‘Expand now’ says church growth expert

Read ‘Expand now’ says church growth expert

A church growth expert has told a Sydney conference that churches need to anticipate growth in order to break through the ‘200 barrier’.

Gary McIntosh, professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership at Biola University, has analysed over 1,000 churches representing more than 87 denominations throughout the United States, Canada, and Asia.

He told the Next Level conference at the Hilton Hotel last week, that the church sizes in Sydney Diocese are comparable with the average in the United States. Busting a myth that America is a nation of megachurches, Mr McIntosh said “In the USA today the average church is about 90-100 people, across the whole United States. I know you read the books from some of the megachurches, but there’s one-half of one percent of all churches in the USA that would be above 2,000, most churches are much smaller. That’s probably very close to what’s happening here in Australia.”

The barriers to growth are not scriptural but social according to Mr McIntosh, citing what he called the ‘200 barrier’. “That is the crucial point where most churches never get beyond. Churches under 200 think of themselves as a family …. between 200 and 400 you are moving from being a family to more like an organisation and some people don’t want to be an organisation so they resist the growth of the church above 200. Although in scripture there is no indication one way or the other about size - so a large church can be biblical just as a small church can be biblical.”

The audience of more than 350 was made up of ministers, assistants and lay workers who took part in question and answer sessions on subjects such as attracting, welcoming and integrating visitors as well as age dynamics of churches. But Mr McIntosh had advice for both pastors and congregations on getting to the next level, likening it to pressing the accelerator to keep going on a drive up the Blue Mountains. “It’s not really trying to get through a barrier, it is recognising that God is blessing us and we are growing and we are coming to a point where there is another ceiling and what we have to do is to give our church more energy in order to get up to the next level. When we get there then quite naturally our budget, our staffing, our organisation begins to support that new level and we can stay up there just like if we drove up.”

His talk was punctuated with illustrations from the hundreds of churches he has consulted with who were facing what he called ‘choice points’. “Your church is what it is today because of the choices people before you made….and your church will be where it is at in 50 years because of the decisions made today.” For example, Mr McIntosh asked the audience “How long has it been since your church started a new ministry that reached into the community? If new people wanted to be in your church today with the programmes you already have, they would be there. New people are attracted to new programs.”

But he warned once growth happens, it is too late to plan. “We know, for instance, that to get over 200 most churches have to have two ministers. So what most churches will say is - ‘when we get up to 250 then we’ll hire the second minister’. Well, that won’t work. You have to hire the second minister first. That expands your base and enables you to serve more people, that attracts more people and helps the church grow.”

The conference, which also featured bible studies from Dr Don Carson, was supported by Ministry, Training and Development, and the Diocese of Sydney Mission Areas initiative.

Photo: Professor Gary McIntosh speaking at the Next Level conference at Sydney's Hilton Hotel

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