In his book, How to Break the 200 Barrier, C. Peter Wagner identifies five institutional factors that keep a local church attendance under 200:
1. The desire to preserve social intimacy
2. The desire to maintain control
3. The desire to conserve memories
4. The desire to protect turf
5. The desire to remain comfortable
Sadly, many of smaller churches are ruled by these small ideas. Now, not every church is designed or destined to reach a mega-capacity, but health and growth are typically inseparable. Like a stagnant pond where no water flows in or out, if a church isn’t growing, before long it won’t be healthy.
If you look closely at Wagner’s list, you’ll notice the verbs all contain the idea of remaining the same. So friendships are preserved rather than available for expansion; control is clung to rather than open to new possibilities and giftings, memories are conserved rather than built, and so forth. Each statement is an expression of selfish preservation, at the expense of kingdom possibilities.
When did the church become about us? How is it that someone’s vision for a church that reached people has now turned into a group’s intent to keep others out?
Yes, growth risks many things, including the comfort we have achieved with the way things are. A growing church presents the challenges of increasing friendships. New people will want to get involved in ways that threaten the control of the few. Yesterday will slide to the back burner anytime there is something to be excited about in tomorrow’s plans. It’s hard to protect turf when the turf is expanding.
But for every risk comes the potential of amazing reward. People who prefer stagnant churches over one that’s growing typically aren’t the most appealing date on one’s social calendar. They have decided that their church is about them. And, if one can do that to the kingdom of God, little wonder those same people ultimately decide that everything in life is about them too.
Outward focus is the only cure. Aiming the eyes of the inward toward the vast challenges outside the walls is the only way to break the stranglehold of inward focus. And if it can’t be broken, what exists within will implode.