More like Spurgeon
I was recently asked by a pastor if it would make sense to provide more large-group teaching venues as part of the church’s weekly activities.
Essentially, this pastor looked at the past effectiveness of great preachers from times gone by and how they taught Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and one or more weeknights as a primary part of their ministry. His own desire to similarly invest in his congregation is drawing him to a similar format today.
On the other hand, the recent trend in churches is to stick with a Sunday morning large-group format and to limit other activities to Sundays and/or one mid-week evening. The focus is on getting people involved in smaller, more interactive groups.
At the same time, even before COVID-19 caused a major disruption, the of frequency church attendance was declining. According to Barna research, 36 percent fewer American attended church weekly in 2020 (pre-COVID) than in 1993. When Thom Rainer was at Lifeway, he wrote on the topic of reduced frequency of attendance as the #1 reason church attendance was on the decline. One hypothetical example he gives is in a church of 200, if one-half of the people miss 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops by over 12%.
Another related topic is the need for different group sizes and interactions to provide genuine health in the life of a believer. Historically, Church Growth writers used the “Celebration,” “Congregation,” and “Cell” to break down varying sizes of groups and how each contributes to the life of a believer.
What did I tell this pastor?
Honestly, my off-the-cuff response to this pastor was, “You can, but you will probably see mostly gray-hairs in attendance.” Basically, the long-term members who should need to be fed the least would likely be the ones to attend an activity that fed them more. They have more time to attend, and it fits their historical church context more.
Is there a better solution?
The specific ministry vision and mission of the local church effects how to best answer this question. However, below are some brief insights that can help brainstorming solutions:
- Maximize solutions for multiple problems. The above idea of adding teaching times really only addresses one problem: the need for the Pastor to instill more vision and teaching into the congregation. In today’s busy world, if you can find formats that meet needs such as this concurrent with other needs, that is preferred. If an additional venue is created, can it also be concurrent with corporate prayer, or extended worship, or evangelistic outreach, or some other congregational need? On the other hand, could additional teaching be created as Social Media content to help your church maintain an active and up-to-date internet presence? How else can you accomplish this need while simultaneously addressing other needs in the church? However, don’t overdo it. You can’t meet EVERY need in any one venue.
- A Pastor’s primary role should be to develop leaders (Ephesians 4:11-12) to be active in ministry and multiplying disciples (2 Timothy 2:2). The best way to maximize your effectiveness as a leader is to multiply venues where you are investing in and training new leaders. If a new venue is intended to speak widely to the entire congregation, you need to ask if it is developing new leaders or encouraging spiritual infants (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).
- God’s people need multiple venues for multiple purposes. Deep, ongoing, quality teaching is necessary in all believers’ lives. However, meaningful friendships and personal accountability are also necessary. There are many other aspects of a healthy Christian life that need a venue. Churches that are extremely large-group teaching heavy inevitably become weaker on friendships and personal accountability. As lives get busy, venues that are too similar without meeting multiple needs are neglected. People wind up attending less frequently, and therefore none of the needs are being met. Prioritize balance in meeting the full breadth of spiritual needs (see the 3-C’s mentioned above).
- Is more understanding, or actively living out your faith more important? People naturally tend to simply learn more and more without genuine life change. Even when teaching focusses on the opposite, overabundance of teaching leads to the same result. Maintaining a healthy level of quality teaching is certainly important and needs to be maintained. Balancing this teaching with venues to develop, internalize, and put the teaching into practice are equally important.
- What other guiding principles would you add to this list?
- What specific venues have you created to meet specific needs in your church?
- How has the specific vision/mission of your church helped you choose activities in your church schedule?
- How has this discussion helped you address needs in your congregation?