Church Size – Decided by whom?

With the brief thumbnail (to be expanded in a later post) of congregational size from a previous post as a backdrop, the question struck we – who should set this significant direction for any congregation?

There are church type and official policy considerations as an undercurrent, but those often do not accurately reflect the way the congregation operates. For example, many constitutionally ‘congregational’ churches may in fact run with a Pastor as defacto CEO and with congregational approvals as an effective afterthought. Or the paradigm could be reversed. Ignoring these set-ups and any value judgments about them as a separate issue for the moment, however, who should set the priority for the congregational size and growth profile?

A case is sometimes made for interpreting the great commission as a command to proactively grow not only the faith, but by implication each congregation. This would be Biblical by implication, if that interpretation were applied. This intrepretation would mean that growth would be close to, if on the, top proirity. However, not only is that simply one interpretation, but there is no concrete stipulation in Scripture of precisely ‘how’ it is to be sought. Procative congregation growth, and the means thereof, has many models and possibilities.

Growth which is based upon offering services (in that paradigm, that is what programs are, after all) can end up as a vicious circle. In this model, there are never enough resources to satisfy the program needs, so further growth needed, and so on. As such, increasing size based upon programs can end up chasing resources (that is, money). This would apply to both internal congregational support programs and external programs such as missions or social acitivism. In both cases the result is expanded resource needs that never meet the expanding program plans.

There are other senarios, but they all lead to the place where increasing program scope and activity requires additional financial resources. This would appear to be true whether the models starts at the small or the large end of the scale.

With all this in mind, let us consider the process of setting congregational program priorities.

In the biblical model used in many evangelical denominations, the Elders (including the Pastors) are tasked with Spiritual guidance for the congregation. Those tasks today seem to be presumed to included the direction of the church in terms of growth priorities. Depending upon the denomination, those priorities may require approval by the general membership in some forum. In many cases, though, these goals and their full implications are not clearly spelled out or completely veted with those in the pews before being ‘passed’ and ‘implemented’.

Does that matter? Well, if the decisions have financial implications for congregant participation, and if there is to be hope of success, then it matters a lot. Failure of the proposed priorities to reflect the actual priorities of the stakeholders (the congregants) is to flirt with failure. Since this is not an uncommon church situation, the surprising, even shocking, part is that the leadership is surprised by the result.

What am I saying? Well, if there is to be a congregational direction related to increased size and financial obligations, then the majority of the contributing congregation must help formulate that direction (and I don’t mean just approve it at a meeting, which is a historically unreliable indicator), and agree to it explicitly, along with a clear statement of it’s implications for the individual. I would go so far as to say that to do otherwise is to ‘test God’ as opposed to ‘trust God’.

Why bring this up? Well, after talking to congregants from various congregations, and having heard a majority say that in one respect or another their church is struggling financial while at the same time proposing increased expenditure, it would seem that there is an organizational failure to communicate somewhere.

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2 Responses to “Church Size – Decided by whom?”

  1. Don says:

    Does one have to attend a church to be a Christian if one can sustain his faith without the church? As such, can not a church then be one person? Are we not each a church?

    Just curious what your thoughts are on this as churches have become not much more that entertainment centers where I live. I don’t enjoy them.

  2. kwilson says:

    [quote post=”133″]Does one have to attend a church to be a Christian [/quote]

    Absolutely not. They are unrelated. Notice also that I eliminated your “if one can sustain his faith without the church”. I did that because I see no conditions. Saved is saved, alone or not. Scripture puts no conditions of that sort on salvation, conditions that could be affected by the Saint, and this would be a condition.

    [quote post=”133″]Are we not each a church? [/quote]

    I think that there is some scriptural support for this in some senses, or at least nothing to negate it. What it actually brings to mind is Merrill’s book “Kingdom of Priests”, although it is not precisely on point. Scripture states “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25. That seems pretty clear. I don’t see any indication in the passage that it was a provision applying only to that time period. In Biblical times, it is likely that some also felt out of place in the church of the time, but irrespective of that were directed to continue in fellowship. The simple intent was for the family of believers to gather in the name of the Lord and I would see that as continuing today. All this would seem to imply more than solitary worship.

    Let us also remember that when the Lord said “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” Matthew 18:20, he deliberately used the plural. Could one draw an implication about gathering here? (admittedly, I have never read this in any theology so it is just speculation).

    If we consider gathering together as intended, then the format is another question.

    [quote post=”133″]churches have become not much more that entertainment centers where I live[/quote]

    Sadly, I would agree and would suggest it is true in a lot of places. The church growth movement, often combined with the over application of business and performance models, has in my opinion produced exactly that in many, many congregations. As a direct result, many have been alienated, and as a result the church can become narrow and exclusive while trying to be inclusive. It is ironic, actually. At least partially, the value of traditional, simple worship has given way to an ‘entitlement’ so the congregant is engaged and not bored. While this is certainly not the intent, the resultant conditioning is nonetheless the same – a responsibility to entertain. This problem is endemic in many areas of our social fabric, and now it has unfortunately invaded the church (we could follow this theme, but I’ll leave that to another time).

    To return to your comments, I do think it is expected of us that we gather with other believers. I personally think it not only glorifies our Lord but brings believers many benefits in the realm of fellowship, accountability, corporate prayer, support and more. Most of these are not available alone. Also, our development in Christian character is more likely to be accomplished in fellowship. Beyond that, however, it is a case of simple obedience in gathering – doing His biding in love. I personally find all those things essential. I will also add that many of individual joys can get lost as size and associated impersonality increase (I will discuss this in a coming post).

    There are some assembly models that do not suffer from these problems. What about a house church? Much of the grass roots house church movement has grown from exactly the feelings that you are expressing. There are also small congregations that value more fundamental, simple worship and fellowship. One possible example might be some of those associated with the Sovereign Grace Fellowship (in Canada, but there is a US web site), but there are others. As with any assembly of people, none is perfect, but in either the house church or small Bible based congregation setting I suspect and hope that there is a solution for you.

    I hope my comments don’t sound like platitudes. I understand your sentiments and have struggled with these things myself, as have many brothers and sisters that I have spoken too. Though I don’t know your geographic location, there are very likely others who feel as you do in reasonable proximity. The problem is connecting with them. I would like to encourage you, and the Lord will surely provide as He sees the need.

    Thanks for you comment. This reply seems to have turned into the size of a post. I had not considered this aspect when writing the next couple of posts in this series.

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