A growing church can be a blessing and a burden. By “growing” (in this article) I mean, numerically. Every pastor wants to see numerical growth in their church because it means people are coming into contact with the gospel. That’s the power source for conversion (Romans 1:16). Conversely, no pastor with convictions about being a biblical shepherd wants to see the church grow so large it cannot be served faithfully. People should know and be known by their leaders. No matter how “big” things get, pastors and leaders must remain proactive in finding strategies to oversee the spiritual health of the flock in personal ways. That’s not to say every person attending a growing church will want to be known–some will undoubtedly try to blend in and scurry out the door afterwards–but pastors do well to teach people that soul-care matters. Caring for souls is difficult–even impossible–if herds of people are shuttled in and out of a building without intentional connection points.
Even for churches that may not be experiencing rapid growth, caring for a flock can be difficult when that flock is living life at a rapid pace. Here in Orange County, our church has been steadily growing between 30-50 members per year over the past 4 years. That’s not record-breaking growth, but it’s not underwhelming either. Still, the most difficult pace to keep up with is the pace of life that people live at. Families have sports tournaments, people have corporate jobs that demand travel and long hours, and “spare time” goes to recreation and self-care. Add in the fact that we run at two services on Sunday and it’s safe to say there are members who, for some time, hadn’t even met each other. In other contexts, the details may change, but the church’s challenge remains the same. It can be a daunting task to “slow things down.”
About 18-months ago our team strategized several ways to keep our growing church feeling small. The collective vision was pretty grass roots: No more herding people in and out of multiple services like cattle every Sunday! Assimilation and relational equity was the name of the game. People needed to know people. Shepherding souls and bringing people together, the ultimate focus.
I’m certain we’ve failed at times. There’s bound to be a miss here or there. But overall we’ve seen tremendous fruit and received feedback that tells us we’re achieving our goal. With some quantified success in the rearview, and plenty of time to learn new lessons, I thought it’d be a helpful to blog about some things that have worked.
Here are just 6 ways we made a growing church feel small:
- We host open-invite lunches with leaders
Called, “Lunch with Leaders,” we invite every newcomer and long-timer to join us for lunch after 2ndservice on select Sundays. Pastors, elders, deacons, interns, and lay leaders attend with their families and the bonding with church members and visitors is something straight out of the New Testament. The timing of these matters. They take place nearly every 6 weeks; strategically placed at intervals between our small group sign ups and membership breakfasts.
- Our pastors attend membership classes (now called “breakfasts”)
I know many pastors who take pride in delegation. I know I do. But is there a time and a place where delegation isn’t all that wise? As a rule of thumb, the pastor who leads our membership classes may vary, but all of our pastors attend the classes and get to know people. More than that, we started calling them breakfasts and sharing a meal together to start. Meeting people and getting to know their stories fosters meaningful membership no matter how large a church gets. A pastor-friend with a demanding schedule once told me, “I’ll be away some Sundays throughout the year, will miss a staff meeting or three, But I don’t miss membership classes unless it’s a 911.”
- Our pastors write hand-written notes
Talk about a lost art, the hand-written note is something we were taught early on by an older, wiser pastor. Our office prints customized stationary, and each pastor has access to a never-ending stack of cards and envelopes. Stamps are currency, and besides his Bible, stationary can be a pastor’s dearest friend.
- We make a big deal about small groups
In September, January, and April, we host “Sign Up Sundays” for two consecutive weeks. This is where all of our small group leaders host tables spread out across the church campus. They decorate to reflect demographic and personality and welcome every newcomer to the church a place to grow in the word with others. Rosters normally overload by the second week and we train more leaders for the next round of sign ups. Leaders with no more room in their groups become our top recruiters; helping others find groups with open space. 97% of our members are in small groups. New leaders are being developed throughout the year. It makes a big difference in keeping a growing church feeling small.
- Our pastors and elders are accessible
This one should be common but there are many churches where pastors jet to the “green room” after services and are nowhere to be found during the week. Some church growth experts insist this is healthy for preserving the senior pastor’s star power. At our church, we’re taking our chances on a more traditional (even biblical?) approach. We’ve made a commitment to be accessible. Our teaching pastor likes to tell people, “There’s no magic behind the curtain.” We are shepherds. If people want to get to a pastor, they always can. If they don’t get to a pastor, it’s because they chose not to.
- We try to keep things simple
Too many churches feel like a night at the Cheesecake Factory. There are 8 pages of menu options, cold marble tables, too much noise, and nobody knows your name. Sometimes, less is more. Most times where churches do too much, pastors who should be shepherding souls end up becoming nothing more than glorified event planners. God has called the church to the ministry of the word and soul care. If a church spends too much energy trying to be everything to everyone, this will lead to a loss of vision, a loss of stamina, and a decrease in effectiveness. Why is that counter-active to keeping a growing church feeling small? Because eventually, that church will become little more than a shallow social club.
This list can grow or adjust over time, or maybe you have strategies that work better in your own context. At any rate, every pastor must agree that a growing church should be intentional about caring for the people who call it “home.”