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6 Warnings for Pastors of Growing Churches

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    Thom Rainer
The metaphor has been called the “Berry Bucket Theory,” but I prefer the “Tipping Scales Theory.” Imagine a scale like the scales of justice. On one side of the scale are tokens that represent members who were at the church before the present pastor arrived (PPMs, pre-pastor members). On the other side of the scale are tokens that represent members who came to the church after the current pastor arrived (APMs, after-pastor members). When the pastor first comes to the church, the scale is completely tilted toward one side because everyone in the church is a PPM. Over time, however, the PPM side can only become lighter. You can’t add to the members who came before the pastor arrived. But the APM side usually grows. When the APM side of the scale starts getting close in weight to the PPM side, problems can develop. The church is changing to the point where the newer members will soon be in the majority. The scales are tipping, and that reality engenders fear in some members. With that metaphor in mind, let’s look at some possible troubles for church leaders. I call them warnings for leaders of growing churches.
  1. Growth brings change that can engender fear and discomfort. A pastor was getting a lot of resistance from the former chairperson of the search committee that called him. The church was growing and change was inevitably taking place. When he kindly reminded the search committee chairperson that she said she wanted to see the church grow, she responded, “Well, I didn’t know these new people would cause so many problems.” The “problems” she noted were actually just simple changes.
  2. Power groups are threatened. Church members in informal power groups can sense the reality of the tipping scales. It threatens their power base, and they often don’t respond well.
  3. Staff resistance can take place. As a church grows and changes, it often requires church staff to change and learn new skills. Some church staff may resist any attempt to change their roles or improve their skills. An executive pastor led a coup against the pastor as the church grew. He later commented, after the church declined precipitously, that he was more comfortable with a smaller church.
  4. The per capita giving may decrease. It is not unusual for new members not to give as generously as the existing members. Some may be new Christians who have not yet learned principles of biblical stewardship. Some may be from younger families with lower incomes than the existing members. Members can become agitated because “these new members aren’t paying their way.”
  5. Space can become limited. A growing church in the Midwest no longer had space for Sunday morning Bible study groups. A church staff member approached a senior adult class about moving to a smaller room. They had nine attendees in a room that could accommodate 50 people. The church staff member was quickly asked to leave the room with a reminder from the class that “we pay the bills in this church.”
  6. People outside the church may become jealous. Members and leaders of other churches may speak disparagingly about a growing church in the community. They may even question the motives, doctrine and ethics of the leaders of the growing church.
If we are obedient to the Great Commission, we will see more men and women become followers of Christ, and our churches are likely to increase in numbers. But in the midst of such blessings, your church may get opposition from both the inside and the outside. Such is the nature of the tipping scales. May these six warnings be used to provide greater awareness, to seek more intensive prayer and to persevere in obedience when it may seem easier to coast. Let me hear from you.