Here is the normal pattern of institutional church growth. You are part of a new church or fellowship that is friendly and intimate. It’s like being part of family. More people hear about the friendly environment, decide to visit, and soon the building cannot accommodate any more growth.
The congregation begin talking about a bigger building with more space. As more space is created, the numbers continue to increase. We see this as progress, but eventually, you will walk into the service and realize you don’t recognize the majority of people in the congregation.
“We are growing”, we say to ourselves, but we know something has been lost. Isolation and stress increase especially as a leader, staff member, or volunteer. The ministry gets so big we hire professionals to lead and administrate. Many ministry decisions end up being made based on legal liability and financial statements. Separation and isolation grow between leadership and the congregation. Stress and anxiety regarding administration and expenses dramatically increase. You long for the old days when you were part of a intimate biblical community.
Growth and maintenance of the Institution,
- Increases financial burdens.
- Increases stress and isolation.
- Increases disenchantment.
- The large church service, programs and agenda lose value.
- The message loses value.
Community suffers and attendees part ways and look for that missing fellowship somewhere else. The same scenario is repeated elsewhere and we are right back to where we started. We rinse and repeat until at some point, we say “enough is enough” and decide to get off the hamster wheel.
What about small groups ?
We are told small groups are the answer. Not quite. Sounds nice in theory, but the facts paint a different picture. The reality is, the small group model is primarily used to support the larger church agenda, and has less to do with fellowship and more to do with people management and control, even if that is not what is intended. The original small group attended eventually breaks up because many of the people that were part of the original group are needed to head newer groups. Isolation begins to creep in and the people you bonded with are going in many different directions, supporting the different ministries the church needs to keep growing.
Pay attention to this. It holds an important key.
There is a side effect to the small group that bids for some attention, though it is usually seen as a negative from the leadership. People have a tendency to become more independent in their group and begin to see more value in the small group than in the larger vision of the big church. People like intimacy. A large service is nice to attend once in a while, but when it takes away the quality of life of the individual or small group, the larger service drops in value. It gets lonelier sitting in the service. I know many who attend small groups, but rarely attend the Sunday Church service.
Our younger generation sees little value of a large service other than the entertainment value of the lights, music and cool graphics. You will find them texting each other frequently during the service time. They are also not consistent week after week. It is just usually a way to escape or hook up with a friend. The interest in the service itself is secondary.
Question: Where did we as a fellowship of believers go wrong?
We made a strategic error to believe that bigger was better. We adopt the idea that bigger defines success and most ministries measure what they do by numbers. We believe we have no choice but to expand to succeed. Good intentions and spiritual sounding words hide this truth. Here is the bottom line.
- We forgot why people gather in the first place.
- Size does matter.
- Fellowship and family matter more.
Size Matters – Part 2 will talk about solutions. It will be the tip of the iceberg of the many possibilities available.
Here is something to think about as we continue to move forward.
“Most of us think we believe in God, heaven, and salvation. What we actually believe in is the hope that it’s true and look for evidence to support it. Destroy the hope and the belief soon follows.”