Eventually there will be more church growth books and articles than people who actually attend churches. Until then, here’s one more. As a pastor, no one has to convince me to desire church growth. On the saintly reason front, I totally want to share the good news of the Gospel with anyone who has ears to hear. I believe there is always room for one more in the family of God and it would be downright unchristian for me to ever want to limit someone from finding Christ in the church I serve. So yes, I totally want our church to grow.
And also, on a totally selfish front, I believe in church growth because it is not an enjoyable experience to constantly be one offering away from financial collapse. Well maybe not collapse, but it’s nice to get paid on a monthly basis when you have a family of six who are kinda of expecting you to provide for their basic well being. I’m not complaining, I’m just pointing out that a little church growth goes a long way in bringing some financial stability to my less than mega church setting. So whether it’s for selfless or selfish reasons, I’m good with anyone trying to figure out how to grow a church in a healthy, biblically sound way. With this in mind, let me tell you about my least favorite trend in the church growth movement.
Stop Platforming the Exception
For reality’s sake, please stop platforming abnormally large churches as an example for the rest of us to follow. I am not a mega church hater. In fact, I actually have more than one friend who pastors a very large, dare I say, yes I dare say, mega church. There are a lot of really good mega church pastors doing some really amazing work. However, I need to remind those in positions of authority that mega church pastors do not really represent what is happening in the majority of churches. Mega churches are, in fact, exceptions to the rule of church size and church growth.
Most churches are not, and will never be, mega. The majority of churches are, and will continue to be, normal sized. That’s right, you heard me, not small, just normal. Throughout the world, on a weekly basis, normal sized churches gather together to do the work of the Kingdom. These normal sized churches are pastored by individuals who will never experience the life of a mega church pastor. Although there are some experiences they hold in common, pastors of normal sized churches face different issues, problems and struggles than their mega church pastor contemporaries.
The simple reality is that a great and distinct chasm exists between the normal, average sized church and the abnormally large, not average sized congregation. Yet even with this disparity, mega church pastors are often platformed to help normal sized churches grow. I say enough is enough. Let’s start giving voice to leaders who are actually pastoring the kind of churches the majority of pastors will pastor the rest of their lives.
Sure, mega church pastors have a right to speak and put on conferences that teach others to do what they are doing. There will always be individuals interested in big church perspectives and big church advice. However, along with the normal trend to promote the biggest expression amongst us, we also need to intentionally seek out leaders who actually know how to do and speak to what the majority of pastors are doing. This is particularly true in denominational and church network settings. Trust me, the mega church super stars are easy to find. They speak at just about everything. The people that are harder to find are the individuals who are doing what most of us are doing, but just a little better. It should be one of the primary goals of every denomination and church network to give voice to healthy normal sized church pastors.
The Problem with Giant Pumpkins
I often think about the problem of platforming mega church pastors when I go to the county fair. Whenever I go to our local fair, I always make sure I buy a dozen raspberry scones “for the family” and I always make sure I see the big pumpkins. Almost every county fair has a big pumpkin contest where local farmers do their best to grow the biggest pumpkin in the state. The results are usually rather spectacular. No matter how many times I’ve seen a big pumpkin, I still like to see how big they grew them this year. Consequently, I’ve seen just about every purple ribbon, best in show, mega pumpkin ever grown in Washington State for the last 43 years (yes, even as a baby I took notice).
I love seeing the big pumpkins. I marvel at a farmer’s ability to grow such an amazingly large, freak of nature gourd. Even so, I don’t expect to have the same results when I attempt my own pumpkin patch. No, when I grow pumpkins, if I’m successful, they kind of look like everyone else’s pumpkins. They look orange, round and normal sized. If you were to ask someone to draw a picture of a pumpkin, they would most likely draw one that is normal sized. If you were to plant a pumpkin, you would most likely expect a normal sized flower to turn into a normal sized pumpkin that would one day make a couple of normal sized pumpkin pies.
This is one of the main problems with church growth culture. We are platforming and promoting giant fair pumpkins, instead of the normal sized pumpkins that everybody else is growing. I have absolutely no problem with pastors growing large pumpkins, excuse me, I mean large churches. I do have a problem with making abnormally sized churches the standard by which we measure everyone else’s work. By highlighting the exception to the rule, we discourage pastors and give people unrealistic expectations. I’m all for church growth, but I’m growing a little tired of being perpetually dragged to exhibition halls that measure my ministry against the big pumpkins.
For the most part, we all enjoy looking at this year’s purple ribbon, grand champion church. We just don’t want to use that standard to measure our normal pumpkin, church existence. Maybe it’s time we started platforming more pastors who produce normal sized fruit in normal sized fields. It might give us more joy as we engage the harvest.
