Monday, May 14, 2007

You're gonna need a bigger boat.

I was conversing on the phone today with the Rev. Dr. Mark Forrest and he had a very interesting observation, putting it in the form of a question even though we were not on Jeopardy!

We were discussing the mindset that is prevalent that a bigger church is a better church. He asked what programs (insert name of well known SBC mega church in our area here) had that we don't have, etc.

So many of these church growth conferences give the impression that the mega church is where it's at and the VAST majority of churches out there ought to just have their heads bashed against a tree to be put out of their misery if they can't attain the elite status of mega.

They often (though albeit perhaps unintentionally) give the impression to the smaller churches that they just can't compete. Given that and the propensity of people to jump ship to the bigger, better deal one can easily become convinced that to land these consumeristic sharks you're gonna need a bigger boat.

Your building must be bigger. Your choir must be bigger. Your children's programs must be bigger, etc.

It's this last one that I find interesting.

There have been occasions in the life of our family whereby we have pondered sending our kids to a Christian private school. What was one of the huge selling points? A great student to teacher ratio. They let us know that their classes are such that you never have any more than a 1 teacher to 12 kids ratio or whatnot. In contrast, they will note, you're looking at 1 teacher per 20-30 kids in a public school. Now, concerned parent, which is obviously better?

But ... take that to church. Hmm. As they drop off their kid the parents realize that there are only 8 kids in that class with little Johnny. That's a concern.

Like Mark said, "What's the difference between the 4th grade class at (insert name of that church again) and your (Providence) church?" Mark's brilliant question: "Why don't they value a good student to teacher ratio in church like they do in school?"

I thought to myself and said, "Good point. In fact, I'll put my class up against anyone's. We've got a husband and wife team teaching. They are the parents of four and he has a 4 year Master of Theology degree and a Ph.D. in education. We keep a good student to teacher ratio. Why is it that in church folks want more kids in a room with not enough adults and that's a good? Our curriculum from Children Desiring God rocks the house.

But folks don't typically think in those terms. Folks have been more trained to look at the exterior of the building and see the size of the church as the more important factor in having a better church life/experience, even with regard to kids slooge.

Why is that? I think it's because we see the bigger church as successful and want to be on board with a winner. It's hard to be a Rangers fan, but it's always easy to be a fan of the team that has just won the World Series or the Superbowl, etc. There's a sense of prestige being associated with such a winner, like a mega church.

I said all that to say this ... smaller church person/pastor, you have nothing of which to be ashamed. You may not be able to "compete" in certain areas, but those are the areas that really define true success anyway. Do what you do well and in an excellent manner for the glory of God.

As your church is healthy and your faithfulness sees God graciously add to its number, rejoice, but do not gloat and certainly don't lose sight of what's most important.

If you're a Rangers fan you can relate. Other teams have bigger payrolls and it's easy to have some envy in the standings. A manager still wants his team to play hard each game and put a quality "product" on the field.

Yet, aren't even the Rangers an illustration of the bigger, better deal syndrome? They built the Ballpark in Arlington in 1994. The new stadium drew more fans which meant more tickets (tithing units or TUs as their seen in church growth circles). So, the team has more money it can spend on players, etc. In 1996 the team made history, the Rangers made the playoffs for the first time ever. From then on expectations have been higher for the team.

I said all that to say this, I wish we could better educate Christians ... nay, "church shoppers" as to properly measuring quality in a church by looking at things like doctrinal fidelity, depth of instruction, values, and vision for the glory of God in all that is done. It's typically, however, the window dressing of a church that gets all the evaluation, good or bad.

We're called to be fishers of men and some would tell us, "You're gonna need a bigger boat" in order to catch fish in our era. Perhaps, but I would be inclined to think that Jesus might rather tell us that we're gonna need the Holy Spirit and faithful diligence to get the job done.

If you get a bigger boat, praise be to God, but you don't need it to be successful.



At 14 May, 2007 15:52, Blogger Rev. said...

"'s always easy to be a fan of the team that has just won the World Series..."

