Bethany House Publishers
It is much easier to pastor a church of four hundred active members than a church of two hundred. By the same token, leading a church of fifteen hundred is infinitely easier than leading a church of eight hundred. Numbers aren't really the issue. As I have said, the key to growing a church is the leader's ability to change the church's internal structures. Those internal changes primarily concern how the elders, senior pastor, and staff relate to one another, who does the ministry, and how decisions are made.
A church of two hundred active members arrived at that plateau by developing a certain methodology of ministry and a governmental infrastructure that fueled its growth. However, the methodology and infrastructure has run its course of usefulness. This didn't happen overnight. Gradually, the old methods and infrastructural design began failing to produce the same results as in the earlier days when the church was smaller. In fact, growth is being impeded. The same dynamic is at work in a church that has bumped up against the 700/800 wall.
Why is leading a church of three hundred members easier than a church of two hundred? Why is leading more than one thousand people easier than eight hundred? Tension. The barriers actually create tension and make leading and managing a church approaching or parked at a barrier more difficult to lead. Look again at the chart on page 48. Notice the line dividing the small church from the medium-sized church and the line dividing the medium-sized church from the large one. These lines are designated 100/200 and 700/800 respectively, indicating the presence of a church-growth barrier. The mechanisms employed to get a church to this threshold will never help it across it. In fact, the closer a church gets to a growth wall ahead, the more tension develops. And that tension is actually caused by the breakdown of the very mechanisms that once worked so effectively to get the church to this place.
As mentioned earlier, the elders in a small church "do" the ministry and make all the decisions. When the church is less than one hundred members, this makes for pleasant kingdom activity. But as a church approaches two hundred, there are more people to counsel, comfort, and correct. Decisions demand to be made, so elders' meetings creep past the time limit set in days when the church was a manageable one hundred.
Getting home late after meetings and other church functions increases tension in the home. Tension naturally increases as the number of people who require ministry exceeds the limits of those who minister. Older and less needy members feel neglected. New ministries must be created to keep up with the demand for more pastoral care and to maximize the opportunities presented by the gifting and interests of new and maturing people.
It is not uncommon for an elder or two to step down during this period. Feeling pressure at home, pressure at work, and pressure at church, they request a break. What does that do to the others on the eldership team? With the departure of the resting friend, the workload only increases. Elders sometimes begin to question the senior pastor's management style. ("Is it really necessary to meet for three hours every week? Perhaps you could do a little more by way of preparation for these meetings!") At times, stress surfaces between the elders. ("Do you really have to ask forty-five questions about every issue we face?")
A change in structure will change everything and take the small church over the very barrier that is causing the tension and has made life at two hundred miserable. Again, while the dynamics are different, tension caused by outdated structures is the reason for problems at seven to eight hundred members as well.
As was stated earlier, small, medium, and large churches are completely different from each other. A medium-sized church is not a small church with more members. Nor is a large church simply a medium-sized church with a greater attendance. All are churches, true, but it would be best to think of them as various species in one family. They are simply not the same. This is no small point, so let me emphasize it! Almost everything about a small church is different from a medium-sized church—the way they communicate, how they recruit volunteers, how they prepare for events, how they make decisions, how they get the worship center ready for the service. Everything is different. A medium-sized church is simply a different animal. The same holds true of the large church. To move from small to medium or from medium to large, some very important things will have to change! It is important, then, to understand the dynamics involved in a church at the next level in order to take a congregation to that place.
A church that has hit a growth barrier (100/200 or 700/800) has only three choices: (1) Divide the congregation into multiple congregations and plant new churches; (2) stay the way it is and plateau at this barrier (in most cases, the church will develop an oscillating pattern of slight growth and decline); or (3) change and move into the next phase of development. The key word is change; a local church cannot break through a growth barrier and remain the way it is. It must change.
Overcoming Barriers to Growth by Michael Fletcher
Copyright © 2006; ISBN 0764202944
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.