As I discussed at length in How Big is Too Big?, every church has a limit beyond which it struggles to support healthy community and its pastors are hard-pressed to collectively minister to everyone in the congregation. When this point is reached, each church must consider its options.
For much of the past several decades, only two options have really been in the running for most churches: expanding the size of the building (by purchasing or renting a new place or by expanding the current one), or multiplying services. More recently, a combination of the two approaches—adding campuses—has also entered the mix. Most churches have found building sanctuaries designed to hold thousands prohibitively expensive, so the multiple-service route has grown in popularity instead.
However, as I noted in Multi-Service Mistakes, when churches deal with growth by multiplying services and campuses, the functional result is multiple congregations, with all the problems that ensue. Meaningful church membership breaks down, pastoral relationships deteriorate, community fractures, church discipline becomes impossible to practice meaningfully—the problems go on and on.
What if the problem of overly large churches could be turned into an asset for the Kingdom? What if the creation of separate congregations was intentional and missional rather than an unhelpful, incidental effect of other decisions? What if, when churches got too large, they planted new churches?
I believe this option is far and away the best choice for churches confronted with unmanageable growth. First, it alleviates each of the problems I noted above. Each functional congregation is an actual congregation, with all the privileges and responsibilities that entails. The community is smaller and capable of full, meaningful integration. The pastors can actually recognize everyone in the congregation, and new faces do not simply disappear into the crowd. Church discipline becomes practicable.
Outgoing Links is a series in which we share interesting articles about the church. Be sure to leave comments below with your thoughts.
A little while back, we tackled the complicated and sometimes thorny relationship between churches and parachurch ministries. Apparently, we are not the only ones with this area on the mind; 9Marks recently published one of their bimonthly e-journals devoted entirely to the topic. The series covers some of the same territory ours did, but from a different set of voices, so we hope the two will be seen as complementary. Take a look!