It's easy to be a fan of the team that just won the World Series because the St. Louis Cardinals are the World Champs!!! ;)

Eric, this is a great post! I was having a conversation the other day with some folks about the dis-/advantages of mega-churches and smaller churches. My wife and I belonged to a mega-church in Ft. Worth for several years. The pastor knew my name but not hers, not even after three years. There were a few people in the church we knew really well, but there were a whole lot of people we didn't know at all. We have been members of a small church (< 100) for five years now (minus the OK stint). We know everybody, everybody knows us. We love folks and we are loved. We are family. It's what church should be.

I think churches need to reconsider the point at which they cut off and begin planting more and more congregations. Let's say you have a fairly large congregation (300-500), do you really need to grow past that? Can you keep up with everybody past that point? Will everybody be accountable in their relationship w/ Christ and each other? Can they really affirm a basic church covenant? I don't think so. A church that has 300-500 should consider taking core groups and planting them into new congregations. The Kingdom would benefit much more in that way than having one church grow to 10K-30K.

Too often, though, as you point out, there is a concern about "success," "being a winner," etc. It's time to change the rules. Many pastors at associational / denominational meetings ask, "How are you doing?" and the response is, "Great! We baptized x amount; we added x number of new members," etc. Let's change the rules. Change the game. Let's start asking, "So, how many people on your church roll actually attend?" / "How many of the people on your church roll do you actually know?" / and "What is your teacher-student ratio?"

At 14 May, 2007 16:22, Blogger GUNNY said...

James wrote:
Let's start asking, "So, how many people on your church roll actually attend?" / "How many of the people on your church roll do you actually know?" / and "What is your teacher-student ratio?"

Uh ... that's a great way to never get invited back!

But ... so true.

Along the same lines you're thinking, I would suggest a church sanctuary never be built to seat over 500, that way when it gets crowded (pushing up against the "Eighty Percent Rule"), you plant a church.

I was talking with Jerry Halbrook (pastor of Parkway Baptist in McKinney) on Friday and he made a comment about their church's commitment to church planting.

When they had the opportunity to buy their land, the intentionally only bought 8 acres instead of the 16 they could have so they would church plant when necessary due to growth, instead of just expanding their own church.

Impressive foresight, it seems to me.

At 14 May, 2007 20:17, Blogger Rev. said...

I've always been really popular at the associational meetings. ;)

I like the attitude of Parkway Baptist! Good for them!

At 15 May, 2007 15:48, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

Bravo Gun! I totally agree with you. Bigger is not better, biblically speaking.

I remember a prof at DTS once asking the question "What is biblical success?" His answer: "Faithfulness." It has nothing to do with quantity and everything to do with quality.

I remember another prof once decrying the condition of the evangelical church in America today saying that it had bowed its knee to the bitch goddess of numbers. That was a class shocker. That same prof said the evangelical church is essentially dead in America. Only a remnant of the faithful remain.

I like the idea of only growing to about 300-400 church members and then planting a new church. Once a church exceeds 400 members the necessary accountability structures become very difficult to maintain. It can be done, and there are examples of larger churches remaining faithful, but that is certainly the exception rather than the rule.

Providence Church is a small church plant. Judge it by its size and it is a failure. BUT judge it biblically, according to faithfulness to the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and it is, in my estimation, a huge success! I pray the Lord will continue to bless Providence Church with real success and fruit-bearing that is eternal. May he give the congregation there eyes to see that he is faithful to give the gift of himself to his people (what more could we want?) so that they hope in him alone rather than bowing the knee to the bitch goddess of numbers!

At 15 May, 2007 16:20, Blogger Lance said...


Good stuff. We were having dinner last night with a couple in our church (of 80 or so), who wanted to tell us what God is doing in our lives.
As is custom, the topic of me possibly moving on to something bigger and better someday came up.
Who knows what the Lord has in store? But I told them that we're quite happy here, even if it means we'll stay small and "only" shepherd around 80-100 people a year until we partake of glory. . .

. . . and I meant that.

At 15 May, 2007 21:23, Blogger Lance said...

correction: I meant, "their lives," not "our lives."


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