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See what you think of this quote by Tim Suttle:
The church’s job is not to grow, multiply, or expand. The church’s job is not to take back the culture for Jesus. The church’s job is not even to survive. The church’s job is to be the church—to be the faithful people of God who organize their common life together in such a way that they image God to all creation. Sadly, most American churches do not image God so much as they image American story of bigger, better, stronger, higher, and faster. The story of God is quite different. This story says the last will be first and the first will be last. Authentically Christian leadership does not embrace success as a worthy objective. Instead the Christian leader must embrace the way of descent, and the cruciform life of dying to self and others. The American way is up. The Jesus way is down.
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One of the most common reasons for pastoral leadership mistakes is blindness to the significance of church size. Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and what ministers, staff, and lay leaders do. We tend to think of the chief differences between churches mainly in denominational or theological terms, but that underestimates the impact of size on how a church operates. The difference between how churches of 100 and 1,000 function may be much greater than the difference between a Presbyterian and a Baptist church of the same size. The staff person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is in many ways making a far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another. A large church is not simply a bigger version of a small church. The difference in communication, community formation, and decision-making processes are so great that the leadership skills required in each are of almost completely different orders. via Leadership & Church Size Dynamics | The Resurgence. What do you think?  

This started as a letter to a friend serving as a volunteer in another church… and then morphed into something much longer. Your average small church pastor (there is no such thing, really, but let me wax rhetorical for a minute) is a little like the guy who used to show up on the Ed Sullivan show & spin plates on long slender poles. He looks calm & collected as he starts spinning the first few… but soon he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off (ooo – bad metaphor based on some Personnel Committee meetings I’ve been in) trying to keep anything from falling. Chances are excellent that he was given sub-standard training in church administration in seminary (I certainly was)… and that the lay folks (that’s pastorspeak for “congregation members who aren’t paid for their services”) in his church have even less training/gifting in that area than he does. Now, no pastor worth his salt is going to argue (seriously) that the church shouldn’t be organized – and if he is, direct him to Jethro & Moses and/or Paul’s pastoral letters. What they are likely to do is drag their feet in creating or revising the organization of the church because
  • they aren’t good at it
  • they don’t know how to fix it
  • and they’re threatened by what could/might happen if they did.
The problems at the church we’re discussing:
  • money being tight
  • ministries w/inadequate publicity that flop w/out sustained leadership
  • a small core of people (20%?) doing most of the work (80%?)
are common to small churches. It is my personal experience that smaller churches must decide what God has gifted them to do & then do it… rather than attempt to be a mom’n’pop version of the “big box” church across town. (Let me flesh that out a bit – small churches don’t have the resources to do a lot of things well; so instead, they should spend their resources on the things that are strong in order to make them God-honoringly excellent… instead of trying to offer as much and/or more than the church down the street.) That involves a really tough shift in thinking, esp. for older SBC churches who were trained to do what was called “five star” church (ask around – some of your older members will be able to quote this stuff right back to you – they put it in the water like fluoride):
  • a great church has a great Sunday School program (age-graded w/teachers, secretaries, class leaders, etc.)
