Years ago Tim Keller wrote an article titled Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How Strategy Changes with Growth. Keller outlines and articulates very well the common struggles and difficulties churches face at each "size category" and how to encourage a congregation (who is operating within a specific "size culture") to "cross the threshold" into the next size category. I appreciate Keller's thoughtful and well balanced approach.
Keller makes a statement about crossing over the 200 threshold: “Often the key change that a congregation must allow is a move to multiplying options such as more than one Sunday service, or putting more emphasis on small group ministry than on having one unified corporate prayer meeting.”
He elaborates further:
As a general rule, multiplying options generate a growth spurt. The single best way to increase attendance is to multiply Sunday services. Two services will immediately draw more people than one service did. Four Sunday school electives will generally draw more people than two Sunday school electives. Why? Because when you give people more options, more people opt!
On one level, I completely agree with Keller. One of the quickest ways to grow a church is to offer multiple points of entry. Some people enjoy sleeping in and catching a later service. Others find that it suits their family well to go to a earlier service and get the kids home for a nap. I get it.
My concern is that going to multiple services can sacrifice community for the sake of growth.
In no way do I think Tim Keller advocates for some cold, sterile, non-relational church were people show up, get their fill, and get out of dodge. Nor do I believe Keller is advocating growth for the sake of growth.
Let me also say that Redeemer Fellowship has run two services for some time, not out of a desire to grow numerically, but out of necessity. Our small building space will not allow all of our people to worship together as one. Some value multiple services as a strategy for growth. Redeemer values church planting as a growth strategy. We have been committed to relational, gospel-centered community by planting churches (three so far) rather than merely growing one large church.
Church growth is not evil or wicked. Church growth is good. And large churches aren’t inherently bad. Some larger churches are able to reach more people because their size. Some new to the faith feel more comfortable going to a larger church as they seek the Lord and what He has for them. Larger churches are able to provide more programs specific to where people are at or are dealing with. Larger churches have the finances and abilities to provide social assistance on a larger scale to their communities. They are also in a great position to plant more churches. Praise God for what He is doing in and through these churches!
But at Redeemer we value pastoral care and unified community which becomes difficult (if not impossible) for larger churches at multiple services.
When a church is split into two services, pastoral care becomes more difficult. It is harder to keep track of who was able to attend and who didn't. It is difficult to connect with everybody. It becomes difficult to recognize visitors. It is not insurmountable, but takes intentionality and a thought out plan on how to be accessible and to shepherd God's people.
One of the concerns to work through is that of shepherd accessibility. As a church grows larger and moves into two services it becomes difficult to have access to all the shepherds. Some churches are ok with that. As Keller writes:
In this next-size church the pastor is simply less available and accessible to every member. Even with the hiring of additional ministry staff, every member will not be able to have the same access to the senior pastor as he or she did before. Both the people and the senior minister need to acknowledge and accept this cost.
Keller is right. At some point access becomes limited. What that point is will vary from church to church, and leader to leader. At Redeemer, we have made the intentional decision that we do not want to grow to a point where every elder is not accessible by every member.
Elders should know what is going on in the lives of people. One cannot lead, protect, or feed the flock of God if one is not invested in the lives of the people. As all elders remain accessible, all elders are able to shepherd. Keller notes it is a "sociological fact that a full-time minister cannot personally shepherd more than about 150–200 people." In a larger church, with multiple services, it becomes difficult for the elders to shepherd. They will still be able to lead and make decisions prayerfully, but to be invested in the lives of their people becomes more and more unattainable.
It is much harder to build community within the church when it is split into two services. Part of the issue is that each service becomes its own congregation. At Redeemer we desire to be one church, as one body, with one voice, sharing one vision. There have been a time or two when I introduced myself to someone I thought was new only to find out that they normally attend the other service. It is hard to keep track.
Some would say, "It is unrealistic to think that you can get to know everyone present and that should not stunt church growth." I get that. I am not against church growth. What I am against is church growth at the expense of unified community. As a church grows there needs to be processes in place for assimilation.
A final note, some reading Keller's article jump at the opportunity to try and grow their small church out of a stigma that a small church has a small impact. I completely disagree. There are many small churches that are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel. They proclaim God's love to their neighbors and are seeing the Spirit work mightily in their communities. If you pastor a small church and have felt discouragement and pressure to grow, take heart! Know that the work you do glorifies our wonderful Savior. Need more encouragement? Check out Joe Thorn's four-part series on What Smaller Churches Can Do (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
Again, I am not against church growth. I just want to think through how do we best care for our people. At Redeemer, we believe this means going back to one service. We have been searching and praying through worship space options to present. We are pressing into the Lord, waiting on Him to show us the next steps. We believe that we are called to be one body of believers that worships as one.