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.

(Click to tweet THAT quote.)

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. Now, somewhere around 600-ish people attend Grace Hills. But the really amazing story is happening behind the scenes where lives are really changing. *

I sat down at lunch not long ago 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?

* This post was originally published on January 21, 2015 and was updated on July 3, 2018.

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