“Jesus wants the church to grow!”
I agree. How can I not? Jesus was the one who said, “I will build my church,” and I’ve found that arguing with him is not a recipe for health or happiness.
“Jesus wants your church to grow!”
Wait just a second.
We often make that second statement as though it’s the same thing as the first. It’s not.
The church growth movement tends to be focused on the growth of individual congregations. Sometimes that’s expanded, usually through a denominational strategy, to include a multiple-church plan, including church planting, but a denominational focus is too narrow also.
What if, when Jesus said, “I will build my church,” what he had in mind wasn’t a world filled with grand cathedrals and megachurches? What if the current breakdown of 90 percent small churches to 10 percent medium, big and megachurches, instead of being a problem to solve, is actually closer to what Jesus intended?
If that’s even a possibility, shouldn’t we look into the idea of taking small churches more seriously?
(Today’s post is an excerpt from The Grasshopper Myth, Chapter 6, “So What’s Wrong with Church Growth?”)
Taking Small Seriously
Maybe getting small churches to become big churches isn’t the answer to the problems that are stifling the growth of the western church in recent decades. After all, in the places where the church is growing the fastest, like in Latin America and Africa, new churches are popping up all over the place. Sure, they have megachurches too, but megachurches aren’t what’s fueling some of the greatest revivals the world has ever seen. It’s mostly happening in new small churches.
Maybe what Jesus had in mind was a world littered with churches of all sizes, shapes and styles to meet needs of all sizes, shapes and styles.
When my vision is limited to growing my church, instead of participating in what Jesus is doing to build his church, there’s a tendency to invest our precious resources, both human and material, in the wrong places. If my church is supposed to be one of the small, wiry, guerrilla-style outposts, I’m not being a good steward of its resources when I pump my time, energy and money into trying to be a megachurch.
So that begs the question – if small churches can be so great, why does it seem like there are so many small churches, but so few great small churches?
First of all, that is only true in the western developed world, not in the developing world. But in the places where it is true, one of the reasons has to be our decades-long insistence on numerical growth as a measure (or the measure) of success.
How is the pastor of a small church supposed to build a great church if they don’t know their church can be both great and small?
Size Matters – But Not the Way We Think It Does
According to Lyle Schaller, “Churches have more in common by size than by their denomination, tradition, location, age, or any other single isolatable factor.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, we need to start thinking along those lines about the growth of the Church around the world.
What characteristics are shared by churches within a specific size-range? And what makes those churches ideally suited to certain roles in the body of Christ? I’m not suggesting some form of centralized organizational structure – Paul was very clear in his body analogy that we have one head, many parts. And that head is Christ, not a centralized bureaucracy. But the parts need to start thinking more holistically.
One critical step towards that holistic thinking is to start seeing the advantages of varying sizes and styles of congregations.
Let’s stop arguing about which size is best, and start seeing what’s best about each size.
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