Church growth thinking is alive and well, and in the eyes of many, successful. And I suppose it is from a certain perspective. Here is Outreach Magazine’s list of the ten largest churches in the U.S. in 2014:
If my calculator is right, these ten churches claim that nearly 244,000 people are affiliated with them. That’s equivalent to a city the size of St. Petersburg, Florida or Norfolk, Virginia attending just ten local congregations.
In an article in Christianity Today from 2013, Ed Stetzer made the point that even while many decry the megachurch and suggest its day is done, the number of large churches in our country continues to grow at a rapid pace. Stetzer notes:
- The number of megachurches in America has nearly doubled during every decade over the last half century.
- In 1960, there was 1 megachurch for every 7.5 million Americans. In 2010, there was one for every 200,000 Americans.
- There are as many megachurches today in the greater Nashville area as there were in the entire country in 1960.
I have an idea where at least some of this growth might be coming from. In another CT article from 2014, an estimate was quoted that “every day in the United States, nine churches shut their doors forever.” Whatever might be said about how many people large churches “reach,” in my admittedly observational and anecdotal experience the amount of transfer growth that has occurred from historic traditions, mainline Protestant churches, and small churches that lack the resources (and pizzazz!) of the megas has been staggering.
I’m not here today to talk about megachurches as much as I am to come back again to one of the “church growth” and “leadership” mantras that keeps getting written about, which in essence berates pastors for being pastors and thus not “growing” their churches the way some think they should.
Carey Nieuwhof is the pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada. His megachurch is not in the U.S. but it does partner with the North Point family of churches (see #1 on the chart above). According to his bio page, Nieuwhof’s church tells the story of many congregations today. They left their denomination, took up church growth methods, and now run a multisite church with two locations where over 1000 people are involved each weekend.
According to an article he wrote called, “8 Reasons Most Church Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark,” Nieuwhof puts his finger on the central problem in such churches: They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization. He goes on to list the eight characteristics that reveal this problem:
- The pastor is the primary caregiver.
- The leaders lack a strategy.
- True leaders aren’t leading.
- Volunteers are unempowered.
- The governance team micromanages.
- Too many meetings.
- Too many events and programs that lead nowhere.
- The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody.
This may surprise you, but you know what? I agree with him.
The main reason churches don’t “grow” is that they have an organizational problem. We’ve learned a lot about the characteristics of organizations in the past century or so. We pretty much know what makes them tick, what makes them successful, what kind of leadership works and doesn’t work, and how we should go about making them successful. Of course, organizational wisdom isn’t perfect and there are always factors that can bring an organization down even when its leaders do everything by the book. And that’s why so many books keep getting written! That’s why business people are forever attending seminars and workshops and having webinars and trying to stay on the cutting edge. That’s what church leaders do too.
No, I agree. If you want to build an effective, well-run organization there is plenty of wisdom out there, a tremendous stockpile of resources, and a lot of help.
I just have two problems with all of this, however, when we start talking about churches.
- First, who said the goal is to build an organization with a mission and vision and strategy to fulfill that mission? Is that really the church?
- Second, even if it is, who said “the pastor” is the person who should “lead” that effort?
Tomorrow, I want to come back to this and look at one particular aspect that Nieuwhof addresses in his list and in another more recent article.