A church of 50 people needs to be pastored like a church of 50 people.
You can’t act like a church of 500. Or even 100. The systems, methods and relationship dynamics simply won’t fit.
So how can a church grow, either in its size or effectiveness, if we’re only pastoring the people we have?
While pastoring the people we have, we need to create in-house systems and outward ministry suitable for a church of double our current size.
Training A Team
Recently I had the privilege of talking to a pastor who has only been in his current church for a short time. The church went through years of difficulty before he arrived and there are just a few folks left. All of them are older than the pastor, who is in his 60s.
Here’s how he’s pastoring that handful of people, while creating opportunities to minister to more.
During the week, the pastor spends almost no time in the office. Instead, he heads out to local coffee shops, stores, community centers and so on. He’s getting to know the folks in his small town. He does it alone because the members of his church are too elderly to do it with him.
But that doesn’t mean the church members are inactive. Every Sunday, the nursery and kids’ rooms are set up and sanitized. The volunteer seniors show up early and put out signup sheets. A rotating group of senior saints wait in those rooms from at least 15 minutes before the service starts until about 15 minutes after it starts. If no kids show up (which, so far, none have) they head into the service.
It’s too early to give you any results of their work yet, but this is a great example of ministering to the people you have while preparing systems and outreach to double your effectiveness and outreach.
Loosen The Lid On Ministry Capacity
One of the main reasons pastors get burned out is because, instead of following the what I like to call the Pastoral Prime Mandate to work with other leaders and equip the saints (Eph 4:11-12), we try to do most or all the ministry for the church.
When the pastor is trying to do all the ministry for everyone, we hit our capacity for effective ministry far too quickly. No matter how small the church is.
But when we’re pastoring the people we have by equipping them for ministry, our lid lifts.
Even if the church doesn’t grow from 50 to 100, having outreach and systems for 100 will serve the 50 better and give the pastor some margin. Church leaders will have more time to study, pray, rest and re-energize. And the ministry we do will be more effective as a result.
Run Faster, Longer Without Burning Out
Years ago, I was with a friend who was raving about the capabilities of a new sports car. I’m not a car guy, so I asked him about it.
“Here’s what I don’t get,” I said. “You’re excited about the fact that this car can go 150 mph, but the maximum speed you’ll ever go on the freeway is maybe 80-90 (if you don’t get caught for speeding). And you’ll never stay at a sustained pace of more than 70 or so. Why even have retail cars that can go that fast?”
“Because,” my friend explained, “if you take your car, with a top speed of about 90 or 100 and run it all day at 70, you’ll be taxing it hard and wearing it out. But this sports car with a top speed of 150 can run at 70 all day every day and barely feel it.”
That’s a great description of what happens when we set up systems and outreach in a church for double our current size.
It creates margin. Extra room to run faster, longer without wearing ourselves or others out.
If we’re pastoring using systems that barely fit the size we are now, not only will we not be ready to increase our attendance or effectiveness, but the pastor will always be overwhelmed and on the edge of burnout, no matter how big the church gets, or how small it stays.
The Mission Deserves Margin
The mission and ministry God has given us is too important for business as usual.
Even if it means sitting in an empty nursery Sunday after Sunday, we need to be ready for the Sunday someone new shows up.
And, in the meantime, we need to be going out to find them, not just sitting and waiting for them.
Pastor the people God gave you. Go out into the harvest. Prepare the house to receive them in. And see what God will do with that kind of dedication.
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