#BestOf2013: We’re Pushed to Build Bigger Churches – Who Catches Us When We Fall?

ClimberThe push to build bigger churches continues full steam ahead in many (maybe most) American denominations.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received several cries for help from Small Church pastors because of the damage this push is causing.

Today I’m posting two of those messages. One was a comment on this blog. The other was a private Facebook message, so I’ve asked and received permission to make it public.

Because of the personal nature of these messages, I’ve left the names off. But I have verified that they are legitimately from Small Church pastors who are accurately describing their situations.


This article was originally posted on June 3, 2013, when we had less than 25% of today’s readers. I think it’s worth a second (or first) look as one of the overlooked #BestOf2013.


The two pastors and their churches are about as different as they can be:

  • One is a man, the other a woman
  • One is a church planter, the other is in an established church
  • One is from a mainline denomination, the other is a conservative evangelical
  • One meets in a refurbished house, the other has a traditional church building
  • One is from the northwest, the other from the midwest

The pastors do not know each other and neither one comes from my denomination, but they both serve active, vibrant Small Churches. And, as you’ll see, their stories and frustrations are surprisingly similar.

 

Pastor #1

It’s amazing the number of pastors and spouses who experience great pain and have nowhere to go and no one to talk to.

We were just talking about it in a ministerial group this morning and everyone agreed. Our church leaders drive us to grow the church and reach people, which we all want to do, but where do we go when we’re hurting and broken? Where do our spouses go?

I can’t prove it, but I think this is a huge problem all across the evangelical church and the pastor drop-out rate backs it up.

I’m going to hopefully talk to a denominational leader later this month. Something has to be done!

There’s no easy solution, but if our denominational leaders are going to drive us to grow, they’d better come up with something to help us when we’re hurting. 

 Pastor #2

My church is 9 years old, and we have about 60 people in worship each week. It is the healthiest church I’ve ever seen.

Still, when you’re a church planter, the focus on growth is even more intense. The pressure to “Grow or Die” is constant.

So many of us start with next-to-nothing for resources, so if we can’t quickly grow the church to enough people to pay our salary and the rent on the building, the denomination pulls the plug – sometimes after only two years!

Fortunately, my denomination has allowed us to continue to do ministry out of our inherited church building (which used to be a house) without charging us any rent. This has allowed us to stay afloat, but I continue to work at about a half-time salary for doing full-time work.

 

We Have a Problem

I realize these are just two pastors’ stories. They aren’t backed up by stats or studies. But they reflect a problem that is far more commonplace than most of us would like to admit.

Many pastors feel pushed to grow, but they don’t feel like they get the help they need from church leaders when that growth fails to materialize.

I’ve been thinking and praying about this situation since receiving these messages. From that thought and prayer, as well as from the many conversations I’m having with fellow Small Church pastors, I’ve written a starter list for church officials. When it comes to helping Small Church pastors – which, by the way, is the vast majority of churches in every denomination, fellowship, movement, network and faith – these might be a good place to begin.

 

How You Can Help Us

1. Stop equating size with health. Big churches are great. But size is not the only (or even the best) indicator of health.

2. Stop pushing hurting churches to get bigger. The Apostles didn’t push church growth on struggling churches. It’s unimaginable that the Apostle John would have sent the latest church growth book to the small, struggling church in Smyrna. Instead, he supported them in their struggles and encouraged them to be faithful.

3. Acknowledge and adapt to reality – that small is normative and big is the exception. Approximately 90% of churches are under 200. It’s always been that way. It’s time to stop making normal churches feel inadequate.

4. Give us the training and tools to become healthy Small Churches. One of the reasons I wrote The Grasshopper Myth was because I looked for years to find a book that would help me pastor a healthy Small Church, but couldn’t find one. We need more books, seminars and other materials about pastoring from a healthy Small Church perspective.

5. Find ways to celebrate great Small Churches. Small Churches don’t have the numbers to verify our successes. Not even per capita stats will show the results. But we have great stories. Give Small Churches a platform to tell them.

6. Get proactive about helping hurting pastors. I have to admit, I’ve been frustrated with some Small Church pastors who complain that their church officials haven’t helped them, only to find out they’ve never asked for help. But that’s often the way it is with hurting people. They’re too hurt to even ask for the help they need.

