Q. I have seen this pattern over and over: A gifted speaker and leader starts a church that is a great little church with a tight group of believers who enjoy warm fellowship with each other and are excited about following God,…. then over time, as the attendance grows, the church begins to polish up it’s program. Soon the once down-to-earth and accessible pastor starts to upgrade to more formal attire as the attendance swells, the worship team (gag) gets fancier, and then the building fund starts.
When the new building, which everyone is praising God for, is finally erected with it’s sound system and ample rooms for the added staff and programs, the whole enterprise is transformed into something that is far different from what it started out as – and it is not better, just fancier. ( I used the word”enterprise” on purpose). And the pastor, who no longer has time to counsel and console people personally due to all the administrative duties he has now created, starts to delegate these duties to associate pastors and others. It’s like the whole emphasis becomes the church and the program and the new glossy … whatever.
I hate going! I miss the fireside chats and people getting a lump in their throat when talking about King Jesus and the day we will see him. What’s wrong here?
A. This is an all too common result of the many flaws in Church growth philosophy. It would take more room than I have here to list them all. Some, like bigger is better, come from applying secular standards to spiritual matters. Others are the result of our flawed nature. For example, the average person gets a self image boost from being part of something that appears to be successful. Pastors are no exception. They’re judged by their peers on outward appearances, and growth is the main one. But in my opinion growth is the single most dangerous factor in the life of a Christian fellowship. It brings people, money, and security, all of which detract from the Church’s three fold purpose. These are to worship the Lord, to study His word, and to provide fellowship, including intimacy and prayer support, for believers.
Imagine, if you can, how it would be if each church was composed of only 10-15 tithing families and a pastor/teacher who had been called by the Lord to shepherd them. Their tithes would be sufficient to support the pastor at the same economic level they enjoy, and he would have the time to minister to each family’s needs, while helping them to grow in “the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) There would also be money to rent a small facility for their weekly meetings, and to help those in need around them. But they would be a community of faith in the truest sense of the word. When they begin to grow, their goal would be to split and become two, who would grow and split to become 4 and so on. No more mega churches, no more multi-million dollar campuses with big staffs and huge budgets and no more distraction by the things of this world that take our focus off the kingdom.
I think this is what the Lord intended. That’s why small fellowships are always more intimate, more spiritual, and more comforting. It’s the enemy who makes them grow into something they were never intended to be. The Lord warned us about this in the parable of the mustard seed, depicting the Church as a seed that was meant to produce a garden plant, but instead grew into a large tree, so big that the birds of the air (ministers of Satan) can find refuge there. (Matt. 13:31-32)