When the Church Outgrows the Preacher

One description of the people who follow Jesus in the Bible is the family of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with God as our father. It is a beautiful picture of the closeness and commitment we all feel toward one another in our common faith.

It is not the only picture we find in the writings of the New Testament. The Apostle Peter gives us several names in his letters, including a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Those descriptions are vastly different than a picture of a family. While there are numerous lessons for us from each of these labels, one of the biggest I would point out is mere quantity. There were hundreds of priests, and a nation is composed of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people.

When I think of a family, I think of a handful of people in a single house enjoying themselves together. When I think of a nation, I think of a large number of people in many different homes. How are these two things similar in any way? Well, a nation may start as one single family. Israel began that way with the family of Jacob. Then it grew and multiplied and grew some more into an entire nation. If you keep adding to a family, eventually it outgrows a single home and possibly a single town.

The Church fits both descriptions in much the same way. A local group may start as a handful of people who meet and know everything about each other. They spend time in each other’s homes and can cite intimate details about everyone. If those believers take the words of Jesus seriously, they will continue to make more disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Soon the number is too big to know everyone else in the same way. Most people are okay with not knowing everyone in general, but they struggle with their connection to the pastor.

I have led three Churches in my life that have hit what is called the “200 Barrier.” This is the place where a Church outgrows its pastor. There are simply more people than the primary leader can connect with in a meaningful way.

Usually, one of three things happens at this point. One, people quit and look for a smaller family. They want to know the pastor in a more meaningful way, so they look for a place they can do that. Two, people disconnect and drift. These people understand the change and don’t know a positive way to handle it, so they attend less and stay on the fringe, many times hoping things will shrink and return to the old way. Third, the group of people who will last is the ones who start to connect with a few other family members in a meaningful way. This might be in a small group, a Sunday school class, a ministry team, an affinity group, or inviting other people into their life and home. However it happens, people need to connect to one another more than with the pastor for the Church to move forward. It is a significant change for people, and that is the reason this is called a church barrier because many will not make the transition. In fact, in many Churches I know, it is the pastor who cannot make the transition. He wants to know everyone and be a shepherd, so his desire limits the outreach of the Church.

I believe any Church that takes the commission of Jesus seriously will one day hit this wall. The Church I lead is hitting it right now. It is a difficult time, and we are struggling to keep people. I hope that everyone will start getting to know their brothers and sisters in Christ more than me. If we want to reach more people, that means your family and friends, with the saving message of Jesus Christ and lead them into discipleship; then, the Church must outgrow the pastor.

Always remember, we are still a family, but one that is taking over the country with the gospel of Jesus, and that is bigger than any one pastor can control.

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