Some things become better when they become scalable.
Some have mixed results.
This is true for churches.
The Positives And Negatives Of Scalability
For instance, the car I drive is cheaper, safer and more fuel-efficient because the assembly line made automobile production scalable. It’s unquestionably better to buy a car that is one of millions rather than one of a kind.
Art, however isn’t made better by becoming scalable. Paintings and poetry will always be better one-by-one from the heart of an artist than mass-produced by machines and logarithms.
In other situations, scalability brings mixed results. Most food tastes better when made in small batches instead of big ones. But we all have a favorite mass-produced food product we love to eat. Also, farm-to-table is better when you can get it, but scalability of food production grows far more food at cheaper prices, feeding and saving the lives millions of people.
What If Scale Wasn’t The Goal?
In a recent post, What If Scale Wasn’t The Goal? Seth Godin wrote:
From restaurants to direct mail, there's pressure to be scalable, to be efficient, to create something easily replicated.
Which is often used as the reason it's not very good. "Well, we'd like to spend more time/more care/more focus on this, but we need to get bigger."
What if you started in the other direction?
What would happen if you created something noteworthy and worried about scale only after you've figured out how to make a difference?
Godin’s point is simple, but profound. Don’t get bigger at the expense of getting better. Make a difference first.
Scalability has the same upsides and downsides in churches.
What if we did what Godin suggests – don’t push for scalability until we’re really making a difference, then scale that? And only scale it if it actually works better when it scales bigger?
Know Why Your Church Is Small Before You Go Big
Church leaders often worry about churches that stay small. Some of that worry is justified. Much of it isn’t.
Some things about church are always scalable. The Great Commission commands us to reach as many people as possible with the truth of the gospel, for instance.
But other things are better in small batches. The Great Commandment often demands that we go smaller and deeper, not bigger and wider. The same is often true for the mentoring aspects of discipleship.
We need to understand why a church is small before we can know if its size is a problem to overcome or an opportunity to capitalize on.
Is it small because something is broken or stuck, causing it to stall out when it should be scalable? If so, good stewardship demands that those problems be addressed and fixed.
Or is your church small because it excels in the kind of ministry that happens best in small batches? Maybe you’re ministering to people who feel overwhelmed when the crowd gets big. If so, good stewardship demands that you dump the guilt and reignite your passion for farm-to-table faith.
Size alone is not enough to determine the health or sickness of a church. The issue is effectiveness.
If you and your church are most effective for the kingdom of God by learning how to scale things up, getting larger and larger, go for it!
But if you and your church do the kind of ministry that only works well in small batches, press in to that with all the heart, passion and creativity God has given you.
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