The Surprising Reason 80% of Churches Will Never Break the 200 Barrier

ExclamationBreaking through the 200 barrier.

Sometimes it feels like the only pastoring principle anyone has talked about for the past 30 years.

In case you haven’t heard of it, the 200 barrier is the invisible ceiling a church must break through if it doesn’t want to be a Small Church any more. Do a Google search of “breaking the 200 barrier” and you’ll see what I mean.

Despite all the books, websites, seminars, classes, DVDs and denominational committees that have been dedicated to pushing churches through this barrier, one truth stubbornly remains.

80% of churches will never break through the 200 barrier.

Why is that? The reasons I’ve heard, include:

The first point is correct. The rest are garbage. (Feel free to use a stronger term than “garbage” if your theology will allow for it).

Oh sure, there are some Small Churches that are uncaring and stuck. But there are unhealthy big churches, too.


Why I’ll Never Pastor a Big Church

To break through the 200 barrier, a church and its leadership have to adapt to a different way of doing church. They have to become more systems oriented. Pastors have to do less one-on-one ministry themselves and delegate more of it to staff members and volunteers.

That’s a good thing. As a church gets bigger, those changes will allow more people to do ministry, helping the pastor not to be a stressed-out, overworked bottleneck.

Here’s why my church will never break through the 200 barrier.

It’s the one thing none of us wants to admit. But someone needs to say it out loud.

I stink at it.

I’m not gifted, skilled or fulfilled at managing systems as my primary method of doing ministry.

Why haven’t I adapted those methods to help my church break the 200 barrier? Believe me, I tried. And I’m usually good at learning new concepts.

For several years I did what the church growth books told me. I trained staff, I delegated hands-on ministry to others, I developed and implemented care systems…

And I nearly killed my spirit and my church in the process.


Small is Not a Sin

The reason my church is small is not that I’m against big churches. It’s because my gifts, talents and heart are better suited to leading a small one. I don’t pastor a big church for the same reason I don’t sing lead vocals in a rock band. I love them both, I’m just lousy at them.

I wasn’t unwilling. I was unable.

I admit it. And I challenge anyone to convince me that’s a bad thing.

But we’ve been taught it’s a bad thing when our church doesn’t get bigger. Just think of the words we use when we talk about numerical growth.

200 is a “barrier” and a “ceiling” that needs to be “broken” to get to the “next level”.

I don’t buy it.

My church hasn’t hit a numerical ceiling. A ceiling assumes that becoming bigger is always upwards motion. And we don’t have a “next” level of attendance to reach. The implication being that becoming bigger is forward motion.

Becoming bigger isn’t forward or upward. It’s just bigger.

Being small isn’t backwards or “less than”. It’s just smaller.


Big and Small – Different Countries with Different Languages

Big churches and Small Churches are different. But it’s not a difference of accomplishment, morality, or innovation. It’s not because one is good and the other is bad – or right or wrong, forward or backward.

It’s because we live in different countries. 200 is more of a language barrier than a numerical one.

When I go to a big church, it’s like travelling to an exotic, foreign land. I enjoy the experience. I appreciate the different culture, traditions, sounds and language they use. And I learn something new every time.

But after the trip, it’s always good to come back home again.

I wouldn’t know how to live and thrive spiritually in a big church. It’s not that it can’t be done. Lots of people are doing it. But I can’t do it. I don’t want to live there permanently because the language and culture of a big church aren’t my language and culture. And I hate to think what would happen if I was put in charge of one.

Pastors of big churches aren’t more holy, prayerful or passionate for souls than pastors of Small Churches. They’re just better at management, systems, marketing and delegation.

Those are good skills. Skills I don’t excel at. My skills and my heart are more suited to pastoring a Small Church. I’m a good teacher, counselor and peacemaker. And those Small Church skills are as valuable as the skills needed to lead a big church.

To use the Apostle Paul’s language, the body of Christ needs big churches and Small Churches to work together and appreciate each other in the same way a human body needs its eyes and hands to cooperate with each other.

Small Churches aren’t lower on the body of Christ, with bigger churches near the top. We’re just located in different, yet complementary parts of the body.

I’m good at being an eye, lousy at being a hand. The opposite is true for my big church counterparts.

I’m OK with that. And so is my growing, innovative and loving Small Church.


So what do you think? Have you tried to push through the 200 barrier? Have you been made to feel “less than” for not succeeding?

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