The republished post below is by Karl Vaters
Imagine all the time, money and resources that have gone into teaching church growth in the last 40 years or so.
I know it will sound naïve, maybe even heretical to many church leaders, but has anyone thought about what the world would look like today if all that effort had been invested exclusively in church health instead?
Is it possible that if the church had prioritized health, not as a means to growth, but as an end in itself, we would be in a greater position to represent the Gospel to the world?
We’re often told that one of the reasons so many churches remain small is lack of faith. But I wonder … could it be that the reverse is true? Might our obsession with bigger and bigger churches be rooted in a greater lack of faith?
Have we been afraid that God might not do his part (building his church) if we’d simply be faithful to do our part (making disciples)? Is it possible that the glut of church growth books, seminars and classes in the last few decades has been our attempt to help God do his job?
If you’re new to NewSmallChurch.com, I need to restate that I’m not against big churches and I don’t idealize Small Churches. I’m just wondering out loud if all our church growth strategies, instead of producing more big churches, have diverted our limited resources away from what should be Our #1 Priority—making disciples who produce healthy churches, no matter what size they are.
Health Isn’t Easy
And no, this is not me naively thinking “just preach the Word and the seats will be filled.” First, I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that a healthy church takes a lot more than good preaching. And second, I’m not saying health will bring bigger numbers to individual congregations.
What I’m saying is that we need to prioritize discipleship and church health. And I wonder if we might be able to do that better if we put all our energy there instead of worrying about how big the church is.
Healthy churches are hard work. At minimum, a pastor has to:
- Manage, if not master a wide variety of leadership skills
- Keep them coordinated within a small margin of error
- All at the same time
- Over a long period of time
- With volunteer labor
Many pastors are asked to do all that and more, often as a second job, sometimes with no permanent facility. And even if they manage all that, they’re still considered a failure by many people if the church doesn’t also hit certain benchmarks for consistent numerical growth.
It’s a burden few people can bear. No wonder the burnout rate for pastors is so high.
What if we’d spent at least some of our time in the past few decades preparing ministry students for the likelihood that they’ll be pastoring a Small Church for some, if not most, of their ministries?
What if we’d taught them how to pastor those Small Churches well, instead of insisting they had to make the church bigger?
What if all the money that’s been lost in failed building projects and big events had gone into local church outreach and quality ministry?
How many church startups failed because they expected a level of numerical growth that 80-90 percent of churches will never reach?
How many pastors have quit in discouragement because they weren’t able to measure up to a church growth ideal that God may never have been calling them to?
How many big churches have collapsed, and may yet collapse, because they weren’t able to transition from the dynamic church-building pastor to the next generation of leadership?
How many Small Churches close every day because they never were healthy to begin with?
What Would a Health-Based Church Look Like?
If we’d concentrated our efforts on health, and let God take care of the growth, what would the evangelical church look like today?
No one knows, of course, but here’s what I suspect:
- We’d probably have about the same percentage of mega to big to Small Churches that we have today, but there would be a lot more healthy ones—of all sizes.
- Fewer pastors would have left the ministry in discouragement.
- Fewer churches would have been ruined by pastors trying to push them to reach numerical goals they were never meant to pursue.
- Fewer congregation members would have felt overlooked by a pastor in pursuit of “the next big thing”, and would be serving God with greater joy.
- More Small Churches would be healthy, innovative and vibrant instead of poor, struggling and discouraged.
- There would be more cooperation and less competition between churches.
- Unchurched people would have a greater variety of outward-looking, healthy churches to choose from. Of all denominations, styles and sizes.
Here’s a Crazy Idea
If health really does bring growth, why don’t we concentrate on church health and let God take care of the growth?.
We gave church growth principles a 40-year test drive. Some good things—and churches—have come from it. And some not so good.
What if we gave church health principles the next 40 years? I say we give it a shot.
So what do you think? Have you ever thought about the idea that if we concentrate on health, God will bring the growth? How does this affect the way you minister?