“If a small church is truly healthy, won’t it grow numerically and eventually become a large church?”
I have been asked that question numerous times by people who have bought into the idea that the primary indicator of church health is numerical growth. They tend to equate church health with church size. The two do not necessarily equate.
There are large churches that are extremely healthy but there are also large churches that are unhealthy.
There are small churches that are extremely healthy but there are small churches that are unhealthy.
The challenge facing every church is not how to grow numerically but how to become a healthy church.
In evaluating how your church is facing up to this challenge here are two things to consider.
Numerical growth does not necessarily mean successful evangelism
There are churches that are growing numerically because they are reaching out into their communities and bringing people to Jesus Christ. I do not want to suggest that such churches don’t exist but they are few and far between.
Reality is that the church in Canada is doing a very poor job of evangelism and that is true of most large churches every bit as much as it is true of small churches. Very few churches in Canada are growing numerically because they are successfully reaching people with the gospel.
Most large churches grow not because they are successful in evangelism but because they are successful at stealing people away from other churches. Large churches tend to be very good at giving Christians what they want.
They tend to have better speakers, better children’s programs, larger youth groups, greater variation in their programs, etc. They do these things very well so that when Christians start looking for a place to attend, the large church is often on their list of places to check out.
Often the growth that large churches experience is numerical growth but it isn’t kingdom growth. Such growth does not equate to church health. One has to be careful not to measure health only by numerical growth.
A friend passed on to me an excellent article that tells what it is like to be a leader in a church that is losing people to a larger church that is growing through attracting transfer growth. It is an example of a large unhealthy church that grew in spite of its unhealthy condition.
Numerical growth does not necessarily mean growing Christians
Churches are called to the task of making disciples. That is the heart of the Great Commission. It is the challenge that has been given to every church whatever its size. That is the measurement by which we need to evaluate church health.
Whatever the size of the church, if the people attending are not growing into passionate followers of Jesus Christ, the church is not healthy.
The challenge is the same in every church. God has entrusted people into the care of the leaders in that church and the leaders have the task of building those people into disciples. The larger the church the more people for whom the leaders are accountable.
The ministry of Jesus can accurately be described as one of working with a small number of people (the twelve disciples) with the purpose of developing them into passionate followers capable of providing leadership after he was gone. Often he avoided the crowds so that he could focus on training the few.
The focus of most of the books that I have read or seminars that I have attended over the course of my life have had the opposite focus. They have taught me how to attract the crowds while giving almost no attention whatsoever to how to grow the individual.
It would be wonderful if the larger a church became numerically, the better job they were doing in turning people into passionate followers of Jesus but that is simply not the case.
Disciple-making only happens when a church, whatever its size, intentionally commits to making it a priority.
Reality is always your friend
I love this phrase that I first read in a book by Henry Cloud entitled Integrity. Too often we try to avoid reality because it is not easy to face but it is only when we stare reality full in the face and embrace it that we can bring about the changes in our churches that need to happen.
So what is reality in the church in Canada today?
The church in Canada is not doing a very good job of reaching out into their communities with the gospel and bringing people to faith in Jesus. While churches give lip service to evangelism, very few are successful in doing it.
What is even worse we have learned to live comfortably with our failure.
Reality also is that this is just as true of large churches as it is of small ones. It is true of every church in between. In measuring the health of your church one of the issues that you must face is your failure to reach people for Christ.
Reality also is that many of the people who do attend our churches are spiritual babies who have never been challenged to grow in their faith. Whatever size your church may be if it is not producing passionate followers of Jesus, it is not a healthy church.
Leaders need to look reality right in the face and honestly measure the spiritual passion of those Christians for whom they are responsible.
One of the church growth ideas that I have often heard presented over the years has been that in reaching out to people we need to find the need in their lives and then present the gospel as a way of filling that need.
The gospel is presented as an answer to whatever problems a person might be facing. Whether their problems are spiritual, emotional, relational or, in some cases even financial, Christ is presented as the answer to the person’s future success and happiness.
The problem is that when we begin with the person’s problems, we tend to present a me-focused gospel in which my needs are central to what being a Christian is all about.
The Bible states that becoming a Christian involves entering into a life of sacrifice, service and commitment that is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Becoming a disciple, a passionate follower of Jesus, means putting him at the center of my world and being willing to do whatever he might want me to do.
A healthy church is not measured by size. It is measured by those kinds of disciples. Producing those kinds of passionate followers is the challenge God has given your church whatever size it might be.