I have become an avid reader of the What You Think Matters blog. It is often thought provoking, witty and the tone is just right. There is nothing worse than theology by angry/aggressive/annoying theologians. The writers on WYTM are none of those things and because they are involved in church leadership in some way I feel like they understand the practical reality of life (unlike some theologians).
So I was very interested by Andrew Wilsons article of Church leaders obsession with Church size . As usual it was very well written and thought provoking. As a church leader who obsesses a little to much over numbers I thought I would respond.
Cast your minds back to valentines day in 2010. CCM:City (or the chapel as it was known then) had been going for 6 months. We started with 7 or 8 people and frankly we still only had about 7 or 8 people. Every now and again a few visitors would turn up and we thought revival was breaking out. It wasn’t. The visitors would take the free drink, back away slowly and then change their mobile phone number.
On Feb 14th 2010 there was 6 of us sat in the top floor of a freezing cold vodka bar in Fallowfield. The meeting usually start at 7pm and by 8pm I realised that this week was going to be quieter than usual and usually we were pretty quiet. This was my magnificent church plant. 6 people and a headache. I remember the week after wondering if I had lost my mind. That was probably the lowest point.
Just over two years later it is easy to look back and smile (I have’t quite managed to laugh about it yet) but the reality is that when you plant a church (a site of a church in our case) then numbers are very important. If nobody turns up to meetings, joins a mission group or joins the community then you don’t have a church plant you just have an acute sense of loneliness. ACUTE.
Andrew suggest 4 reasons that leaders obsess over numbers, which I will offer my opinion on –
1. The first is that, in a group of churches where the size of congregation drives income and hence the staff base (which is not true in many more established denominations), larger congregations provide greater job security and opportunities to specialise for their leaders, two things which many (though by no means all) church leaders aspire to.
Well, yes Andrew is probably correct but in all honesty I suspect that this thinking starts a little while into a church plant. To start with you just want the thing to live! When there was 6 of us all I wanted was there to be 7 of us, specialising to my gifting had not even entered my thinking. To be honest my gifting largely consists of badgering people to come to church until they give in.
2. A number is one of the most rapid ways of placing your church in some sort of context for people who have never been there.
Absolutely bang on. When asked by another church leader “How it going?” I know they want to know how many people I have (at least that is what I assume they are asking). All sorts of internal assessments and judgements then get made. That is certainly what I do. Some repentance may be required!
3. It is hard to argue with the fact that in general, and all other things being equal, more gifted leaders lead larger churches.
This is hard to disagree with but I think I am going to disagree. I know a few guys who lead churches of a 1000 + and they are gifted in ways that I can’t even dream of. However, the gifting required to get a church from 0 to 50 is completely different and probably undervalued (I would say that though). In fact getting a church from 0 to 5 is hard enough so I am not sure Andrew is being fair.
4. The main reason we are tempted to measure leadership success by church size is simple: it’s because it’s easy to count.
Absolutely, and I love the alternative suggestions that Andrew suggests for measuring the health of a church but every church leader will still count people.