Here is a bracing article by Tim Suttle entitled “How to Shrink Your Church.” This is how it begins:
“Pastors and churches spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year attending conferences, buying books, hiring consultants, advertisers and marketers, all to try and accomplish one thing: to increase attendance — to be a bigger church.
I’m absolutely convinced this is the wrong tack.”
Suttle then delivers a critique of churches that pursue success defined as “getting bigger,” instead of faithfulness to the Lord who calls us to take up the cross. Instead of heeding the call to die and rise with Christ, instead of laying down the church’s life for the sake of a lost and hurting world, churchgoers focus on having a great church experience while their leaders pursue what “works” in pursuit of the goal of getting bigger.
When Suttle’s own numerically successful congregation began focusing on taking up the cross, it got smaller. He writes, “Convincing the church she does not exist for the benefit of her members, but for the life of the world is a bad church growth strategy. It’s also exactly what the church must do. It’s a tough sell because crucifixion seems like a losing strategy unless you believe in the resurrection.”
What a challenge! Sounds a bit like Gideon’s shrinking army–see Judges 6-8.
My take on this? Well, while we might not necessarily be called to get literally smaller, we must decrease so that Christ might increase, to use the words of John the Baptist.