Why should we break growth barriers?

Recently on his blog Karl Vaters posed the question “why break church growth barriers?”  The idea of his post is that church leaders often think about how to break growth barriers without asking why they should break those barriers.  Karl Vaters always writes great blog posts that really help small church pastors, so follow his blog to stay up to date with all his content.

Rather than writing a critique of the blog post, I think it is a good post, I thought that I would answer the question posed in the blog post.  Here are a few reasons why your church or ministry should think about breaking church growth barriers:

  1. Grow to make more disciples– as many bloggers and church leaders have stated the reason that a local church should grow is that you want to keep the disciples that you currently have and make new disciples. If your church remains at the same size it currently is and but is making new disciples then it must be loosing disciples.  This might happen due to people movement out of your neighbourhood rather than people walking away from the faith.  However if you find that most of your current church members have been in the church for a long time, then you need to look at barriers that prevent new people joining your church.  Sometimes when you remove these barriers you naturally grow.  As new people are invited to your church they stick around because you have removed some growth barriers.
  2. Grow to move out of the family style – a family style church is a small church that operates more like a large extended family where everyone knows everyone. Often the only way into a family style church is to be born into the church.  We might also refer to this style of church as having a “club mentality” where you are either in or out of the club.  This growth barrier is not a numbers barrier as much as it is a growth barrier created by cliques.  A family style church is often uncomfortable with change or new people and it becomes exclusive. Whilst your church might not be called to grow larger numerically it is called to be more inclusive.  If you break down the exclusive style of your church then once again visitors might come back and your church might grow.
  3. Grow to offer more programs– the small church is not as program driven as bigger churches. The bigger churches in your neighbourhood attract more people because of the programs they offer such as kids ministry and youth ministry. If the saying is true that “like attracts like” then offering a few additional programs might attract more people.  However it is important to introduce these new program one program at a time rather than stretching your small church too thin.  Also have the courage to recommend visitor to another church in your neighbourhood that offers the programs they are looking for.
  4. Grow awareness of your church in the community– this is not so much of a numbers barrier but a market or community engagement barrier. Many people look for a church that is either well known in the community or someone they know attends that church.  So how can you grow the awareness of your church in the community?  Perhaps on a small church budget you need to check out the advice at Prochurch Tools “how smaller churches can dominate social media”. Removing this growth barrier will not only help your church be more well known in the community but also more engaged with the community.
  5. Grow to secure your funding model– the economic reality of many small churches is that there are a high number of regular financial partners moving to a low income fixed aged pension. The people who may have given to your church for decades now live on a modest pension that they have to stretch for the rest of their life.  You will need to either shrink the expenses of your church to the size you can afford or grow your income to a size that helps you maintain healthy ministry.  Perhaps you could ask people to give more or you could ask more people to give. Growing your church will hopefully lead to more people bearing the financial burden of running a church.  The reality of maintenance costs on old church building means that growing your number of financial partners is a far more sustainable model that reducing expenses.  Breaking this funding barrier is one way to secure the future ministry of your church.
  6. Grow to increase diversity– again this is not a numbers barrier but could be a barrier established by the lack of diversity in your members. Growing the generational diversity of your church will not only future proof your church but may help you represent the diversity in your community.  How many generations are represented in your church? A small church of 50 people who are all seniors is a lot different to a church of 50 people with four generations represented.  How many ethnic groups are represented in your church?  Increasing the cultural diversity of your church to represent the cultural diversity of your community is a healthy thing to do.

Whilst a particular church might need to think through some growth barriers at their church, there will always be some barriers that limit the growth potential of a church.  In these cases the leaders need to work within the growth barriers rather than trying to be something else.  Here are a few reasons why your church should not try to break a growth barrier:

  1. Limitation of buildings: there are lots of stories of mega churches who sold their small church buildings to build bigger facilities, but what about the church that feels called to keep a church presence in their particular location? There are some churches that were built when people would walk to church, so there are lots of small church buildings in many locations throughout the neighbourhood. These small church building will limit the growth potential of your church.  Rather than selling your church to go to a new building perhaps you desire to keep the church doors open as a sign that the Church is not dead but alive and well.  If your facilities are a barrier to your growth then consider planting a new church or creating a multisite church rather than building a bigger building.
  2. Limitations of finance– some churches are located in areas where the community doesn’t have as much income as other areas.  Whilst I know churches in low-income areas that give generously, the amounts don’t add up to the income levels of churches in high income areas.  When looking at growth barriers consider the finance of new staff and new facilities would add to your congregation. Some church growth writers suggest that you need to staff for growth, however Tony Morgan at the Unstuck Group suggests that growing churches have more volunteers and less staff.  Perhaps instead of trying to break a growth barrier work on engaging your volunteers in ministry, it might lead to growth but it won’t cost more money.
  3. Limitations in your style– Sometimes your church offers something to the community that no other church does.  Rather than copying the larger churches with their diverse programs perhaps you just need to offer what you offer and do it really well.  If you feel that your facilities are under utilized then consider a partnership with another ministry rather than growing your own church.  Could you partner with a church plant that is looking for a start up location? Is there an ethnic church that reaches a different migrant group in your community? Consider partnerships to use your facilities rather than changing your style to be something you aren’t.

It is a good and healthy thing for your church to growth in health, size, influence and community engagement.  Not all the growth barriers in your church are numerical.  Perhaps what you need is intentional thinking about why barriers exist, if you should aim to remove or break those barriers and then how you might achieve the growth.