  • a great church has a great music program (age-graded choirs & ensembles)
  • a great church has a great Discipleship Training program (again, age-graded – this was not small groups but another teaching time to deal with doctrine & practice)
  • a great church has a great Brotherhood ministry (this was an age-graded program for boys [Royal Ambassadors] to men [Brotherhood] that was missions focused – Brotherhood, btw, is completely defunct as a SBC program organization)
  • a great church has a great WMU ministry (this is the Women’s Missionary Union – also age-graded [from Mission Friends to G.A.’s to Acteens to W.M.U] women’s program that was, for many years, the backbone of missions support in the SBC)
Think about it – if you grew up thinking that the above five points were what made a successful church, you ingested a serious case of “programitis” – believing that the Kingdom of God advanced through the creation of programs for all ages. And if you believe that, then regardless of the size of the church, you had 4 hours of “class time” per person to support with money, leaders & church space – because if you didn’t, you weren’t being all that the church could be. And now, even though most of those things don’t/can’t happen in the average small church, the church feels the pull to do that kind of thing. Couple that with the drumbeat of “why don’t we have a Beth Moore study?” or “why don’t our men have a prayer breakfast?” or “our teenagers should have small groups in addition to their weekly meeting!” or “we should have as good a children’s church program as the Methodists” or “why don’t we have Awanas here?” and it is nearly impossible for churches not to do the binge & purge method of creating/killing programs:
  1. hear the need (which, please understand, I believe are real – youth do need small groups; adults need deeper Bible study; kids programs should be excellent)
  2. flail about looking for someone to lead this new ministry/program
  3. grab someone who is already overworked but easily feels guilt
  4. do a horrific job of planning for the ministry and/or recruiting other leaders
  5. launch without doing good publicity to the community or the congregation
  6. initial success is followed almost immediately by decline in attendance, rationalizing about why it’s not working, and a vow to continue despite obvious problems (which are ignored for “spiritual” reasons)
  7. depending on the church, either a staff person or a prominent lay person comes in to take over leadership as the program falters
  8. the program becomes dependent on artificial life support from the key leadership person – if they step out, the program dies
  9. due to the key leadership person and a fear of killing programs/hurting people’s feelings, the program continues on LONG beyond its useful lifespan
No, I’m not cynical. I’ve just watched this cycle happen over & over & over in my own ministry and in churches I’ve served. Breaking the cycle requires smaller churches to realistically assess what they’re good at/what their lay leadership is passionate about… and then pour their resources (financial, people, building space, staff time, etc.) into those things. Then the tough part – the church (and particularly the pastor) has to learn to say “No” or “Wait” to very good ministries that don’t fit their gifts & strengths. Not letting the good get in the way of the best is difficult if you don’t have some kind of way to evaluate the effectiveness of your plans & programs. BTW, a business meeting is a lousy forum for this. In fact, chances are pretty good there isn’t a good forum for this – most church people are afraid to say “this isn’t working” because you’re going to hurt someones feelings. (In some cases, you’re going to besmirch the good name of Sister So-and-So, who started the program years ago & did such a great job & HAS BEEN FACE TO FACE WITH JESUS FOR TEN PLUS YEARS and is hollering from Heaven to “kill it already and get on with building the Kingdom, for crying out loud!”) You need to carefully & prayerfully figure out what the best venue is for healthy evaluation of where the church is… and then get the pastor’s buy-in to be supportive of that evaluation. A reminder: evaluation isn’t magic. You can evaluate the heck out of something yet choose not to deal with what you learn – and now you’ve wasted the time you spent evaluating as well as the resources necessary to continue the program in a crippled state. Blech. Evaluation that doesn’t lead to change/improvement will quickly teach people to sit down & shut up. A healthy & well-organized church isn’t going to happen because you copy another church’s set of documents or you plot the perfect path to organizational health. A pastor can’t preach wise administration into existence any more than he can preach 100% of the church into tithing. Anything that happens in the structure of a church (large or small) happens because we trust God with it – because we talk to Him about it (prayer), look at Biblical examples (Bible study), and talk to others who’ve made the same kinds of changes (wise counsel). And then we do what He says.

Smaller churches lack the resources of larger churches. This does not mean they will not be able to provide meaningful ministry to their members and community, but it does mean they will have to be more selective in what they offer. In 1948, the first In-N-Out Burger was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California. Harry’s idea of a drive-thru hamburger stand where customers could order through a two-way speaker box was quite unique. In that era, it was common to see carhops serving those who wanted to order food from their car. Harry’s idea caught on and California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand was born. The Snyder’s business philosophy was simple: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” These principles have worked so well over the years that they are still the company’s fundamental philosophy. In-N-Out Burger has basically three items on their menus: burgers, fries, and drinks. There are no salads, no burritos, no chicken sandwiches. Think of the huge variety most other fast food chains offer. You would think In-N-Out made a mistake in limiting what they offer but they continue to be one of the most popular food chains in California, Nevada, and Arizona. I think smaller churches need to follow the example of In-N-Out…do a few things well and, “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” What do you have the resources to do? By adding more ministries prematurely are you running the risk of providing a poor product and equally as bad, burned out workers? It would be better to do a few things well than a bunch of things half-baked that burn people out.
  • If you can’t do multi-media well…don’t do multi-media.
  • If you don’t have the manpower (usually it’s womanpower) to do a full-on Sunday school program, don’t do one.
  • If there are not resources and interest for doing small groups…let it go and wait until the time is right.
You get the point. Smaller churches need to copy In-N-Out not Dennys. Dennys offers everything you could ever want. In-N-Out…burgers, fries, and drinks. Since mission statements are so popular these days, perhaps your mission statement should be In-N-Out’s: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”