I was recently reading this article by Tim Keller on “Leadership and Church Size Dynamics.”
There is a lot of good and helpful stuff in it, I think. And it helps us to think about some broader issues.
First, church size isn’t everything. It is something however. And a larger church is something to strive for because a larger church means the Great Commission is being carried out.
Remember, the Great Commission is not only preaching. It is making disciples. And it is going into all the world to make disciples of those who weren’t previously disciples, and so that means numerical increase.
That may not be true in every single locale. There may be places where disciple-making is particularly hard and disciples are few for a variety of reasons. But the goal is more followers of Jesus, and that means that numbers matter, at least to some degree.
There are two ends to this spectrum. Some pastors and churches chase after more people and more people and do whatever it takes to get them there. They become sinfully pragmatic. Other pastors and churches are content with what they have, and have lost their passion for evangelism. They become sinfully apathetic.
Keller talks about the fact that some people attach spirituality to their desired church size. It happens both for big churches (spiritual because they are really growing and reaching people) and small churches (spiritual because they are standing firm against the tides of compromise and people just won’t come for that because they don’t like truth).
(And then there’s the pesky medium sized churches who claim that a church over a certain size should be planting a new church rather than continuing to grow the present one.)
Some pastors believe that if there aren’t more and different people there this week than there were last week, they have failed. Other pastors believe that if there aren’t more and different people there this week than there were last week, it doesn’t matter. So long as there is someone there to give in the offering and listen to his preaching, things are fine.
I would challenge both pastors to consider their task, their definition of success, and their heart for people.
The first pastor, who always wants more, can be driven by the idol of the crowd rather than being driven by the heart of the individual. He may need to repent of seeing people for the sake of their part in the congregation and begin to see people as individuals.
The second pastor, who is content with the same, can be driven by the idol of stability rather than by a heart to reach hopeless sinners with the hope of Jesus. He may need to repent of his comfort zone and begin to see people as possible Christians, meaning someone in whom God might be working to bring them to faith in Christ.
It is true that people do prefer certain church sizes, and are not comfortable in other church sizes. Pastors are not excluded from that. The good news is that there is nothing wrong with that, unless church size becomes your idol.
As a church member, rather than chasing a church of a certain size, find a church that you can worship, learn, evangelize, and serve in. Forget the size; love the church.
As a pastor, develop a heart for the people who are not there, alongside of a heart for the people who are there. That won’t make you two-hearted. It should make you big-hearted.
If you are constantly measuring success by numbers, you should probably take stock of who you are really serving.
And if you never measure success by numbers, you should probably take stock of what you are doing.