Big and Beautiful!

Growing a big church in Thame“I look around and there’s suddenly more people I don’t know, compared to those I do! It’s so exciting!”

“Who’s that person there… How long have they been coming?” “I want to invite someone round for dinner, who I don’t know? I’m not sure where to start!”

I’m not sure if you’ve said or thought these things, but they are conversations I’ve had over the last couple of weeks in church. They indicate a new phase in church life that some churches struggle with, but which I think is really exciting. It’s a stage we need an awareness of, a response to, and thanksgiving for.

pyramid of real peopleWhat’s going on?

Depending on what you reference when churches get to about 120-150 in size, changes start to happen in how they ‘feel’. A regular congregation of about 100-110 has the plus of beginning to feel like a ‘crowd’ and crowds can draw crowds. There’s certainly more chance you’ll eventually find someone you have something in common with! It’s also been identified as a number that many churches get stuck at, as it’s around the limit of that one pastor can ‘connect’ with. The two real drivers for church growth are clear vision and quality community. As the size grows it can be hard to really make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone feels valued. After all if you feel like the pastor has no time for you and you don’t know what the church is really about, why would you stay?!

What can be done?

The good news is that awareness is a good first step! We can learn from other churches and writers such as Tim Keller who have been there, got the t-shirt and written the blog post! We can relax if some start to feel the distance knowing it’s the start of the next stage in life at Cornerstone.

It’s important for the congregation to know this different ‘feel’ is still good and to understand about the changes it leads to. Changes such as the need to have clear pathways to ensure newcomers (who are now less visible in the crowd) are welcomed into the full life of the church create exciting opportunities. Also, how the informal pathways of communication which used to work become increasingly redundant.

Another change in focus would suggest that as churches grow bigger it becomes increasingly important to encourage small groups of both a formal and informal nature where people find their immediate pastoral care, support and connection. These groups can become increasingly focused and shaped by a common love, interest activity or outreach. Imagine a group that meets for sport, faith and reaching out. Imagine activities like the craft group that ran at Sally’s house building on the fun and fellowship that was there?

Rooted in Ephesians

hand drawn sketchA final change in all this is in the role of the Pastor, leaders and church meeting. Where decisions happen, who is involved in ministry, who chooses what is done and how. As a leadership team this is the focus in our next meeting as we are being proactive in seeking to encourage what God seems to be bringing!  The vision this year is really tied to this.

Action groups such as the ‘Grow’ meeting group we had on Thursday is part of it. Rooted in Ephesians 4:11-16 the vision to release, equip and raise up people of gifting and passion is the focus this year.

Look around on Sunday. This crowd, this mad glorious mix of people holds all we need to grow into Jesus who is our head, in strength and in impact in Thame and around the world. When each part does its work, when it’s not just one or two, but all of us seeking unity and maturity. When we know who we are; victors, ambassadors, missionaries, heirs and when we join God in what he’s already at work doing in Cornerstone this year that’s when we’ll see good and awesome things. I believe we’ll see people saved as you evangelists who stood up a couple of weeks ago are released. I believe we’ll see transformation as the grow group take a lead in bringing focus, creativity and their gifts to discipleship in ‘Grow’ after Easter.

So the plan for the year? Two words: “One another”. The Bible is full of them, “Love one another, pray for one another, serve one another, submit to one another, forgive one another, teach one another, greet one another, spur each other on.”

How do you make a growing crowd not just feel like a mass of people? The ‘one’ matters. Get to know the one. Release the one, but do it all together.

Read Tim Keller’s Fuller paper on managing church growth




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