For companies, the objective is always growth – in size and profitability. However, as most of us have experienced, corporate growth can actually reduce the quality of products and customer service. New growth initiatives, whether organic or through acquisition, may excite leadership and shareholders, but usually make customers nervous.
More revenues and customers are appropriate Key Performance Indicators for a business, but not for a church. Yet nearly all churches closely track “nickels and noses”. Does ambition for either have the potential to compromise “quality” a church delivers – measured in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? For example, church growth consultants often recommend designing sermon content around topics that will attract, but won’t necessarily increase the congregation’s love for the Lord. Likewise, church growth strategies rarely include boldly challenging members to become sold-out disciples for Christ that reproduce disciples.
Calling for that level of life change, although routinely demanded by Jesus at the heights of His popularity, would certainly have many church members today heading for the exits. Jesus also modeled demonstrating His love and compassion before telling people who He is – yet pastors today inadvertently try to “outpreach” Jesus when their churches largely neglect that first part. Yes, Jesus, His disciples and the church for 1900 years viewed the lost in the community as the “customer” – who should be relentlessly served and pursued. However, most churches instead define members as the ”customer” when leaders compromise “quality” for fear of losing congregants to a church down the road. “Quality” in Kingdom terms means treating members as the Church personified, and equipping and empowering them accordingly, so they can be effective in reaching the real “customer”.
Both Compromise, but Not for the Same Reasons…
Are smaller or larger churches more likely to see members as “customers”? Which are more inclined to follow the Biblical mandates spelled out for churches in the last paragraph? Which are more apt to see community engagement and compassion as core components of their strategy? Frankly, nearly all small and large churches today have redefined the “customer” – but they’ve done so for very different reasons. In our recent post “What’s Your Church’s True Purpose?” we contrasted two sets of goals:
- Transform vs. Attract – Leading people to love and look a whole lot like Jesus, whereby they feel compelled to disrupt “life as they know it” for the sake of bringing others to Christ – the Great Commandment
- Release vs. Retain – Preparing and equipping them for ministry throughout their spheres of influence, their city and the world – the Great Commission
In that context:
Large Churches – Are better designed to Attract, able to offer first-rate programs, facilities and services
Smaller Churches – Are struggling to Retain, unable to keep up with the “Joneses” in terms of children’s programs, facilities, resources poured into worship services, etc.
On the flip side:
Large Churches – Are finding it difficult to Retain, often becoming a “revolving door” as church “shoppers” fail to connect and slip out the back
Small Churches – Are failing to Attract or simply don’t want to, content with the comfort and consistency of familiar faces at the pulpit and in the pews
Who’s More Likely to Transform and Release?
That’s the other important question. Most of us have heard about Andy Stanley’s comments (which he has since retracted) about small churches. A key line from that sermon was “If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult.” Yes, big churches do a better job of providing an environment where kids will enjoy church. However, getting youth into a church doesn’t mean they’re doing any better at getting them successfully “out” of the church. In other words, the strategies behind designing an environment that will attract kids to church could also be the very thing that’s keeping them from graduating those kids to higher levels of spiritual maturity.
Is more fun and fellowship in a church setting more likely to make young people disciples of Jesus Christ? Are large churches better preparing youth to BE the church between Sundays? Frankly, small and large churches alike are doing less today on both of those fronts. Those old enough will remember decades ago when children got in two solid hours of teaching and worship on Sunday mornings. First, Sunday School followed by the church service – and then another hour on Wednesday nights. Today, most kids get 30 minutes per week in most modern-day Children’s Programs, which take place while parents are in the church service – and even that has been shortened as well. Deep-dive Bible education has largely been replaced in churches with keeping kids interested and engaged, hoping they’ll encourage their parents to come back the following weekend.
It’s Your Turn
Do you think large or small churches are generally more effective at Transforming lives and Releasing disciples into the world?