 

Pastors Need to Be Pastored

Not to be overly dramatic about it, but someone needs to do the hard work of leaving the 99 healthy churches and pastors, to call out for the lost, hurting sheep who may not even know how to find their way home.

If Small Church pastors got one phone call a year from someone who cares, many will respond. The calls, emails and cries for help that this ministry is already receiving just six months into our existence is proof of that.

The needs are real. The hurt is deep. The help is rare.

But we are not without hope. It just needs to be fanned into flame.

 

So what do you think? Do you have other ideas that might help church officials to encourage, help and heal hurting Small Churches and their leaders?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Climber photo from CEBImagery.com • Flickr • Creative Commons)

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6 thoughts on “#BestOf2013: We’re Pushed to Build Bigger Churches – Who Catches Us When We Fall?”

  1. I hesitate to respond as the two examples you share cause my heart to burn with compassion as well as reveal some of the hurt I have experienced dealing with denominational leaders.

    . I have been one of those pastors, frustrated by the attitude given by denominational leaders. I cherish the friendships I have with my district brothers, and I honor thier leadership. Lord knows I do not want thier jobs. It takes a special calling and anointing for sure.

    I will take a leap over the edge and suggest that perhaps it isn’t the job of the district or denominational offices to grow our churches. By that I mean, many evangelical denominations are set up where the churches are autonomous. The pastors and churches determine the vision for thier individual congregations. Right now while I am struggling with a new personal direction in my life and ministry, I am blessed to have a cohort of evangelical pastor friends who meet weekly for prayer and the occasional kick in the side of the head. We are each pastoring small churches. We each have the same struggles with our respective denominations. We each want to see our churches grow healthier. We are all coming out of the cloud of collective guilt that our small churches from small towns will not become miniature Saddleback churches. But we are all seeing the blessing of God in our churches.

    This blog has proven one thing, that small churches are not alone, so lets stop acting as if we are.

    1. I fully agree with you about the role of denominations, Ralph. My denomination is the kind your describe, also. The churches are autonomous and the denominations are not responsible for growth. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’ve never seen a denomination grow a church – either in numbers or health. But that’s OK, because that’s not their job. Their job is to offer support to those in the trenches.

      The frustration from denominational churches isn’t because they expect the denomination to take responsibility for church growth. But when the denomination pushes pastors to grow their church, then threatens to close a church that doesn’t meet those expectations, instead of offering aid and comfort, that hurts.

      Many pastors I talk to feel that the denominations which are driving for growth often add to a pastor’s burden more than they relieve it. That’s why my six points of advice to denominational officials fit into two broad categories: 1. Push for health over growth and 2. reach out to hurting pastors. That would go a long way, I think.

      1. I agree Karl. Some times the reason that pastors do not reach out for help, is simply because they do not know where to find it. In Canada, the resources are very thin. Most freinds I know have taken advantage of ministries such as Broomtree or Emerge. for whatever reason, those types of ministries do not seem to do well in Canada.

        1. No question about that, Ralph. The reason help is so hard to find is that there’s very little of it.

          I got so tired of looking for helpful material for Small Church ministry that I decided I had to write my own – thus my book and this blog. If the help had been plentiful and accessible, this ministry wouldn’t exist because it wouldn’t be needed.

  2. I hesitate to respond as the two examples you share cause my heart to burn with compassion as well as reveal some of the hurt I have experienced dealing with denominational leaders.

    . I have been one of those pastors, frustrated by the attitude given by denominational leaders. I cherish the friendships I have with my district brothers, and I honor thier leadership. Lord knows I do not want thier jobs. It takes a special calling and anointing for sure.

    I will take a leap over the edge and suggest that perhaps it isn’t the job of the district or denominational offices to grow our churches. By that I mean, many evangelical denominations are set up where the churches are autonomous. The pastors and churches determine the vision for thier individual congregations. Right now while I am struggling with a new personal direction in my life and ministry, I am blessed to have a cohort of evangelical pastor friends who meet weekly for prayer and the occasional kick in the side of the head. We are each pastoring small churches. We each have the same struggles with our respective denominations. We each want to see our churches grow healthier. We are all coming out of the cloud of collective guilt that our small churches from small towns will not become miniature Saddleback churches. But we are all seeing the blessing of God in our churches.

    This blog has proven one thing, that small churches are not alone, so lets stop acting as if we are.

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