Even in the last 40 years, with so much helpful material from the church growth movement and the advent of big, mega and venti-sized churches, the percentage of small to large congregations hasn’t changed in any statistically meaningful way.
6. Only Jesus Grows Churches
Jesus said “I will build my church.” (Matt 16:18)
His church, not mine. His growth, not mine.
The moment my presence hinders God's plan for this church, I'll be out the door. And I'll joyfully roll out the red carpet for the next pastor, with the hope that the church will become healthier and bigger than anything I could imagine. But until then, I'm going to keep doing what Jesus called me here to do.
Jesus told us to make disciples. And he told pastors (along with apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers) to “prepare God's people for works of service.” (Eph 4:12)
If you’re not doing that, either start doing it or leave your church.
If you are doing that, you're a good pastor. Don’t let anyone – or any attendance records – tell you you're not.
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