June 2, 2011

Growing Pains: Part II

Growing Pains is a 2-part blog series dealing with church growth within a smaller congregational setting. This is part 2, sorry it has taken so long to get posted.

Come One, Come All?
Something happens when your small church family experiences growth, new people show up and want to get involved. When new people get involved, things begin to change. It's not so much that the new people are wanting or trying to change anything, it simply happens because they are new and aren't familiar with "the way things have been."

People react to change in different ways, so do small churches. I am going to suggest a couple ways smaller congregations can react to growth and change: die, survive, or thrive.

Die: When a small congregation fights to maintain the various levels of membership, the new person feels not only unwelcome but incapable of finding ways to engage in the life of the church. This inevitably leads to frustration and confusion on the part of the new person, causing him or her to search for another church family. The congregation is left without new people or ideas and minus these things, the life of the congregation quickly (sometimes painfully slowly) fades away. Change is feared and avoided in a dying congregation.

Survive: This tends to be a more passive approach to maintaining membership levels. New people are allowed in just enough to keep them involved but only a few end up sticking around. It's not so much that the church is growing, it is simply replacing those who have left or passed away so that it continues to survive. Change is viewed with skepticism and needs to be controlled in a surviving congregation.

Thrive: When a congregation is willing to fully welcome, accept, and include new people, significant growth can occur. This requires all levels of membership to have open access, so much so that membership levels practically cease to exist. This is a church family that desires to see their family grow by bringing new people into the life of the church. A congregation like this recognizes the energy and ideas new people can bring to their church but doesn't stop at welcoming those individuals, they intentionally seek them out and look for ways to get them involved. Change is embraced but not forced, it is seen as necessary for growth in order to engage the lives of new people in a thriving congregation.

Have you witnessed a dying, surviving, or thriving church? What do you believe made the difference? Are there other ways growth impacts a congregation?