In the first decade of this new millennium, our larger churches are growing. The roughly 2,000 Assemblies of God (AG) churches in America with more than 200 in attendance grew by a total of 237,110 people during the decade. Though much of that growth was experienced by our largest congregations, that’s still an average of more than 25% growth per church.
But in that same decade, the roughly 10,000 AG churches in America with fewer than 200 on Sunday morning combined to lose 2,064 people. My minds still reels when I see that number!
How is it that the patterns and strategies so successful in our larger churches are failing to move the smaller church forward? How is it that shelves full of books and the hopeful messages of our most successful pastors are not trickling down to write great stories in the smaller place. We rejoice with the churches trusted with five talents as they multiply what they’ve been given, but where is the harvest for those churches with two talents?
You may say, Mike, there are numerous reasons for this gap, and I’m sure you’d be correct. Culture is moving and people are moving with it. Societal shifts have pulled people away from smaller places. Consumer mentalities have pulled people toward larger ministry menus or places where excellence is more readily achieved. Resources are different. Leadership gifts vary.
I’ve also seen unresolved conflicts, struggles with control, and even a “culture of can’t” so infiltrate the smaller church that every seedling of growth seems destined for hardened soil.
Not long ago, I met with the team of a smaller congregation as they were welcoming their new pastor. I marveled at his excitement, knowing that his most recent predecessors had struggled a great deal. But his dream of building a great church and reaching his community in creative ways was captivating.
Problem is, his people had a different agenda. Yes, they wanted to experience God’s future and they would never say “No” to the Great Commission, but their enthusiasm centered on having a pastor, a shepherd, one who would care for them and nourish them from God’s Word.
They treasured what is and what had been while his eyes were searching for what could be. And in a matter of minutes I could see that their enthusiasms weren’t for the same path.
Trouble is, they’re both right. Jesus’ clear vision for His Church is ever expanding, seeking to fulfill His Commission within its community and beyond, and at the same time loving one another and caring for those in need. Sadly the pastor and the people seemed to each have a different half of the playbook.