Why Most Churches That Start Small…Stay Small

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So…you want your church to grow, right?

When I ask ministry leaders whether they want to see growth, almost every leader I’ve ever talked to says yes.

Sure…there are some house church movements that want to stay small. And some long time or xenophobic churches have lost their appetite for growth. And there are always a few people who think big = evil.

But most leaders want their churches to grow…and for good reasons most of the time. They want to reach people with the life-changing love and forgiveness of Christ.

That is awesome.

But most churches don’t grow.

And most churches that start small stay small.

Why?

Almost Nobody Starts Big

Well, first of all, almost no church starts big. There are a few exceptions, like North Point.

But that’s the rare exception—almost all churches start small. Even megachurches most often start with five people meeting in a living room and grow from there.

Big doesn’t have to be the destination for everyone.

But clearly, if you want to reach your community, growth is a natural by-product of a mission being fulfilled.

I Don’t Want to Start Another Debate

Before we get to the main point, a qualifier. The last thing I want to do with this post is to start a debate on small church v. large church. We’ve had them before on other posts and keyboards have been set on fire on other blogs over this issue. No more, OK?

So, for the record:

There are lots of great small churches.

There are lots of great large churches.

There are some bad small churches.

There are some bad big churches.

There is no perfect or biblical number for church size.

No one can claim moral high ground in this discussion.

Can we agree on that? And even if you have different views, can we please not be disagreeable?

Once and for all, size doesn’t determine how significant your ministry is.

Rather, size becomes relevant only for those who are attempting to reach their community.

If you’re going to reach your community, you’re going to grow.

And if you’re going to grow, you have to figure out why certain things make a church grow and why certain things curtail growth.

5 Reasons Churches That Start Small Stay Small

For sure there are more than five reasons (I outline eight related but different reasons why churches never grow past 200 here).

But just know there is no silver bullet.

Doing these five things is no guarantee your church will grow.

But the opposite is true.

If you don’t pay attention to these five factors, there is a very good chance your church won’t grow. At least not substantially or sustainably.

1. Big Hopes…but Small Strategy

There isn’t a single leader who’s planted a church (or started anything) who hasn’t had big hopes.

The challenge is that often those hopes have no strategy to back them up.

Or if they have a strategy, it’s a strategy that isn’t designed to take the community past 100 or 200 people.

You can’t operate as though you were a church of 500 when there are 50 in the room, but you have to plan for the day when there will be 500, not 50, in the room.

Some questions:

What’s your strategy to reach your community?

What’s your organizational chart look like at 50 people, 100, 200, 500, 1,000?

How will your role change as your church grows?

How will your team change and develop as you grow?

What will you NOT do as you get bigger?

How will your structure change and adapt?

What will you DO as you get bigger?

Those are all strategy questions. And many leaders haven’t sat down with their team to answer them.

As a result, you start small and often stay small.

It doesn’t matter how big your dreams are.

Strategy trumps intention. And hope is not a strategy.

If you want to read more on the relationship between mission, vision and strategy, read this.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church and the author of several books, including his latest best-selling work, 'Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.' Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership and personal growth.

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