con-trar-i-an (noun): a person who opposes or rejects popular opinion; a person who goes against current practices.
Not to long ago, while I was reflecting on my ministry and my years of being pastor, I had the following thought: What if I took everything I learned about church growth and turned it on its head? (In actuality, that is what I did 11 years ago when I returned to Franklin, TN to restart a church I had previously pastored. To be honest it goes back even farther than that. I have always “pushed the envelope” and thought outside the box. It’s both a blessing and a curse.)
The more I thought about it, the more I liked it and so I came up with 10 contrarian principles for church growth. My theory is there are a lot of pastors, like me, who are tired of all the books and conferences and experts who tell you 10 ways to grow your church and after implementing those 10 ways your church doesn’t grow. My thesis is that many church growth conferences and books leave the average pastor feeling inadequate and discouraged. My question is: “Are there biblical principles about what it means to be a church, that if implemented, will not guarantee numerical growth, and in fact, may stifle if not halt church growth, but they are biblical anyway and need to be implemented?
So, over the next several blogs, I am going to mention my contrarian church growth principles. And rest assured, I believe in and practice each one. Here is the link to the first contrarian principle to church growth. This post is about the second one:
Contrarian Principle #2: Large and grandiose is good. Small and unimpressive is better.
The pressure to succeed as a pastor is immense. And, let’s be honest, success is defined by numerical growth. Sure, we can convince ourselves that “we are growing spiritually,” but that doesn’t pay bills–neither the church’s bills nor the pastor’s bills. The board of the church will be patient with the pastor, but sooner or later, if he or she doesn’t produce measurable growth there will be a “vote of confidence” in his or her competence.
You ever heard of BHAG? It stands for Big Harry Audacious Goal. If you have never heard of it, google it. It’s a business concept conceptualized by business guru, Jim Collins, in his book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (1994).. I own the book. I’ve read the book. I bought it at a church growth conference after hearing Mr. Collins speak. This is a popular idea among church growth fanatics. Their mantra is, “The size of your god determines the size of your goals.” (I did not capitalize the “g” in “god” on purpose. Why? Because that is a false mantra that borders on idolatry.) Here is another popular saying in church growth circles: “Every living organism grows. So, if your church is not growing it is dying.” Really? Does every organism always continue to grow, or do most organisms reach an adult (or mature) size and then plateau? I continued growing well into my forties, until my doctor told me I was morbidly obese and boarder line diabetic. Continued growth (and I am still a living organism…I think) would be disastrous. Sometimes the most healthy thing you can do is shed the excess.
There are few things that have done more harm to churches and pastors then the idea, “bigger is better.” Where does the bible say that? Where does Jesus, who constantly turned away the large crowds, say that? Instead, Jesus talks about the narrow gate and the widows mite and the mustard seed and the pinch of yeast. Bigger isn’t better. Obedience is better.
AND, consider creation! God’s most beautiful, and most complex, creations are not the galaxies or the sun or the moon, but the microscopic cells in your body and behind your eye.
Instead of a big harry audacious goal, dream so small that no one will ever see what you are doing, but what you are doing will produce miraculous things.