This is an excerpt from our upcoming book, 21st Century Strategies for Church Growth.
One of the key differences between a stuck small church and a growing church (of any size) is found in the way the average church member thinks. In stuck small churches, the members believe and behave as if their wants, needs, and preferences should be a chief concern whenever a decision is made. In fact, these members are likely to become incensed if a decision gets made and they were not in some way consulted. This mindset nearly always ensures that many, if not most, decisions – even minor decisions – are made using the “majority rules” rule. We call this kind of thinking “small church thinking,” because this kind of thinking ensures that a church won’t see significant and sustainable growth. And churches that don’t grow die. It’s really as simple as that.
Growing churches think differently. First, the leaders and the congregation know that it’s not about them. Nothing is. In fact, they recognize that the church exists to be the hands, feet, and witness of Jesus Christ… to serve, not to be served (or even get their own ways). Second, these congregations trust their leaders to make good decisions based on the congregation’s mission and vision. The congregational members aren’t involved, and don’t care to be involved, in non-mission-critical decisions. They don’t worry about carpet colors, paint samples, or even what time their favorite worship service might be scheduled. Instead, the average member is so busy doing ministry in real life, they don’t have time to get involved in running the church. They leave that to their leaders. On the other hand, these churches are willing to hold their leaders accountable to mission alignment and vision achievement if the leaders don’t produce.
Question: How can you transition from thinking like a small church to thinking like a growing church? Share your ideas in the Comments section below.
Are you open to critique? There are several problems in the post.
What, you dare to disagree with something?!? 😉
Yes, of course we’re always up for a good, intelligent, non-incendiary discussion.
Not totally sure this is true. There are plenty of growing churches with narcistic leadership.
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This is so helpful. I have 2 concerns however. Maybe questions more so.
1. How does a leader communicate this to a congregation without making the people feel like they are at fault. That is to say, “we’re not growing and you’re blaming the people.” What’s the best construction on this when trying to help people learn to think differently about church? I’d love to post this on facebook as a teaching tool but am afraid because someone may think I’m blaming them for our struggles. How do I teach it so it’s understood and received kindly?
2. I have a friend who is being driven out of his church by the Sr Pastor and it’s pretty clear the Sr Pastor is in the wrong. As the people in my first question might point out, church problems aren’t always to blame on the people. My fear is that a guy like this Sr Pastor might read an article like this and say, “See, I told you so. Get out of the way and let me lead.” Maybe more to the point: Just because God has called leaders to lead and church people can, at times, impede that process and calling, the leader is still charged with leading Jesus’ way and not their own way. And once the people understand it’s more helpful to let the leaders lead, the leader still needs to do so in a healthy, loving, Christian way. Any plans to help leaders understand this side of it too?
If a church isn’t growing, it’s rarely the congregation’s fault, at least not initially. In most cases it’s a leadership issue. Effective church leaders (I’m talking primarily about the pastor) know or learn how to lead, how to build alliances, how to cast vision effectively, how to finess, and how to be sensitive to timing.
Pastors who use a billy club on their members and/or blame the congregation for not growing are almost always stuck in a 1955 paradigm of doing church or else have no idea what leadership is all about (see this infographic for a glimpse of the 1955 church-growth paradigm).
On those occasions where the congregation is scuttling the leader’s growth initiative or withholding/limiting the resources necessary to lead growth … and the pastor is otherwise an effective leader who manages his/her time appropriately … and if the pastor is called to lead a church transformational initiative, then the pastor needs to heed Jesus’ instructions in Mark 6:11.
BTW, most “congregations” guilty of scuttling growth initiatives are rarely whole congregations. Typically it’s no more than one or two bullies or terrorists who make a lot of noise, and the wider congregation is codependent enough to tolerate unChristian behavior and won’t stand up against them. A savvy leader can learn how to turn the tide in order to convert, neutralize, or remove those bent on church-destruction (for more, see the Conflict CPR training kit).
As for your friend’s situation, the likely problem is that congregation has no means of holding the lead pastor accountable. We address this in chapter 3 of our Effective Staffing book. Ultimately, if the congregation won’t or can’t hold the leader accountable, then the only real recourse is to find a place where you can faithfully employ your own gifts of ministry. Waiting for something to happen generally just wastes valuable life-changing ministry time.
What is the publication date for this book?
No set date yet. I suspect it will be fall or early winter.
[…] Small Church Thinking […]
I disagree with the posts here that say, 1. This is a blaming of congregations. Naming a common, causative trend is not blaming. This trend or culture of ‘ serve me’ is rampant, and sinful. It actually keeps many of our churches stuck and ineffective at reaching new people. 2. It’s. Likely that narcisists are only one or two persons… Of course, a culture of new testament mission minded folks does not give power to people like this. But we’ve been duped into making selfish Christianity seem normal and good. Look, picking up our cross daily means discomfort for following Jesus, not padded pews and mood music we like. Where are the sold – out, on fire followers of Jesus today? They may have left the selfish church folks long ago.
