Archives For Church Growth

small churchLast week, David Murray wrote a blogpost entitled, “Church Size: Is 150 the ‘Magic’ Number?” In this rather short article, David makes some rather large assumptions–assumptions I’m afraid that are all-too-often given unwarranted support. I am somewhat a regular reader of David’s blog and had the privilege of sharing a meal with this dear brother (along with Joe Thorn) at T4G this year. Though we have disagreed on things in the past (e.g., sermon delivery), I believe we enjoy a continued appreciation of God’s grace in each other’s lives. The issue of church size and the assumptions that accompany is another one where David and I disagree, and I think it is important enough to give an alternative take with reasons why.

Arguments and Assumptions

David’s main point is that small churches are richer in relationships than large churches. While David offers no biblical grounds for such an argument, he does make the following assumptions that I find problematic:

  1. David asserts that when a church becomes large (in this case larger than 150 which in my opinion is still rather small), they lose the greatest asset of all–rich relationships.  In most Reformed circles, the primary (if not only) structure of the church is the Lord’s Day gathering. If that is the case, then one might be able to understand why David’s assumption is plausible, but to have such a truncated ecclesiology creates even more problems (I will elaborate later).
  2. David contrasts a large church gaining “more respect, more money, and more activity” with small churches having the exceedingly more valuable commodity of relationships. This is (a) wrongfully assuming the motivations of large church leadership and (b) unnecessarily making a contrast between the two. I would happily want a church to grow to have more influence (respect) in the community we are seeking to impact, more money to invest in kingdom initiatives, and more activity in engaging the lost world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. What leader would not want that AND rich, meaningful relationships?  In an effort to advocate for small church size, large church motivations are not charitably characterized–which makes the reader wonder if the small church size really has sufficient merits of its own.
  3. David argues it is hard to create and maintain rich and meaningful fellowship with a church more than 150 people. Again, this goes back to assumption #1, the assumption behind the assumption being that the church size is undergirded by a church structure (church gathered) as the dominant venue/vehicle for community to take place. Relational community can be maintained and cultivated in larger churches when other church structures and venues are available to body life.

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I think if we would be honest with ourselves, our default position is to elevate fruitfulness over faithfulness. The two should not be at odds with one another, but when they are, fruitfulness tends to win out. This discussion is one that many are having in evangelical circles today, and I think we need to think it through without making excuses for neglecting either (those not seeing any fruit from their ministry saying all that matters is being faithful, and those with significant fruit saying all that matters is being fruitful).

In light of that, I commend the balanced, wise counsel of Mark Dever regarding the ministerial responsibility to be faithful in discharging the duties of a gospel minister while recognizing that the results belong to God.

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A.W. Tozer:

Much of church activity and fellowship also falls back upon the practice of psychology. Many church leaders are masterful psychologists. They know how to handle people and get the crowds to come. Their operation qualifies as an amazingly “successful” church. Part of the success of that church depends on people with business talents and part of it depends on people with natural gifts as salespersons and politicians.

A Christian congregation can survive and often appear to prosper in the community by the exercise of human talent and without any touch from the Holy Spirit. But it is simply religious activity, and the dear people will not know anything better until the great and terrible day when our self-employed talents are burned with fire and only what was wrought by the Holy Spirit will stand.

 – Tozer, Tragedy in the Church: The Missing Gifts, 22-23

When we assess spiritual leadership, let us not be guilty of evaluating psychologists, salespersons, politicians, and talented businessmen rather than shepherds of the flock, servants of Christ, and stewards of the gospel.

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Along with the resurgence of Reformed theology and gospel centrality, I believe there is a resurgence of biblical ecclesiology taking place as well. I’m grateful for the influences of organizations like IX Marks, and even more churchmen and practitioners who are bringing reformation to local churches according to the Word of God.

One of the practical benefits of examining our ecclesiology is being more deliberate and intentional in what we do as a body of believers. What is the nature of the church? How should a preacher handle a text? What should covenantal membership entail? These are questions reflecting a pursuit of a healthy, robust ecclesiology.

Being intentional not only means that we consider the practices or marks of a healthy church, but we also need to examine structures and systems to best accomplish the purposes as well as honor the marks of a healthy church.  In this post, I want to consider the need for structure for maximum edification.  Let me explain.

When Paul addressed the church in Corinth, there apparently was confusion and selfishness when it came to the exercise of spiritual gifts.  Some were given special recognition while others were devalued. The improper exercise led to further division instead of unity. Some were used for self-promotion instead of building up the church.  So what Paul does is lay out five overarching principles for the church to understand and implement:

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