A Growing Church Might Not Be As Good As You Hoped It Would Be

imagesFather Matthew Kelty was a good friend of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, writer, poet, and peace activist who died unexpectedly in 1968 of an accidental electrocution. I was watching a lecture Kelty was giving on the life of Merton and in it he mentioned how one of the ways the monastery he and Merton were part of generated income was through the making of cheese. Apparently the cheese business was good for the monks because people from all over, including many celebrities, were ordering cheese from them. Soon there were those who tried to convince the monks that they needed to expand and grow their business. Kelty commented, “The American way is, ‘If you’re not growing you’re dying’, but we didn’t want to grow, we didn’t want to lose control.” That got me thinking. There are many ways in which a pastor can lose control if numerical growth comes for their church.

You lose some control when you move from parish priest to CEO. You lose control of your calendar by going from more discretionary time to less. You lose control of your availability, becoming less accessible. Your family will lose a bit more of you. Churches that go from small to big lose something by going from clan to city, from intimate organism to structured organization. A church loses simplicity for complexity when it experiences significant growth.

Large churches aren’t inherently bad. Small churches aren’t inherently good. But typically you will lose some things by going from small church to large church. In the long run…is it worth it? Maybe, and maybe not.

I saw a comic once in a Christian magazine. It was a split-screen with two pastors sitting at their desks day-dreaming. One pastored a large church and the other a small one. The pastor of the smaller church was dreaming of what it would be like to pastor a large church. The pastor of the large church was fondly remembering what it was like when he pastored a small church. Get it?

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