Stephen Mattson has written a post that’s a helpful challenge and encouragement to congregations of every size. It’s called The Megachurch vs. Minichurch: Do Popularity and Growth Really Matter? It is posted on the Sojourners Community blog. He cautions against making judgments about any church based on its size and statistics.
He also speaks to a struggle that I live with: how can pastors and church leaders care lovingly and faithfully for the saints who have been faithful to the congregation for many, many years, and conserve what is beautiful and needed, while also helping the congregation follow God into the future and reach new people in Jesus’ name? Mattson notes the harm that leaders can do when they chase numbers and frantically try to implement change too fast. The old Girl Scout song says, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” How can we cherish both so that old and new can be one family together?
Here’s how the post concludes:
“There are thousands of small faith communities doing it right by striving to make the world a better place by passionately following Christ’s example. These churches understand that Christ-centered community trumps the value of popularity.
“So which is better: large communities or small ones? Neither! Numbers, attendance, and popularity should never be used as indicators of spirituality. Expansion should never be pursued at the expense of righteousness.
“In a society obsessed with consumerism, we have mistakenly used growth charts, predictive modeling, quarterly forecasts, stats, and numbers as indicators for success. Instead, we should be striving for the fruits of the Spirit. Thousands of Christians can get together yet accomplish nothing, while tiny pockets of believers can be transforming lives — and vice versa. We need to start recalibrating our goals towards Christ’s commission to serve, sacrifice, and love instead of treating the church like a Fortune 500 company.
“Before assuming numerical growth or decline is a sign of God’s favor or judgment, prayerfully consider how you can use your faith to help the poor, shelter the homeless, generously give to those in need, comfort the hurting, protect the vulnerable, and selflessly make sacrifices for the benefit of others. Focus on achieving the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5), passionately loving God (Mark: 12:30) and serving the world around you (Mark 12:31). If these Christ-centered values aren’t eagerly embraced and acted upon, then the numbers are worthless.”
This seems to me to be good advice for churches of all sizes. And, as a small church pastor, I do appreciate his recognition of the great faithfulness that even the tiniest communities can show. It’s about passionately following Christ’s example, serving, sacrificing and loving so that people can experience his transforming love. And as the stories of the one found sheep and the one found coin remind us, there is great rejoicing in heaven when even one is saved.