When most of us go to conferences and ministry events to learn as pastors, we are used to the headliners being name draw speakers who started their churches and grew them to thousands, often against exceptional odds. Thousands will fill rooms to hear them speak, and I go to hear them as well! We all dream that we are going to change the world and be the next Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, or Tim Keller (not really – most of us know we’re not Keller-smart!).
The reality that we have over 400,000 churches in the U.S. and just over 1,600 megachurches (churches of 2,000 or more) means that 398,400 of us are never going to be that! But don’t be discouraged. You can still change your city and the world (and you may actually be better at changing it than a huge church).
We should all want our churches to grow. We should constantly study our stats and where we are along with what’s going good and not so good. But honestly, a huge church can get in the way of a global church and engaging the world and the city that it is in. Transformation of a community takes more than money. You have to be nimble and pliable. A large church generally has committees. And if not committees, even independent contemporary churches have stated objectives and processes that often take precedent over unique opportunities that come up and the ability to respond beyond money.
I once met with a pastor I respect a lot, Robert Lewis, who for years pastored Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. I remember sharing with him that I was leading our “church to be the missionary” and how hard it was to grow it and engage our city as well as Vietnam and a couple of other places around the world. He told me, “Bob, I pray your church doesn’t grow anymore!” How could he say something like that! I responded, “Dude, you grew your church to thousands – what in the world do you mean?!!” He said that the worst thing in the world that could happen is to be trapped managing a huge church. We had the ability to do some very unique things, but the larger we got the more we would lose that. One of my mentors and spiritual fathers, Bobb Beihl, told me the same thing. They’re right. Get over yourself and get into the kingdom!
The truth is, in church planting, city engagement, global engagement, and working with people of other religions, Northwood has disproportionate influence for the size she is. From mayors, to congressional leaders, to other global leaders, we’re called on a lot to address issues because of how our people engage. Northwood has earned credibility because she does stuff. It’s being part of a story, not just providing an offering. And I’m a pastor – so, yes, offerings are important! Offerings are simply not enough in this new 21st century. It’s the story of people engaging more than it’s the story of how much money we gave.
As I’ve come to understand this over the years, it has put me at peace with lots of stuff that I used to get up tight over and run myself crazy over. I love driving through my community and seeing churches we’ve helped start, apartment complexes we work in, refugees we work with, and inner-city schools we provide mentoring and tutoring for. I love it when I’m riding home from the airport and the cabbie will be from another nation, and he knows me because I’m friends with his imam.
I honestly believe there is a great future for mid-size and smaller churches. I have several young sons in the ministry that I’m very close to. Most of the churches we’ve planted would fit in the category I’m talking about. Kevin Cox of Heartland Community Church (right outside Dallas, 8 years old, with 200 people) helped start 15 churches with an aggregate attendance of 3,500. He worked with the public schools and was so effective that he was asked to run for school board. In addition, he worked globally in another nation of Muslims for the past several years, which has opened significant doors in the U.S. When a church is that size, everyone gets infected and wants to use his/her skills to be part of that work. Recently he did one of the workshops at the Exponential Church Planting Conference and spoke on “How Small Churches Can Multiply Churches and Change the World.” It was packed, with people even out in the hallway listening – I know because I was in the hallway!
Young pastor, stop being down over what you don’t have. Celebrate what you do have! Engage your city and the world! God may just use you to change it. If Jonathan Edwards could pastor barely 200 people and see the Great Awakening – what could God do with you?