Disclaimer: This is not a negative post about large churches. Actually, quite the opposite.
Why do some churches grow large while other stay small(er)?
Our answers often have to do with things like styles, facilities and ministries.
That is surely part of it, but I think a bigger – unrecognized – piece has to do with the leadership.
In short, I think the vast majority of large church lead/senior pastors aren’t pastors.
What I mean is that they aren’t gifted to be shepherds (a synonym for pastor).
It’s pretty well established and universally agreed upon that one person can only shepherd so many people. Maybe 175. Maybe 200. After that, a different model of ministry is needed.
We say that when a church grows to a certain size the pastor starts pastoring their staff or leaders who pastors the rest of the congregation.
I have a different explanation.
These lead pastors aren’t pastors (people with a shepherding gift)
As a matter of fact, I think trying to lead a megachurch would drive a true shepherd insane.
So, who are these large church leaders?
I think most large church pastors are either gifted evangelists or teachers.
Churches that see many unchurched or unsaved people become new believers are probably led by someone with a primary calling as an evangelist.
They say things like, we’ll do anything short of sin to reach lost people. They are passionate and relentless about seeing people trust in Christ.
To continue to grow and sustain, these churches need to have a shepherding function, but that doesn’t make that point leader a shepherd him or herself.
I’m thinking of people like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.
I propose that another group of large churches are led by someone with a strong teaching gift. They are more concerned about teaching doctrine to the body and correct handling of the Word. A gifted teacher can attract a lot of Christians to their church. These churches aren’t always cutting edge or immensely fast growing, but they can still be quite large.
I’m thinking about people like Charles Stanley and John MacArthur.
One advantage of smaller churches is that they can be shepherded in a much more direct and intimate way than in a large church.
A challenge is that because our small church primary leadership is shepherds or teachers (who are faithful but maybe not as dynamic)
I am not proposing that we put evangelists in all of our pulpits, but I believe these dynamics are something that we need to think more about.
Churches that are led by evangelists have a challenge to maintain deep community.
Churches that are led by pastors have a challenge to regularly and passionately reach outside their walls.
But if we don’t think more deeply about these dynamics, we can change styles all the time with only limited fruit.
We all need to find ways to bring all of the gifts to bear on the church or we will fall short of all that God wants for us.