You’ve said better and more constructively what I’ve been trying to articulate for a while now, Doug. While the mega-pastors are easy to spot, it’s the ones who do normal size church well that most pastors should be looking to for guidance and tips.
By the way, here’s a meme to go with your post:
Thanks. Good traction so far. I’ve had about a thousand reads in less than 24 hours.
And they are harder to find because they are working at the same time the rest of us are working. I think we really need to intentionally go out and find them. Thanks Tim!
Without poking a mega churches you’ve nailed the problem. Great Job!
Thanks for noticing that! The goal wasn’t to attack mega churches but to expand the conversation to include the rest of us.
I am the new pastor of a church in Oakdale, Ca. We would probably be considered a “less than average pumpkin” in our community. Concerning church growth, Paul teaches not to compare ourselves with others. I believe this applies to church growth also. Perhaps you should start a publication and call it “The Average Pumpkin” – Pastoral ministry for the rest of us. lol Great article. Keep it coming. – Peace.
Thanks. Not a bad idea and thanks for the encouragement!
Absolutely agree. As a new member of a slightly larger than normal pumpkin, ‘er, church, we host a community festival each summer and invite small churches around us to set up booths. We can’t possibly be everything to everyone, thus want all churches around us to grow. It will be a better neighborhood with more Christians in a variety of flavors!
I really appreciated this article, especially since I am a pastor of a small/normal size church. Though I might add, just as sports has moved into the realm of cybermetrics to determine the quality of an athlete, I wonder if it would beneficial, no matter the size of a church, to discover other means of determining the health of a church (i.e., discipleship, transformation, kingdom activity, testimonies, community outreach/impact, percentage of givers, percentage of volunteers, etc.)?
Great point Bryan. I’d be interested as well.
Well said, Doug. Thanks for all the “normal sized” work you do.
I love the giant pumpkins as well. I’d wish for similarly giant scones, but I don’t think my waistline needs it. 😉
Reblogged this on Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another and commented:
Doug Bursch has some wise words for everyone who cares about how churches thrive, no matter what size pumpkins they produce. (For a cautionary tale on what can come with too great a focus on greatness, see my post The Conference Every Mega-Church Pastor Should Attend.)
I would also like to add that as a church-goer, it can cause one to wonder what is wrong with their nice, normal-sized church if it doesn’t have this, that, or the other like the local mega church does. When mega-churches are held up as the gold standard (via conferences, blogs, coalitions, and the like), it can cause striving towards “bigness” instead of striving towards sharing the gospel and being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Bless you, friend. You are doing good work!
That’s true. It gives false expectations and even teaches dissatisfaction.
The same could be said for personal testimonies, the more extreme the better. The person with personal testimony about being a drug using, drug selling, sex addicted, child molesting animal sacrificing serial killer who then found Jesus will get a platform before an applauding congregation. While the average Joe who was mostly law-abiding and normal before becoming a Christian never is asked to share his [boring] testimony.
Great point Kevin.
Great job. This is the truth. Mega churches are great in so many ways, but they are also good places to hide, and it’s easy to think that all churches should be that way. I applaud the pastors of the churches in the little towns, villages and districts that could never sustain a mega church, but are changed day by day as the Church be’s the Church in their town.
Thank you! This is why I don’t care for conferences that much. They are so disconnected usually from every day realty. Both church and professional conferences.
Thanks for reading Nancy!
Who decided giant pumpkins should be the standard anyway? Have you ever tried to eat one? Gross. They taste disgusting because, really, they were never meant to be that big, it goes against everything they inherently are and took crazy (sometimes unethical) means to make it happen. Maybe you can find a good one now and again, but for the most part they rot super quick and never really do anything other than look REALLY good. I’d much prefer a small pumpkin that makes a delicious pie, that fills my belly and fulfills its purpose on earth as a pumpkin!
Everything has a purpose. I have good friends who pastor large and normal sized churches. Challenges to them all. Thanks for reading and commenting!
As someone who never expected to end up at a larger church I was concerned things would be shallow/impersonal & I’d get lost in the crowd. (At what point does “mega” apply?) What I’ve found instead is a body of believers focused on being the church not going to church. Serving our community to show them Jesus is the primary focus. In a small city that’s suffered loss then riots due to police actions, multiple police officers ambushed injured & killed, followed shortly after by devastating floods – an outward-facing mega church has a broad reach to a hurting town. I’ve learned is serving is contagious – it makes a group seem like family, it protects us from the grumbling that often results from an inward focus. I think the same would be true for churches of any size. As a “PK” I’ve experienced a lot of church size varieties. A service-focused church is the most Christ-like experience I’ve had.
Great questions and thoughts. This post is not questioning the validity or value of mega churches, just saying they are different and not the best practical examples for pastors leading normal sized churches. Churches of all sizes can express health or disfunction. Thanks for reading.