About 200 people attend the church I pastor on a typical Sunday. It used to be 400.
I know, pastors aren’t supposed to say things like that. We’re not even supposed to admit that things like that are possible.
But it’s true.
I’ve been pastoring my church for 22 years. When I arrived, there were about 35 people attending. They were very discouraged after going through five pastors in ten years and drifting from their high attendance of about 250 at the beginning of that decade. They had debated closing the church entirely.
In my first decade of pastoring the church, we grew to a healthy 200 people or so.
Giddy with my modest success, I decided to kick things into high gear. I was going to implement all the church growth strategies I’d been reading about and break through the 200 barrier.
It worked. Within two years, we had doubled to about 400 people. But we became an unhealthy church in the process.
Before the push, I’d been working with people and within my gifting as a pastor. During the push, my attention shifted. People became numbers. Attendance mattered more than relationships. I became empty. And the church became unhealthy.
Almost none of the growth was from conversions. It was virtually all transfer growth. We weren’t discipling new believers, we were entertaining bored Christians.
Then the church started to shrink. Fast.
I don’t know how small it got down to. Because I stopped counting. But it was probably somewhere in the low 100s. Not only had we lost those we’d gained, we lost a lot of the original folks, too.
People Are Not Numbers
There are a lot of reasons why the church collapsed and nearly folded. But the main one was this. The pursuit of numbers made us sick. And sick things start to die.
I’m grateful that our sickness was evident in our shrinking numbers. It forced us to deal with the problems. Some churches start dying internally, but keep getting bigger externally, so they don’t see their sickness. No, not all of them. Not even most of them. But some of them. Including mine.
Through that process, I learned several painful lessons. I’m grateful for every one of them.
Here are a few:
- A healthy small church is better than an unhealthy big church
- Every number may be a person, but people aren’t numbers
- All healthy things grow, but not all growth is healthy
Eventually, we corrected the downward slide. We put God’s Word and God’s people first again.
Today, we’re as healthy as any church of any size anywhere. We’re loving, outward-reaching and discipleship-oriented.
We’ve grown to 200. We may get bigger than that. We may not. Either way, we’ll stay healthy and keep growing, learning, discipling and sending.
Because, bigger isn’t better. Smaller isn’t better. Only better is better.
This article first appeared as a guest post at BrianDodridge.com.
So what do you think? Have you ever experienced numerical growth that wasn’t healthy?
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