Get free email updates as I write new articles:

8 Ways to Stop Biggering and Start Bettering the Church

Remember the Once-ler? From The Lorax by Dr. Seuss? He was a fairly normal guy who wanted to build a big business at the expense of the environment, so he kept “biggering and biggering” until all the trees were gone, the wildlife had vacated the landscape, and his business crashed. The little children’s book seems to leave us with the impression that biggering is bad. But I’m not convinced that should be the big lesson.

The story is told of Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, that he once sat quietly through a board meeting listening to his executives brainstorm about how to get bigger. He suddenly interrupted the chatter with a declaration: “If we get better, we won’t have to worry about getting bigger.” Talk about an Aha! moment!

We can make the church grow, or we can watch the church grow, and the difference boils down to bettering instead of biggering. This clip from an upcoming movie called When God Left the Building illustrates, from Pastor Rick Warren’s perspective, why biggering is simply not the right goal. (And hat tip to Joshua Griffin for the find.)

I often warn people who attend Grace Hills that if they’re just looking for a smaller church, we hope to disappoint them. And I further explain that the church must be intentional about growing larger because of our mandate to keep on making disciples out of a lost culture until Jesus comes. Then I follow up with the truth that while the church should grow larger, our energy should actually be invested in making it smaller. That is, we must put time and effort into turning the crowd into a congregation of committed Jesus followers who are in close relationships with a smaller number of people within the larger community.

This is why we talk a lot about how to spread out as we are growing up. America doesn’t need another enormous event center packed to the rim with spectators of a fantastic religious show. But America desperately needs a movement of Christians who spread out and infiltrate every pocket of our culture with the good news of Jesus.

I believe we’re seeing the beginnings of a bettering movement within our own Grace Hills Church family. We started small, with less than a hundred people when we launched. Recently our weekend attendance has been averaging 225 or so, so we’ve grown a little bigger. But the really amazing story is happening behind the scenes where lives are really changing.

Two days ago, I sat down at lunch with a couple in our church who lead a team of volunteers on Sundays and asked a simple question, “How are you guys doing?” Their response moved me. “Better than ever.” Their marriage is stronger than ever. They’re struggling through some disappointment and a difficult period of waiting in a very healthy way. And their intense passion for serving Jesus inspires me and makes me hunger to see many others share their experience. What really grabbed me, though, was the part where they said, “Ever since we started coming to Grace Hills, and especially since we got involved in our small group…”

In their story is a big answer to what should be next for our church, and probably for yours too. We must focus on bettering and we won’t have to worry about biggering. So how do we get better? These are the principles forming in my own heart and mind about how I want to see the church at large improve…

  • We need to depend upon the Spirit’s influence and empowering, and to unashamedly confess that dependence in our prayer and worship.
  • We need to learn to tell God’s redemptive story, the good news, in a way that relates to our surrounding culture. We need to make the gospel central to our message and mission.
  • We need to focus on people – connecting with people, connecting people to other people, and meeting the needs people experience on a daily basis.
  • We need to make disciples and develop leaders rather than simply attracting more fans. Attracting isn’t bad, but failing to challenge those we attract to take the next step is a severe flaw.
  • We need to get bold about our vision for a world touched and changed by a God-sized movement. It’s time to stop apologizing for an intense desire to influence and impact the culture with truth and grace.
  • We need to sacrifice our comfort, our preferences, and our personal agendas and embrace change – radical, catalytic, movement-shaking change.
  • We need to be strategic, pragmatic, and effective. These are curse words in some pockets of evangelicalism, but they are absolutely NOT at odds with biblical Christianity. We can be both faithful and fruitful.
  • We need to work together, in unity, as a team. Structural and institutional unity isn’t necessary, but working hand-in-hand for Kingdom-sized causes is.

The world doesn’t necessarily need bigger churches. But it definitely needs better churches, and better churches usually wind up bigger, and bigger isn’t bad.

Where does your church need to start? And what’s your role in the equation?

Just How Large Should a Local Church Be? Well…

I love small churches. I love medium-sized churches. And I love large churches and “megachurches” (typically defined as an evangelical congregation with 2,000 or more weekend service attenders). I also agree with a principle shared by Bailey Smith who once said, “There are no large churches. All churches are small, some are just smaller than others when compared to the surrounding lost population.”