One of culture’s pervasive sins is shirking responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault – even if we’re the one who spilled hot coffee on ourselves. And so, today, when someone dares call for accountability it’s immediately labeled “blaming.”
Yes, you’re correct that in most churches that are struggling or in decline there are typically one, two, or at most three bullies or terrorists or “narcissists” as you have called them who have caused the problems. But when that’s the case, the more heinous sin is in the church leadership – paid and laity – who have fallen victim to the cultural sin of irresponsibility, who do not demand accountability, and who do not stand up to the antagonists as Jesus both instructed (Mat 18:15–17) and demonstrated. Remember, Jesus didn’t leave the greedy bullies in the temple, he drove them out … and Paul demanded similarly of the church member who was guilty of sexual sin in Corinth. Jesus didn’t shirk from calling the religious out for their bad behaviors, publicly calling them hypocrites, vipers, dead bones, and white-washed tombs.
Unfortunately for the church in the West, the norm has been to shrink back from accountability and from anything that doesn’t have the appearance of “nice” (see On Not Being Nice for the Sake of the Gospel). And though it’s convenient to therefore “blame” the bullies, the narcissists, and the terrorists who serve as the cancers in our churches and rob them of vitality and life, how can we blame the cancer if the patient refuses to follow the prescribed treatment?
It’s very interesting how large Church organizations look upon small churches and write negative thoughts about them. There is always that thing about numbers, more and more numbers to increase the size of the congregation. It seems there is a lack of interest in growing in God’s Grace, and knowledge. In Revelation Chapter 2, there seems no mention of numbers, as a matter of fact in verse four it is written “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” It seems that the present day large church organizations have that same problem, little or no concern for the First Love, but much competition to be larger regardless of that “First Love.” I think that as long as the main goal of those “Organizations” is to support larger and larger clubs, the losses will continue. “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
Interestingly, most small church leaders level concomitant accusations against big churches. However, the fact is that all large churches were once small churches. And another truth is that almost all small churches in the US today were once significantly bigger than they are now.
Unfortunately, many (if not most) small churches remain as small as they are (and over 85% of them are experiencing decline) because they devalue both the numbers and the accountability for maintaining or increasing any of those numbers. And so the majority are focused on their own survival or worse, on maintaining their traditions and preferences as if there will be some divine reward for maintaining a faithful remnant of 1955 church practices.
The Revelation didn’t count (well, except for those 7 churches, 4 beasts, 25 thrones, 24 elders, 144,000 faithful, 4 bowls, 7 seals, but wait, I digress) … but the early church certainly did count. Besides counting the number of fish caught, the number of fish and loaves shared, the number of people fed, the number of baskets of leftovers, the number of disciples sent, and so on, it counted how many were at the first recorded prayer meeting, how many converts there were after the first public sermon, how many more converts there were at the next growth spurt, etc. The early church counted … and it flourished.
Those who read selected blogs and don’t get the whole picture often believe that organizations such as ours have it in for small churches, but nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, my personal doctoral work was in the efficacy of the global house church movement and how to adopt and adapt that very biblical model for North America. We love small churches. But our ministry is dedicated to helping churches of all sizes be faithful to the parts of the Gospel that demand growth – increasing conversions, increasing baptisms, increasing commitment to personal faith development, increasing participation is outreach that in turn increases the number of converts and baptisms and personal faith development.
We’re not committed to small churches becoming large churches nor do we, nor do most of our brothers and sisters in organizations such as ours, have a vision that all – or even most – small churches will grow into large churches. On the other hand, we are all committed to putting an end to the closing of 41 churches every single day in the US. And virtually all of those closing churches are small churches that choose to die rather than making the changes necessary to be faithful in reaching their neighbors for Jesus Christ in today’s world.
And so we’re guilty as charged. When we’re successful, the small churches we work with do indeed see numerical growth in the number of converts, baptisms, worship attendance, small group attendance, participation in activities that share faith with others, and so on. Our vision is to be a part of a movement that sees small and large churches across North America becoming churches that are growing in these ways. And yes, some of those small churches that grew would keep growing, but some would choose to launch other churches or to share their fruit with other local churches in order to remain small. Some small churches might opt to become large churches, but again, that’s not the goal. The goal is for churches to become faithful, effective, and sustainable.
There doesn’t appear to be any prize for achieving large numbers … but there certainly is a prize for being faithful to a biblical Gospel that demands disciple making. But any disciple making church that isn’t making more disciples on a consistent and regular basis in a culture where:
• 20% have never set foot in any church, mosque, synagogue, or temple of any kind
• Only 15% attend worship on any given weekend
• The fastest growing “religious” population are those who claim to have no faith based religion at all
is an unfaithful church no matter what size it is.