That question has been the subject of endless ministerial (especially denominational) hand-wringing in the last several decades. A lot of time and money has been invested in conversations, books, seminars and classes attempting to fix this problem.
Struggling Small churches are usually given two options:
Option 1: Figure Out a Way to Grow
There’s more information about how to do this than any other subject on pastoral ministry in the last 30-40 years.
Strategies for growth include everything from stylistic adjustments to changing pastors, church mergers, infusions of denominational cash and more. But if all the books, strategies and plans fail to produce the expected growth, there’s often a serious push for…
Option 2: Close the Church
There’s Relief from the Pressure
Grow or close. So many Small Church pastors feel the pressure to do one or the other. At times, that pressure seems to come from everywhere. From our congregations, our denominations and – perhaps the toughest critic of all – within ourselves. Many pastors reading this right now have not been able to pull off the expected growth and are wondering if you should call it quits.
If that’s you, don’t quit yet. I have some good news. “Grow it or close it” aren’t your only choices. There’s a third option. And it’s not a weird, new method, a mystical ancient secret or a positive thinking, pie-in-the-sky, hope-against-reality dream.
It’s been sitting in front of us all along, but a lot of us have been so obsessed with “grow it or close it” we’ve overlooked this alternative.
Option 3: Help Struggling Small Churches Become Healthy Small Churches
The Health Alternative
We live in a culture that is so obsessed with a bigger-is-better mindset, that we’ve allowed it to creep into the body of Christ. It’s become such an automatic part of our thought process, that many people in ministry can’t even see this obvious third option for small, struggling churches.
And no, I don’t mean help churches become healthy as a stepping-stone to becoming bigger. I mean becoming healthy as an end in itself.
80-90% of all churches in the world are small. That’s not a new phenomenon. It’s been that way for 2,000 years. If the last 50-year push for growth hasn’t changed those percentages, it’s unlikely they’ll ever change.
But maybe that’s not a problem. Maybe those percentages haven’t changed because they’re not supposed to. Maybe Small Churches aren’t bad. Maybe the issue we should be working on isn’t size, but health.
Imagine if all those Small Churches didn’t become bigger, but became healthy, strong and vibrant (as many of them are already). Would being small matter any more?
Be Careful of Unintended Consequences
So we’ve had 50 years of pushing, teaching and spending money on individual church growth, but it hasn’t done much to change the Small Church to big church ratio. Will it take another 50 years for us to realize that Option #1 (grow my church) isn’t likely to happen for the vast majority of churches – at least not past the dreaded “200 barrier”? (Gotta say, I’m not a fan of that term).
Does that mean we’re stuck with Option #2? And if so, have we really considered what the unintended consequences of that might be? Are we prepared to say that we need to close 80% of the churches in the world?
Another unintended consequence of our size obsession is that many people in ministry don’t know a healthy Small Church when they see one. Because of a common misunderstanding that “all healthy things grow” means constant numerical growth, there are a lot of people in ministry who don’t think a healthy church will stay small for long. Growth is inevitable, right? Therefore, any church that does stay small mustn’t be healthy.
With that underlying belief, it’s no wonder we haven’t developed adequate tools to help struggling Small Churches become healthy Small Churches. We don’t even think it’s possible!
The Essential First Step to Having a Healthy Small Church
This is what NewSmallChurch.com is dedicated to – challenging our preconceptions about size and health, then assembling and promoting the best ideas we can find to help struggling Small Churches become healthy Small Churches.
You can read some of those ideas in the links below, but my next post tackles this issue head-on.
Click here to read my follow-up post, The Essential First Step to Having a Healthy Small Church.
Some previous posts about healthy Small Churches:
- The Astonishing Power of Small Churches: Over One Billion Served
- Bringing Innovation to an Established Small Church
- The 4 Most Overlooked Truths About Leading a Turnaround Church
- Bigger Fixes Nothing: 7 Great Ideas for Small Churches from Robert Irvine & Gordon Ramsay
- The Importance of Finding Your Church’s Unique Voice
So what do you think? Have you ever faced the “grow it or close it” ultimatum? What did you do?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.