I’ve pastored churches of 30 and I’ve served as a staff Pastor at a church that averaged about 22,000 attenders at the time. In many ways, the largest of them was also the smallest – the most capable of shaping and nurturing my soul. For whatever reason, church size is a very, very sensitive topic. Within the church, everyone seems to favor whatever size the church they’re part of represents. Some view small churches as ineffective and unwelcoming. Others view large churches as doctrinally weak or merely as corporate structures who prefer making dollars over disciples.

Why all the sensitivity? I think it’s social. We’re all a little protective of our identity, especially when we feel that someone is judging and assessing us as more or less worthy by secondary measures such as church size.

At Grace Hills, I’m continually challenging us to have a growth mindset, and to make sure that we are focused on growing multi-dimensionally. As a purpose driven church, we hope to grow…

  • larger through evangelism,
  • warmer through fellowship,
  • deeper through discipleship,
  • broader through ministry, and
  • stronger through worship.

Does a church have to compromise its theology to grow larger? Absolutely not! Have some? Sure. And have some small churches done the very same thing to make a relatively small handful of tithers happier with the status quo? Definitely. It happens, and when it does, it’s not good. What bothers me is the stereotyping of all large and growing churches as somehow diminishing either the quality or depth of their ministries. Research simply suggests a very different picture.

Consider the findings of thorough research conducted by the Leadership Network (who happen to be experts in the field of data and research). Glance at this graphic:

Small Church Large Church Infographic

Graphic courtesy of Leadership Network.

Some of the most popular stereotypes of large churches simply don’t hold water. In general, megachurch attenders tend to be more informed about doctrine, more intentional about serving others, and more involved in missions. They tithe more, attend more, and seem to have more healthy, close relationships. Again, this doesn’t mean that small churches are bad or ineffective. It merely suggests that our anti-growth, anti-large-church mindset may not only be misinformed, but harmful to the cause of the gospel.

I would even argue that there is a reason you don’t see theologically liberal churches busting at the seams and going multi-campus. When we stop believing in inerrancy, and heaven and hell, and the exclusivity of Christ to salvation, we lose all sight of our missional mandate and our motivation for growth in the first place.

So how large should a church be? I’m not sure why we think there’s a ceiling, other than the surrounding lost population. Is there a person in your community who doesn’t know Jesus yet? Then, larger, at least by one. When people visit our young church plant that meets in a local movie theater and shares that they’re currently part of a church that has “just gotten too large” and are “looking for something a little smaller” my response is always the same. If God leads you here, we trust Him, but we also hope to disappoint you as soon as possible.

If reading this post has conjured images in your mind of a “Six Flags Over Jesus” movement of enormous high-tech cathedrals filled with thousands of people who only show up for the the show or the sermon with no intention of deepening their walk or engaging others in ministry, you have a seriously flawed picture of what megachurches are actually like. In reality, larger churches typically work very hard at also becoming smaller, getting people into small groups, making disciples, developing leaders, and deploying tellers of the good news. When they don’t do these things intentionally, they usually don’t stay large for long.

If you’re part of a small church (say, 100 or less-ish), that’s great. You’re in a sweet spot. Support your Pastor, join a team and serve, and seek out the next lost person and thank God for the large church across town. If you’re in a medium or large church (relative to the typical congregation), that’s great too. Support your Pastor, join a team and serve, and seek out the next lost person and thank God for all the smaller churches that are also working hard in the harvest.

But either way, regardless of where you are, growth is a good thing. When we grow without compromising our message or mission, the Kingdom wins. I celebrate both timeless biblical theology and innovative strategies for reaching unengaged people. How large should your local church get? That’s really the wrong question. The right question is, how do we make disciples of everyone we possibly can?

Defining Spiritual Maturity

How is it that some people can be born again, faithful church members for many decades and act so immaturely under pressure or in conflict while others who have been believers such a short time seem to reflect Christ so well? It’s because spiritual maturity isn’t defined chronologically. It doesn’t matter so much how long you’ve been a Christian. It matters whether you’ve been growing while a Christian.

I love the way Tony Evans states it his book Time To Get Serious

So what is maturity? Very simply, it is coming to the place where you think, judge, and react biblically to every situation. When it is the rule and not the exception for you to apply the Bible to your life; when you place every area of your life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ; when you can say in everything, “Here I am, Lord. What do You want me to do?” – then you are a mature disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Spiritual maturity takes time, but not dead time. Maturity requires time in which we are actively engaging our heart, soul, and mind by the challenges of the Word of God and then enduring real life situations in which we successfully apply the principles of God’s Word.

