A Third Limiting Factor to Church Growth

A third factor that limits the growth of individual churches is the ability of the pastor. The majority of pastors do not have the skills that are necessary to oversee a large congregation, and it is no fault of their own. They are simply not gifted organizationally, administratively or with the preaching/teaching skills that are necessary for a large congregation. Clearly, such pastors are not called by God to pastor large congregations, and they would be wrong to attempt to pastor anything but an average-size institutional church or house church.

I recently read a popular book on the subject of leadership by the senior pastor of one of American’s largest churches. As I read the pages he had filled with his experienced advice for modern pastors, my overriding thought was this: “He isn’t telling us how to be a pastor—he is telling us how to be a chief executive officer of a huge corporation.” And there is no other choice for the American institutional mega-church senior pastor. He needs a large staff of helpers, and managing that staff is a full-time job. The author of the book I was reading was skilled enough to be the chief executive officer of a large secular corporation. (Indeed, in his book he often quoted famous big-business management consultants, applying their advice to his readership of pastors.) But many, if not most, of his readers do not have the leadership and management skills that he has.

In that same book, the author candidly related how, on several occasions as he built his huge congregation, he had made almost-fatal mistakes, errors that could have cost him his family or his future in the ministry. By the grace of God, he survived. His experiences, however, reminded me of the many instances when other institutional pastors, striving for the same kind of success, made similar errors and suffered total shipwreck. Some, devoting themselves to their churches, lost their children or ruined their marriages. Some suffered nervous breakdowns or severe ministerial burnout. Others became so disillusioned that they ultimately abandoned the ministry altogether. Many others survived, but that is about all that can be said. They continue living lives of quiet desperation, wondering if their super-human sacrifice is worth it.

As I read that particular book, it continually reinforced in my mind the wisdom of the early church, where there was nothing that resembled modern institutional churches, and no pastor was responsible for a flock larger than twenty-five or so people. As I stated in a previous chapter, many pastors who think their congregations are too small should reconsider their ministries in light of Scripture. If they have fifty people, their churches might actually be too large. If there is capable leadership within, they might prayerfully consider dividing into three house churches and selling their building, with the goal of making disciples and building God’s kingdom God’s way.

If this seems too radical, they might at least begin to disciple future leaders, or start small groups, or if they already have some small groups, set some free to be autonomous house churches to see what happens.