Church planters are some of the great heroes of the faith. Especially when you realize how many church plants fail within the first few years.
But I wonder, how many failed churches might still be alive and well today if we didn’t pressure them to reach numerical goals that most churches, even after decades of existence, fail to achieve?
What would happen if, instead of sending one church planter to start a church, hoping for it to reach (to pick an arbitrary number) 5,000 attendees, we sent out 50 church planters, and resourced them with the tools to grow to 100 on average?
Not that every church will reach 100. Some will be bigger, some will be smaller. But if the expectation was 50 churches of 100, instead of one church of 5,000, how would it change the way we plant, resource and encourage churches?
And what if we applied that same logic to our existing churches?
Big churches are great. But they’re very rare. And they’re not the only way to see the kingdom of God move forward.
After all, if 5,000 people come to Christ, why do we care if they attend one big healthy church of 5,000, or 50 small healthy churches of 100? Or even 100 healthy churches of 50?
I know there are church planting organizations that do this. But if your group, denomination or missions organization hasn’t caught this as part of their vision, I encourage you to think about it seriously.
If we made this shift in strategy, here are a few positive changes we might see.
1. We’d have far more successful churches.
Planting one church, hoping for it to grow numerically every year until it reaches mega status, is a fool’s gambit. Not one in 100 reaches mega size. In fact, not one in 10 is likely to ever remain consistently above 100.
But if a bunch of healthy small churches are the goal, rather than one mega-size church, the chances of success rise dramatically.
2. More pastors would get to use their gifts.
The bigger the church gets, the harder it is to find leaders with the gifts, training, temperament, calling and skillset to lead them.
But there are a lot more people who are capable of leading smaller churches. Not because the skills and gifts are lesser (I’m a small church pastor myself) but because they’re more common.
Most pastors don’t go into ministry because they feel called to manage resources, raise funds, build facilities or utilize most of the skills needed for big churches.
Most pastors are called to preach the Word and care for people. Those are the gifts that are needed in smaller churches.
3. Church leaders would be under less pressure.
It’s hard to pastor a healthy church. It’s even harder to start one and nurture it to long-term health.
But it’s brutal to try to do that while under the relentless pressure to get bigger every year. And it’s unfair to expect it.
But being one pastor of 50, pastoring churches averaging 100? That’s setting us up for success.
4. Fewer pastors would quit in frustration and discouragement.
Too many pastors leave the ministry without finishing the race.
How much of that is due to unrealistic expectations of numerical growth, combined with under-resourcing them to be healthy while they’re small?
Celebrating and resourcing healthy churches of all sizes might keep a lot more good people in pastoral ministry.