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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Church Size: The Fault Line in the Movement

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It can be good to have a "tribe" (e.g., Acts 29, 9Marks, SGM, the PCA)  where you resonate with the philosophy of ministry and get good resources for your work.  I'm also glad for what God is doing to bring people together across Reformed "tribes" through movements like T4G and The Gospel Coalition. Part of what God seems to be doing is forging trust and partnerships between groups that do things differently.

But from my observation (at conferences and in personal conversations), there seems to be still be a fault line running through us: church size.  I've sat in conferences where the speakers talk as if you aren't a good pastor until your church hits 2,000 people in attendance.  I've also heard small church pastors who seem to assume that large crowds always indicate that the message is being watered down.

A few suggestions on the matter:

  • Drop the "better than" language. 

Large churches aren't better than small.  And vice versa.  I don't care what your surveys say, you can easily find examples and statistics to show the superiority of whatever it is that you happen to be doing.  The fact is, some churches grow big because the ministry is faithful and the Lord is blessing.  Others grow big because the itching ears of the masses are being appeased.  Some small churches are doing great work in difficult places.  Others are small because they are lame and ineffective.  Most churches (big and small) do some things well and other things less well.    

  • Realize that size is often a choice.

We need to realize that church size is often not so much a function of gifting and faithfulness, but rather of principled decisions.  The way that you understand evangelism, discipling, shepherding, and congregational life will go a long way to determining your church size.  To put it simply, it may not be that the other guy can't do what you're doing... it may be that he doesn't want to.  Tim Keller's Leadership and Church Size Dynamics does a good job laying out the sacrifices and changes a church has to make as it grows.  Some churches will simply decide that they can't go further along the path and remain true to their philosophy of ministry.

  • Recognize that your challenges are mostly spiritual, not administrative.  

What all churches (small, medium, and large) need are believers who love the Lord Jesus and embrace the implications of the gospel for their lives, the life of the congregation, and the world around them.  No amount of programming, resources, or administrative genius in a large church will help if your church isn't a place where people are being transformed by God into those kinds of believers.  No amount of personal interaction and one-on-one access to the pastor in a small church will matter if it's not moving people in that direction.  Big churches and small churches have access to the same means of grace (preaching, prayer, the sacraments) which God promises to bless to those ends.  Yes, administration matters.  But it won't solve anything unless the means of grace are in effect.

  • Be on guard against pride.

We tend to spiritualize whatever it is that we're good at doing.  But the fact is that faithful ministry will look different in different places.  God gives different men different gifts and calls them to different work.  One person takes pride in the size of their church and looks down on "less successful" pastors.  Another person takes pride in the intimacy of their church and looks down on "less faithful" pastors.  Can we all just admit that no pastor is good enough to deserve any of God's blessings, but we have received this ministry by the mercy of God (II Corinthians 4:1)?

  • We. Are. All. On. The. Same. Team.

Let's make sure we're acting like it.

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Good word, Brother Mike.

Oooh.... Get preachy, why don't you? ;-)
Love the post, brother. Excellent help.
T-

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"We need to realize that church size is often not so much a function of gifting and faithfulness, but rather of principled decisions."

If church size is a function of principled decisions, then is fair to evaluate the principles behind those decisions? Are some principles "better than" others?

Hey Kyle,

Some principles definitely are better than others, and I hold mine because I'm convinced of them to some degree. But I can respect someone who has different principles. My point was that it's easy to think people that are different from us are simply failing in their attempt to be just like us, when in reality they are trying to do something different.

Hi Kyle,

Just going out on a limb here, but I would imagine Mr. McKinley is saying that church size is not ALWAYS a result of gifting/faithfulness, but sometimes of principled decisions. I'm guessing he would probably agree that at times, it very well could be a result of gifting/faithfulness.

More specifically to your question, if the church size is a result of principled decisions, then I think it is absolutely fair to evaluate those principles. And my guess is, some of those decisions would be found to be better and others not. In fact, this type of critical thinking would be absolutely necessary for the minister to engage in, if he is going to grow in his wisdom of how he is guiding the church. So I would not only say it's fair, but also necessary.

When the minister evaluates those principled decisions--both internally in his own mind and from external input--he would grow in his wisdom and knowledge and make better and better decisions as he grows in his ministry.

Blessings,
Justin

Hey Mike - good stuff. Apart from what pastors of large and small churches SAY about one another, I wonder if there may be more they can DO together to strengthen bonds in Gospel ministry. I suspect there's a good bit.

Glad to be on the same team with you, bro.

Mike, Can't get the Keller link to work. dvs

The Keller link didn't work, but I found the Keller article at

http://theresurgence.com/files/2011/02/14/Leadership_and_Church_Size_Dynamics.pdf

Dave,

Thanks. I inserted your link, so hopefully it will work now.

Blessings,

Bobby Jamieson

As a pastor of a small church plant in an inner city scheme in Scotland, it is often discouraging to hear pastors and conference speakers talk about church size as the measure for spiritual success.

Our faithfulness to the gospel should be what we gather around whether we are battering away with 20 or 2000. I agree with Mike. On my scheme we are never going to be a mega church because of the nature of the people we work with and also the size of our community (8000 people ish). Of course God can do all things. But my chief concern with a congregation of about 80ish is to ensure that we are keeping the gospel the main thing and continuing to love and serve our neighbours in word and deed. God will add as he sees fit.

On the other side, I work hard at guarding my heart when I see or hear of a brother who is reaping in a large harvest. I rejoice with Him as I hope he would with me as we both battle in our particular contexts for the Glory of God and the honour of both His name & His word.

Thanks for the article...greatly appreciated.

This, my friend, is WISE COUNSEL and very important subject for all of us to be aware of. THANK YOU.

Mike - This post is MONEY$. Indeed, We are on the same team. Thanks for the reminder.

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