Spiritual maturity certainly is the goal for the believer – total Christlikeness – but remember that it’s not about age or tenure, it’s about our level of Christlikeness.

God Is A Finisher

I have taken lessons in piano, guitar, trumpet, and karate. Does this make me a master of all of these abilities? No! Because I stopped each one after only a few months. I’m a master of starting things! God, however, is the Master of finishing.

Consider this. In Genesis 3, sin entered the picture of humanity and by the end of the chapter, God had issued a permanent promise of redemption through the “seed” of the woman (Jesus, the Messiah). Then for thousands of years, that promise was threatened repeatedly. Satan was on the heels of God’s people all the way to the cross and the empty tomb. But Jesus finished paying for our sins and rose again. Redemption was secured.

Also consider this. If the previous paragraph is true, then I feel a solid guarantee that everything God has promised for our future, but has yet to accomplished, will certainly come to pass. Why? Because God has proven that He is a Finisher. Against all odds and in spite of intense satanic oppression and attack, God’s will gets completed.

Here’s something else to consider. If God finished the work of redemption in Christ, and if God will certainly fulfill all of His Word concerning the future, then God will also certainly finish whatever He may begin in my own life. Paul, in Phililppians 1:6, was “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will carry it out until the day of Jesus Christ.”

But I’ve messed up… I’ve made mistakes… I’ve halted the progress of spiritual growth in my life… Yes, but God has determined to finish you!

I used to watch my grandfather work in his shop. He built cabinets and tables and other furniture. He was good at putting wood together and making something pretty, but he was a master of the finish work. He would sand and stain. Then he would run his fingers over every inch to find any rough spots so that he could sand and stain some more before putting the final polish on top.

That’s God. He roughs us up and puts us through adversity to shape us. Then He puts some finish on us. He tests us and finds the rough areas and sands us down some more, then applies more finish work. And someday? The final polish will be applied (Romans 8:29-30 guarantees that this is already as good as done).

God is a Finisher. Don’t doubt what He has begun to do in you – just let Him have His way!

Why Talking About Church Growth Matters

Refinery Under Construction

It’s inevitable. Every single time we publish an article on pastors.com designed to help Pastors lead their churches to grow, people react with defensiveness and pseudo-spiritual comments. Everyone seems quick to point out that “it’s not about numbers,” “bigger doesn’t mean better,” and “my small church matters just as much as your big church.”

Yes. We know. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a small church. Small churches do awesome things for the kingdom and for their communities. And Pastors of churches of fifty people can have just as much integrity and just as much of God’s blessing as Pastors of churches of five thousand. Transfer growth is not a net gain for the church – we need to talk about conversion growth. All true.

Some go even further to imply that if you’re big, you must have gotten big by compromising the gospel or watering down God’s truth. These critics can’t help but grit their teeth when they talk about “those megachurches!!”

Here’s the problem. When we celebrate smallness as though growth is optional, we show that we think of the world around us as if our churches exist separately from it. With little regard to the fact that population growth is outrunning us and we’re failing to effectively fulfill the Great Commission in America, we assume that as long as my own experience at church on Sunday is a good one, we’re fine.

[bcoxlike]

We need to talk about church growth because it’s a matter of life-and-death, eternal consequences for millions and billions of people. That’s why we should challenge our churches to grow by sharing the gospel. That’s why we should celebrate stories of growth instead of being overly skeptical and critical. That’s why we should focus on the spiritual needs of those who are outside the church instead of the emotional comfort of those inside it.

I’m leading a church plant that is just a couple hundred strong and often someone will visit and say, “We wanted to find a smaller church to be part of.” My reply is almost always, “Welcome! But we hope to disappoint you soon.” Then we always throw in how we’re big fans of the church they’re already attending (assuming it’s a truth-teaching church).

I love churches of all shapes and sizes. But I get excited when I hear of a church experiencing growth at any rate because it means more people can be rescued for eternity. Don’t apologize for it, minimize it, or shame anyone for sharing the victory of growth. I want my church to grow, your church to grow, and every church that honors Jesus and teaches a biblical gospel to grow.

When a church stops growing, instead of settling for “good enough,” maybe we should diagnose the situation. It’s possible that we could depend on God more, pray harder, preach more relevantly or passionately, love families better, organize to reach new people, etc.

For the sake of the souls of people, let’s keep talking about church growth!