Church life is driven by our love for our Lord Jesus, love for each other, and our united commitment to the mission God calls us to be part of. For us to be faithful to that mission, we have to be convinced that we are called together by God to reach our city. This is what will take us forward, not organisational issues.
At the same time, we are human beings, and like all people we need to organise ourselves in ways that both honour God and work well in practice. Organisational issues often plague churches and prevent us from carrying out the work God wants us to do. Part of honouring God and our best to him is seeking to organise ourselves so that we can be effective in sharing life with each other and in reaching outside the church, to a city and world that desperately need to encounter and follow Jesus Christ.
Our current challenge
We are currently at a tipping point in our numerical size. Twice this year we have had services with around 200 adults attending, and our community of committed people is considerably larger than 200 adults. This is widely recognised as a barrier for church size. In a church of 130 or so adults, most things can be figured out relationally, because people know each other. As churches approach 200 adults, it becomes impossible to know everyone, and as a result various kinds of friction tend to occur. People often end up feeling disempowered and disenfranchised.
For these reasons among others, many churches get close to 200 adults in size, before a number of people become disaffected and leave, reducing the size of the church back down to a manageable situation, and this cycle can become a pattern.
As an eldership, we want to avoid falling into this pattern, and we are asking God to guide us, through the congregation, to intentionally take a different path and make a deliberate choice.
Two possible first steps
The AN eldership want to put before you as a congregation two options as a first step. This is the decision you’re being asked to prayerfully consider at next Sunday’s meeting.
As an eldership, we are recommending that we take steps towards facilitating numerical growth. There are a number of reasons, some of which are:
A process beyond
We need to have clarity about this first step, and not get ahead of ourselves. But if you as a congregation express a commitment to growing, we will outline a further process of consultation through the congregation. In the last section of this document I’ve put a link to a sermon I preached recently giving an idea of what this could look like.
This is about God & people
The reasons we’re embarking on this process is because we want to honour God and care for each other well. As God is giving us a glimpse of growth in size, we do not want to see people hurt and discouraged, which is the almost inevitable outcome from not working through these issues. We want to go on whichever path God has in store for us together, united in love for God and for each other.
I have recently preached two sermons which give some of our thoughts in these areas.
Growing without giving up being Baptist
Can we be a genuinely Baptist congregation, hearing God’s voice through the congregation, while being numerically larger?
Jeremiah 29: Seek the prosperity of the city
What God is calling us to should shape how we organise ourselves. As an eldership, we believe God has called us to reach our city.
If you want more background to this whole issue, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has written an excellent article summarising the best information around church size issues. Please note that he’s writing from a Presbyterian perspective and we’re proposing something quite distinctive and Baptist as a way of working through some of these issues — have a listen to the first sermon above.