Monday, July 23, 2007

Church Growth?

One of my pet peeves is the insistence of the Church to incorporate secular business practices into its life, “baptize” these principles, and then call them godly leadership principles. I just finished a book called New Perspectives on Breaking the 200 Barrier by Bill M. Sullivan. It is a book encouraging pastors and church leaders to lead there small church of 120 or under to become a church which breaks the 150-350 person barrier. It is usually hard for churches to grow to this point so they call it the 200 barrier.

Here are some quotes that really irritate me:

In order for a church to grow from approximately 100 to over 350, a fundamental change in the church will be necessary. The change will be from a fellowship, in which everyone in the congregation knows everyone else, to a corporate-type organization, in which fellowship and relationships are experienced in subunits of the church.

Another highly significant change will be the relationship between pastor and people. In a small church the people can have direct contact with their pastor. In a large church frequent contact with the pastor is limited to a select few.

Still another consequence of such growth will be the vesting of leadership in the pastor and staff rather than lay leaders. Operation of the church will move from the church board to the executive staff. (p. 47).

In short, we must move the church from a family to a corporation. Does this in any way sound like the body of Christ the Scripture defines?!?

It was not just some of his thoughts of what needs to happen, but how they are to happen that bothered me. Sullivan says:

When you try to break the barrier slowly, the social forces that tend to keep an organization small have time to come to bear and prevent it. When people begin to realize they’re losing control, that the relationships are changing, and that the style of ministry is changing, they begin to resist…When you go through the barrier quickly, people don’t have time to discover what’s occurring until you’re well beyond the barrier.

That sounds devious, but it really isn’t. (p. 76).

Yes it does and yes it is. It smacks of the shepherds referred to throughout the Old Testament prophets who abused the flock in order to help themselves, like
Isaiah 56:11-12
Ezekiel 34:1-10
Zechariah 11:1-17

I would assume Sullivan is OK with the condemnation of these kinds of shepherds because twice he indicates that the pastor of a 350-person church cannot be a shepherd anyway but instead he must be a rancher (pp. 47-48 and 79-80). This is a great 21st century, postmodern picture of leadership in the church but it is not the biblical model of leadership of God’s people that is used throughout all of Scripture (John 10:7-30). While I will not pursue the problem with this image of church leadership, I will say the main problem I have is that ranchers essentially drive cattle by “whooping and hollering”, cracking whips and literally scaring the cattle and driving them where the rancher wants the herd to go. Shepherds, on the other hand, gently lead their flock. But I digress…

I guess my point is that the church seems to not see any problem with transforming the church to the secular business culture. “After all,” they say, “It works doesn’t it.” However, it just doesn’t. For example, there seems to be an outcry from the church that the average pastor tenure is too short, which is right on. There is a real problem with pastor tenure. Some studies say an average pastor’s tenure is a little short of five years (study here) while others say that in small churches, the pastor’s tenure is about 7 years (study here).

Perhaps, the missing piece of the puzzle is the adoption of secular business and leadership practices into the church. Studies show that the average tenure for executives and managers is less than five years (study here). Perhaps the reason the average pastor tenure is around five years is because the church hired an executive or manager instead of shepherd and pastor. This is only conjecture but I think the correlation is worth noting.

Sullivan’s book had some interesting statistics about growth, time periods and items of that sort. He did challenge the reader to make sure his or her motives were pure in wanting to grow a church to over 200. He did make a point of saying that this process must be led by God and must be bathed in prayer. Nevertheless, the book talked me into not ever wanting my church to move beyond 120.

Now, I really do not think a church has to give up what he says it must to grow. But if churches MUST give up these things, then I will counsel every student I teach to start a new church when their church hits 200 people.

Let me know what you think?


Kevin O. Gaona said...

Essentially I agree with your point of view. If we examine the ministry of Christ while on earth, we discover a leadership style that was loving and kind. In order to demonstrate love and kindness, one has to develop the relational aspect just as Jesus did. Sullivan seems to suggest church leaders must abandon this practice.

If we take a close look at how CEO's run their corporations, we find that the most powerful force driving them is personal success. This includes the huge bonuses they receive while some of the unskilled workers lost their jobs. When it comes to economics and business I am all for a capitalist system that rewards those who take risks and who create jobs by their managerial skills.

The problem with this approach to church leadership and church growth is that we are in the "business" of bringing others to Christ through personal witness and sacrifice, if necessary, not personal success.

Any church leader who views a congregation as a business to run has committed a terrible error in his choice of employment. Church leaderhsip, specifically the pastorate, is a vocation...not a profession.

Tony Magar said...

I have not read this book, but based on the quotations and the points you have made I would say I agree with you wholeheartedly.

The adoption of worldly, unbiblical practices by the church in our country has become epidemic in my opinion. We have bought the lie that "success" has everything to do with size, money, figureheads, and status. When in fact, scripture is clear that the body of Christ, where He is actually the "head" and not a buzzword, is all about serving others, reaching the lost, making disciples, and becoming increasingly spiritually mature. None of these genuine issues have any resemblance or association with the "church as business" mentality of growing larger numerically, financially and in notoriety.

Isn't it sad that in so much of Christ's church in America, Christ has been relegated to a nice byword or lure while the real technicians, (us, unfortunately), have assumed headship of the body and have begun reshaping it to make it more palatable to our fleshly desires? I suppose we must begin to ask ourselves if much of what we see can really even be called Christ's church at all.

As Jesus said in Luke 18:8,

"...When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"