If you have been around a local church any length of time, you will eventually hear some version of this statement from someone: “I just don’t want our church to get too big.” Many folks in churches across the country would echo and affirm this sentiment. Congregants claim to want their church to reach lost people, just not too many lost people. People claim to desire the unchurched to find community and connection in the church, just not too many unchurched people. While most would never vocalize these things in this way, it is exactly the message behind “I don’t want our church to get too big.”
There are many reasons why people make this statement. Some are valid, many are not. People fear getting bigger will make the church impersonal. This is a legitimate concern. This is why small groups and other ministries are so important for building relationships and giving care. Others worry getting bigger will bring too much change (additional services, new facilities, less influence on decisions, etc.). Change may cause uneasiness, but it is not a valid reason for hoping the church remains a certain size.
Here are two responses to give those fearful the church will get “too big” to help them think differently.
1. Numbers Represent People & People Matter To God
Fear of the church getting too big can also wear another face. Sometimes this fear manifests under the guise of “they only care about numbers.” While there may be examples of churches only interested in numbers, the large majority of churches who talk about numbers do so because of their heart for people. Numbers represent people and people matter to God—so they better matter to us.
When you count attendance on Sunday, you are counting souls. You are numbering people God has entrusted to your care, to steward the gospel message. Every number counted represents someone who will spend eternity somewhere. God cares deeply about people. God gave His Son to ransom and redeem sinners back to Himself. There are cities full of people not going to church. Most of them do not go to church because they fail to see clearly a God worth gathering with others to worship. This is why Jesus tells Paul He’s sending him to out to “open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18).
The Great Commandment teaches us to love God and love people. The Great Commission sends us out to proclaim God’s love, demonstrated at the cross of Christ. Any honest reflection on the Great Commission renders you incapable of justifying a goal of keeping the church from getting too big. We better be concerned about numbers. When we consider the fate of sinners without Christ, we yearn for success in reaching sinners with the gospel and adding them to the church.
2. Things The World Needs Should Get Bigger
Everything the world needs, that brings blessing and grace, we want to get bigger. Nobody says they hope the Peace Corps doesn’t get too big. Few would say they hope the Red Cross doesn’t get too big. No sane person says they hope World Vision or Compassion International doesn’t get too many people who commit to sponsoring children. No, in all these cases, where the world is made a better place because of these institutions and organizations, we want to see them grow and become more effective at their mission.
So why do some people in churches say “I hope the church doesn’t get too big?” The answer, as much as some may not want to admit it: they don’t think the church has anything of value to offer the world. If we thought the church offered something people needed, we would pray more and more people would find it. If we thought the church was the hope of the world, and being a part of it was a blessing, we would want to see the church continuously growing, especially if we loved and cared about people. When we think the church is only here to meet our needs, instead of us being the church here to meet the needs of a lost and broken world, we lament—instead of rejoicing—when the church grows.
Pastors, we must help our congregations get over the unnecessary fear of “getting too big.” We want to see a heart cultivated in our church that prays for growth, yearns for growth, labors for growth, and celebrates growth. Your church will never be larger than the number of lost people outside of it. There is work to do. There are people within reach of our churches facing a miserable Christless eternity. They walk daily one breath from facing the wrath of God for sin. We should never be okay with that. As long as there are lost and unchurched people in our communities, we should be churches seeking to grow. The next time we hear the old adage “I just don’t want our church to get too big,” we can remind them that lost people matter to God and our church has something of great value through the gospel to offer.
May our churches grow, for the glory of God and the joy of all peoples!