The phrase, “Church growth” has become a buzzword in religious circles. For many, the size of a church is the primary way to judge its health and success. They believe churches should do anything and everything to grow their numbers, because size is what matters. But on the other hand, there are those who assume a large church indicates compromise and apostasy. Have you ever stopped to consider that the New Testament puts very little emphasis on congregational size? So why do we emphasize it so much? Maybe it’s time to realize that Jesus doesn’t judge a church by its size.
1. Judging Large Congregations
Just because a congregation is large does not necessarily mean it is healthy, successful, or being blessed by God. There are plenty of churches who have gotten large by telling people what they want to hear. Paul told Timothy a time would come when people would, “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). When this happens, we shouldn’t assume Jesus is applauding these churches for the fact that they are bursting at the seams.
When we equate large churches with success, we are often willing to do anything it takes to “grow.” We start thinking of the church as a business and the community as potential customers. We start catering our “menu of ministries” and the way we worship to what people want, all because we judge a church by its size.
But on the other hand, we must not assume every large church is large because they are compromising the truth, entertaining the masses, or not teaching sound doctrine. I know several wonderful congregations who have well over a thousand members. Sometimes churches have a lot of members because they really are reaching a lot of people with the gospel.
2. Judging Small Congregation
Just because a congregation is small, does not mean the members don’t care about reaching people with the gospel. It does not mean they are “inward focused.” It does not mean that church is dying.
Many Christians get discouraged with their smaller congregations, or refuse to place membership in smaller congregations, because they have preconceived ideas about there being something wrong with small congregations. There is nothing wrong with a small congregation. Jesus loves small congregations too.
But on the other hand, there are those who equate small with faithful. Or they equate small with friendly and close-knit. Just because a congregation is small does not mean it is a faithful congregation or that it is a loving close-knit family. Sometimes the stereotypes are true. Sometimes a congregation is small because the members are doing nothing to reach people with the gospel.
3. How Jesus Judges a Congregation
When we learn to see the church the way Jesus sees the church, we will stop judging congregations based on size. We will start to understand that Jesus’ criteria for being a successful congregation is far less quantifiable than average Sunday morning attendance.
Jesus judges a church based on whether or not they are “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). So here are some of the ways you can tell if a church is in step with the truth of the gospel:
- They are devoted to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
- They don’t just talk about love; they love people in tangible ways. They sacrifice themselves and their belongings for one another (1 John 3:16-18).
- They “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” (Hebrews 13:15).
- They understand their salvation is a matter of God’s grace and not their own doing, so there is absolutely no boasting (Ephesians 2:8-9).
- They walk in the good works God prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2:10).
- They “purge” evil people from their fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:13).
- Their worship assembly is edifying and things are done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).
- They are full of humility, gentleness, and patience. They bear with one another in love and are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).
- Their minds are “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
- They “walk by faith, not by sight” and make it their aim to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:7-9).
These are just a few examples of things the New Testament actually emphasizes; numbers are not one of them. Small churches can be pleasing to the Lord and large churches can be pleasing to the Lord. Jesus doesn’t judge a church by its size…neither should we.
I love you and God loves you,