Methods and strategies that work in big churches seldom work in small ones. But most church growth conferences, books, podcasts and blogs come from a big church context.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Just be aware of it before you get discouraged trying to apply something that wasn’t meant for your situation.
2. Changing Tactics Mid-Growth Is Extraordinarily Difficult
This is why church growth barriers are such a challenge.
A pastor arrives at, or launches a church. It gets healthy and strong, even experiencing numerical growth, because they’re great at applying small church leadership principles.
Then you hit a barrier. The church sits under 50, 100, or 200 for longer than you expect.
So you read a couple blog posts and books about breaking growth barriers. And they all tell you the same thing. To push through to the next numerical level (especially from a small church to a mid-size church), you have to unlearn everything you’ve spent years learning, putting into practice and getting good at. This often includes many of the things you love the most about pastoring.
And, to make things worse, they’re not wrong! You absolutely cannot guide a church through the 200 barrier using the same methods and structures that got you there.
But the changes required aren’t subtle, gradual or easy. They require massive shifts in thinking, action and strategy. Not just for the pastor, but for the church leadership and congregation.
And it’s not just a matter of picking up and applying new skills. Moving from shepherd to rancher, or pastor to manager is a 180 degree reversal of many of the skills you’ve learned. Often it involves a denial of your God-given gift-mix. It was for me.
In his very helpful book, One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Gary L. McIntosh writes at length about the awkward stage between being a small church and being a big church. He calls this middle ground a “stretched cell church.” And, like anything that’s stretched, it’s a pressure-filled situation.
Certainly, such barriers can be overcome when new skills are learned and applied. That’s how big churches got big, after all. But making those transitions is much, much harder than we’re usually told.
And it isn’t always necessary, either. A healthy small church doesn’t have to become a big church in order to fulfill its mission.