one of the most-read and relied-on studies about the growth of churches in the united states is a book titled, “one size doesn’t fit all”, by gary macintosh. i read it a number of years ago and a lot of his ideas made a whole lot of sense back then. some still do.
others not so much. here’s a quote about medium-sized churches (which he identifies as church families between 200 and 400 attendees):
“…many medium sized churches face the decision of having to adjust their ministries to continue to growing into a large church. If they don’t make the appropriate adjustments, they will either plateau for a time of decline back to a small church size. Some medium-sized churches will plateau and stay at the medium church size, but the pull downward is stronger that the pull upward. It’s usually just a matter of time before the plateaued church gets smaller.”
he even goes on to suggest something even more unsettling:
…that there is no such thing as a healthy medium size church (201-400 attendees). churches are either growing or shrinking.
now here’s my personal reality check. north point is firmly entrenched in the medium size camp. these days, we have about 325 people who make up our church.
i know (from both reading and experience) there are things we could do right now that would result in a bigger church family. for church growth folks, it’s all about formula and statistics and trends and strategies that will result in moving just about any small-sized church to a medium-sized one…and then on to a large church…and then upwards to mega-status.
it’s all based on one primary assumption: god wants smaller churches to become bigger churches…so we should do everything we can to get bigger.
now i’m not going to debate that assumption here tonight (though is worth some healthy questioning). what i will concede is there are a number of things we could do at north point right now that would definitely position us to get bigger right a way. changes in our programming. different approaches to raising funds. hiring more staff. developing a marketing strategy. new equipment. upgrading our facility. maybe even adjusting our theology.
with all of those changes, though, there is one major shift in ministry priorities we would have to adopt. we would have to grow comfortable with the idea of acceptable collateral damage. that means it would not be just okay to lose some north point families along the way (because they didn’t want to get on board with the new growth plan)… but it would actually be better to lose those people, in order to replace them with others that are better suited to grow with us.
it happens all the time in churches. leadership makes decisions and changes in the direction and priorities of the church family…people question the “wisdom” of decisions…said people become labelled as insubordinate and divisive…leadership is privately glad to see these people move on…people who are attracted to “growing, bigger” churches are soon assimilated to some level of involvement…former members quickly become out of sight, out of mind…then voila! church growth.
here’s why i don’t think i will ever be that kind of pastor…that kind of leader…and why we will probably never be that kind of church:
i cannot bring myself to view people as acceptable collateral damage. ever. i don’t want people to leave, just so we can get more and better people come. just can’t wrap my head around that idea.
consequently, i think we’ll just keep loving and shepherding those people who find their way to our doors and our homes and our places of work and where we play…and make the best of the strategic mess we find ourselves in.
tonight, that sounds pretty good to me.