How do I respond when I pastor a smaller church and over the years there is not appreciable numerical growth? Let's talk some perspective here.
Remember, a large church is not by definition a better or healthier church. I know because I have consulted with many churches of all sizes. Church size is not a measure in itself of success. The number of missionaries sent by small churches, for instance, far outnumbers the missionaries sent by large churches, as a percentage.
No church grows forever. That is a myth. There are limits to an organizations size. Some leaders are able to grow a larger church than others simply because of their organizational skills but that does not mean that those in a smaller church are any less of a leader. Usually they have much greater shepherding gifts than those who pastor large churches.
Many people prefer a smaller church that is more like a family than the anonymity of a large church. Some people like to get lost in the crowd or have many programs at their disposal. Other love the relationships and family feel of a smaller church. I know many people who have moved from large churches to a smaller one - and loved it.
Our focus should not be on numbers which in the United States is usually transfer growth. It should be on developing the healthiest church we can, one that is full of grace and truth, that is Gospel and Jesus centered where people are always taking the next step in their relationship with God. That will naturally result in people coming to Jesus and growing to look like Him. A healthy church, large or small creates healthy disciples and disciplemakers. Whether one's church becomes large or mid-size or small what matters most is its health. At the same time we should remove barriers to growth so that the church can grow in numbers if God so blesses.
Our goal should not be to compete with other churches or compare ourselves with them. It should be to be the healthiest congregation possible so that we look like the church of Ephesus: a unified, empowering, releasing, God honoring church where we become more like Jesus and reach out to those who don't know Him. God's smile on our congregation and our shepherding is not dependent on our size but on our desire to reflect Him.
Finally a note to church leaders who often pressure their pastor on the attendee numbers. Be careful. Yes, there are pastors who contribute to a congregation's plateauing and decline and need to do something about it. However, if those same leaders are not helping the church become a healthy and spiritually vibrant church - but are only focused on the numbers they are contributing to the dishealth of the congregation rather than to its health.
TJ Addington of Addington Consulting has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.