Please leave a comment on why you think your ministry needs to break a growth barrier

Post image – by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald revmarkmcdonald

 

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Small church vs church planting

Leading a Small Church vs a Church Plant

Since starting in my new ministry placement this year I have come to realise that leading a small church is a very different style of ministry to either medium church ministry or church planting.  When I say that I’m in a small church, I’m talking about an average Sunday attendance of 25 people.  There are some real joys of small church ministry, namely the sense of connection with the people I’m in ministry with.  Yet there are some unique differences to ministry in other settings.

Small churches and church plant have small numbers but they are very different styles of ministry.  It was almost ten years ago that I tried to plant a church with a small group of 25 people.  Whilst the church plant closed after three years of ministry I learnt a lot from season of ministry.  Being with a small group of 25 once again, it might be tempting to borrow some of the lessons from church planting with my small church.  Yet I’ve noticed that there are some key differences between leading a church plant and pastoring a small church. 

The point of this post isn’t to suggest one style of ministry is better than the other.  This post is suggesting four ways that leading a small established church might be different to leading a small church planting team.  Even if both ministry settings have a similar size group there are some interesting differences to make not of.

Whilst I don’t really want to pit small church ministry and church planting against each other, here are four big areas where the two style of ministry are very different:

  1. Newbie or Founder – are you the founder of your ministry or are you the newest member?
    • Small church – when you take on a small church ministry placement it is likely that you are the newest member of your church. Some of the existing members of your small church may have been around a long time, it may be their only church experience.  These people have seen past leaders come and go, seen many styles of ministry come and go.  Your church members may not be that impressed with what you consider the new bright idea about ministry.  Whilst these established members can provide stability to your ministry, change management in an established small church will be much slower than in a church plant where everything is new.
    • Church plant – when you plant a church it is likely that you are the founding member of your church. You might be the first person to have a vision for your church plant; nobody knows the vision and the dreams of your church plant like you do.  As a church planter you will spend so much of your time explaining and casting the vision of your church plant to onramp others to the vision.  Whilst this can be repetitive, it can also be energising to share your vision with people and see them take hold of the vision.  The small group of people you are ministering to in the early stages of the church plant are relying on you to grow the vision.
  2. Legacy or Vision – are you running on the legacy of the past or the vision of the future?
    • Small Church – it is likely that the past is a dominating factor in your ministry in a small church setting. There is often a period in the past when the church was at its strongest and as the new leader you must find out what hold the past has on your church.  You need to discern if there are elements of the past that you can leverage for future growth in your ministry.  Is there some part of the DNA of your small church that is the key to future health in your ministry?  Perhaps there are ghosts of the past that are holding your church back until the church finally deals with them.  Small churches don’t lack vision however you need to build on the legacy of the past so that you can cast a strong vision of your future. 
    • Church Plant – it is likely that future hopes and dreams are dominating your ministry as a church planter. You have hopes and dreams of being bigger that you currently are, drawing more people into the ministry and having a strong future.  Your church or ministry doesn’t have a past so there is not much baggage to deal with, except any baggage from previous churches that your members may have belonged to.  The challenge for you as a church planter is to build something that can become a legacy for future generations to build on for a healthy vibrant church.
  3. Age or Youth – is your membership dominated by age and experience or youthful enthusiasm?
    • Small Church – small church ministries often are small because it got stuck with an older generation that didn’t hand off to a younger generation. Therefore, your church will have people with wisdom and experience but not a lot of intergenerational connections.  If you don’t want your ministry to die out then you need to get some youth and new Christians into the ministry to bring in fresh perspectives.
    • Church Plant – church plants often begin with young adults because of the youthful enthusiasm to start something new. Therefore, your church will have a lot of enthusiasm and drive but perhaps not a lot of Christians with wisdom and experience.  I’ve often heard church planters pray for one or two mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the new Christians.  If you don’t want your church ministry to be a flash in the pan then you need to get some mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the young people into your church plant.
  4. The burden of Maintenance or Poverty – are you struggling under the weight of maintaining your existing church buildings or the weight of no resources?
    • Small Church – if you are taking on a small church ministry in an existing facility then be prepared to spend a lot of time on maintenance and/or renovations. It is likely that you have facilities that you can use for ministry right away but the facilities are often tired or run down or outdated.  They might be built in a previous era when what was trendy is now considered ugly.  It can be hard to create a fresh look for your ministry because of the capital it takes just to maintain the current facilities let along renovate them to bring them up to date.  Whilst your church planting friends might be struggling to find facilities to use, your struggling to use the facilities you have.
    • Church Plant – if you are planting a new church then it likely that you are struggling to find the facilities and resources to grow your church. You need to buy everything and you can’t seem to get enough of money to buy everything you need to grow.   Whilst your small church ministry friends can use their old equipment until they can afford to replace it, you don’t have anything to use unless you buy it.  The challenge for a church planter is to decide what can you borrow, what can you buy second hand and what is the best option to purchase for now that will also work as your ministry grows.

Small church ministry is not always a bad thing, research suggests that 90% of churches have less than 200 members.  Church plants might be a great growth strategy but the first five years of a new church are very different ministry in an established church. Taking a church planter and imposing them on a small church just because they have the same number of people can be a recipe for conflict. Both styles of ministry are a blessing to the church if you know what leadership style to apply to each setting. 

My hope is that you can lead your church to be a health church.  If you church is a fresh new church plant then I hope it becomes a healthy sustainable church.  If your church is a small established church then I also hope that it continues to be a healthy sustainable church for future generations.  Using the right style of ministry for the right context can make all the difference.

Please leave a comment on how you see small church ministry….

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald