Here are the four attributes of a small church that intends to stay small.
1. Resistance to change.
2. Fear of outsiders.
3. Lack of coherent organization
4. Lack of cohesive forward movement
No one says a church has to grow numerically. Well, ok, Jesus and Paul and a few million others over the years thought a church organization would grow if it would just adhere to the Great Commission but no one actually says a congregation has to allow growth in its body. We read that 1% of American congregations of all denominations and none close their doors each year. I would be willing to wager that all of them have at least three of the checklist above.
Churches fail to organize for growth. Most do not willingly choose death. I have, in fact, never sat with a church leadership group and heard them say, “Well, we believe, if we can just play our cards right, we can be the last generation of this congregation. We really think we can be boarding the windows up in a year if we just do our job right.’
No one would ever say such a thing. Not out loud.
If, however, a congregation fails to do the things that unite the congregation around spiritual and numerical growth, they are voting for death; not now, perhaps not in a year, but in just a little while.
Obviously there are congregations around us voting to thrive and flourish and start new churches and revive old ones. Demographics matter, as does energy, as does vision. But, the old box churches that do more than provide a chaplaincy service for a few key families makes a serious decision to outgrow the old, small church mentality.
I have spent this morning listening informally to a few young pastors who are Preachers on Monday. There is no more stressed group. They are pastors or staff of churches of various sizes, some large, but all of them are struggling with two or more of the items I listed above, whether or not they know it. We have been able to discuss the facts in front of them. My heart goes out to them.
Sigh. And so it goes.