Healthy growing churches are great and that’s what everyone wants for their church. But don’t be fooled: growing churches don’t mean churches without problems. They have challenges just like any kind of church…just different ones. Here are 5:
1. The Pastor Is Less Available
When I first came to Nativity I stood by the front door before and after Mass, to greet as many people as possible. I kept a pocket calendar in hand and anyone who wanted my time was scheduled on the spot. As our church grew, I had to transition away from being available all the time to everyone, for anything.
It is usually estimated that one pastor can pastor about 200 people. Not surprisingly, the average size of churches in the United States is…200. Besides, you’ll burn yourself out trying to be totally available to 200 parishioners, and you’ll die trying to be available to 2,000.
As our church has grown, my role has become narrower. I had to make the decision that not every parish event required my presence in order to be authentic (that was hard), not every meeting had to be chaired by me, not every request or decision had to come to my desk. Hardest of all was limiting time for pastoral care and trying to change expectations when it came to that care.
2. Not Everybody Knows Everybody
There is a myth that small churches are intimate churches where everyone knows everyone else. The corollary of this myth is that the bigger a church grows the more impersonal it will become. The truth is a church can be impersonal or friendly at any size, its not a function of size. It’s the function of building a deliberate culture that is warm and welcoming (or not). In our parish not everybody knows everybody, its true. But because we invite everyone to join a small group and/or serve on a ministry team, most people are known, and cared for and loved. And this in turn influences the entire culture and everyone’s experience here.
3. The Leaders Leadership Style Needs to Change
In a small church the pastor leads the people. In a growing church, the pastor can become a lid on leadership, and eventually a lid on growth. Growing churches need growing leaders, who are willing to transition increasingly to become leaders of leaders. Their main job is lifting up staff and volunteer leaders, equipping and empowering them to lead others.
4. Systems and Structures Have to Replace Spontaneity
This is a hard one for any entrepreneurial leaders who love freedom and spontaneity. But if your church is going to be intentional about growth, you need to be building infrastructure and you have to be increasingly disciplined about honoring those systems and structures.
5. Dealing With Critics
So once you start growing, all the critics will disappear, right?
Sorry to break the news…but just the opposite. They’ll line up.
You’ll have internal critics who want things to be the way they used to be (after all, the people heading for the Promised Land all wanted to go back to Egypt). But the critics are not just internal. Your neighboring churches are not going to celebrate your growth. Growth attracts a growing number of external critics. Don’t let critics slow you down or dishearten you. More often than not it’s fueled by jealousy, but whatever the reason it’s coming your way and it’s part of the process.
For another take on this see careynieuwhof.com