Dave Jacobs in a blog entry entitled What if there are no ‘growth barriers’ for you to break through says this:
“We can be small and think small. We can focus on what we can’t do rather than what we can do. We can listen to our church-culture that tells us because we are small that there is something wrong with us, we are broken and need to be fixed. We can be made to feel invisible, insignificant, and pathetic. But these are all lies.”
What caught my attention in the above quote was the last sentence. I began to wonder what other lies have small-church leaders been told. Even more important, what lies have they believed.
Lie # 1: Small churches have no value
This is the lie that has done the most damage because it is the lie that almost no one verbalizes. The problem is that it is conveyed to small church leaders in a hundred different ways.
It is the pastors of mega-churches who speak at conferences and hold seminars because after all what could a small-church leader possibly teach that would be of value.
Many denominational leaders are taken from larger churches because what could a person who served in small churches her whole life provide that would be a help to other church leaders.
Even members of small churches convey the idea that their church has little value when they tell people that they come from a small church with that tone in their voice that says that their church doesn’t count.
If anyone suggests that your church doesn’t have any value just because it is small, remember that its a lie.
Every church has equal value in the sight of Jesus because every church is loved equally by the Lord of the church (Ephesians 5:25). It is in that relationship with Jesus that a church derives its value not from the number of people that might attend.
Lie # 2: Small-church leaders have failed because their churches have remained small.
Have you ever sat in the sanctuary of your church on a Saturday evening and felt like a failure because you knew that the next morning it wasn’t going to be filled?
I have on more than one occasion.
If success as a pastor is measured by consistent numerical growth as the so-called experts tell us, then those of you who lead small churches are failures.
Your church hasn’t grown in the time that you have been there and if what they tell us is true then that is the sign that you are failing.
You might even have some people right within your church who are starting to question your leadership because you haven’t produced significant numerical growth. You may be feeling pressure to do something that will bring new people into your church so that the numerical-growth people will be happy. It probably doesn’t matter where the new people come from as long as more seats are filled.
If anyone suggests that you have failed just because numbers are small, remember its a lie.
For too long church leaders have been told that to succeed, they have to adopt 21st century business practices because numerical growth is the sign of success. That simply is not true.
As a church leaders you have been called to pastor the people whom God has entrusted into your care. You have not been called to be the CEO of a thriving enterprise. You have been called to produce disciples who are growing in every aspect of their walk with God. That is the biblical role that God himself has assigned to you.
I become emotional when I write about this because I have seen so much damage caused by this particular lie.
Numerical growth is not the biblical sign of success. Filling an auditorium with people is not the sign of God’s blessing on your church.
If you are the pastor of a small church that is seeing limited growth, that is not a sign that you are a failure.
The sign of a healthy church is not more seats in the pews. It is growth into discipleship in those already there.
Lie # 3: If you just apply the right principles, numerical growth will happen.
This lie is particularly real to me because I bought into it when I was a young pastor just out of Bible College. At the heart of the Church Growth movement was the idea that if a leader could just master the right techniques, growth would happen.
One of the first books that I read on the subject was a book written by C. Peter Wagner entitled Your Church Can Grow: Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Church. In that book he writes:
“Lack of church growth is a serious disease, but in most cases it is a curable one. The cure, however, is usually not simple. More often it requires as careful a diagnosis and therapy as a tumor on the ovary or a coronary thrombosis. One of the central tasks of the church growth school is (1) to develop scientific techniques of diagnostic research for ailing churches and (2) to design instruments to be used in the kind of therapy which will restore normal church health.” p. 41
I accepted that as gospel truth. The problem was that it was a lie.
Church growth is not just a matter of applying correct techniques. It is radically different from performing surgery on a tumor or a coronary thrombosis. Diagnose the problem; write the correct prescription; watch growth take place. It doesn’t work that way.
Leadership in any church is so much more than just learning proper techniques. Do we need to grow in our leadership abilities? Of course we do. Leaders should place a high priority on continuous growth. I believe that every church budget should have a section in it for leaders to attend seminars, buy books and connect with other leaders.
Having said that though there is no book or conference or seminar that is going to provide you with a sure fire formula for growth. Leadership is not a matter of having the right techniques. It is a matter of walking in the Spirit and being sensitive to his leading and there is no magic formula for that.
Lie # 4: Every church should be big.
I want to leave you with a final thought.
Maybe, just maybe, God wants your church to be just the size that it is.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t want to see people become Christians through the ministry of your church. If any church, whatever size it might be, is not concerned about reaching out with the gospel that church needs to re-examine its priorities.
Maybe though your church is exactly the right size that it needs to be to do what God wants it to do at this point in its history. Maybe it doesn’t have to be larger in order to be used by God to impact the lives that he wants impacted. Maybe it is the right size right now.
My final thought is this. Don’t buy into the lies.
Don’t make numerical growth the goal.
Build your goals around the God-given task of making the people you have into passionate, committed followers of Jesus Christ.