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.