The vast majority of churches start out with less than 50 people. Actually, 70% of our current plants in Louisiana started below 50. 38% (or 618) of all Southern Baptist Churches in Louisiana reported attendance below 50 in 2018.
Having 50 people or less is not bad. In some communities, 50 is a big church. A church of 50 has some advantages. Less overhead. More community. 50 people can encourage one another and reach out in ways that bigger churches cannot.
Most pastors have the intention of their church growing beyond 50. Mostly because we are motivated to see more and more people saved and discipled for the glory of God. Also, if you are seeking to be a vocational minister and make a living as a clergyman, 50 people usually is not enough to sustain a large personnel budget in a church.
50 can be a barrier that’s tough to get beyond. So how do we get beyond 50 people?
1. Pray for breakthrough opportunities!
Sometimes a breakthrough opportunity can happen in the life of a church. These are opportunities that open up that can only be explained as a work of God. A key meeting place for a church plant, a well-placed news story, a large financial contribution, a merger with another congregation. Pray regularly for God to open doors that man cannot open or explain.
These do not always = church growth, but they signal God is at work and will usually lead to fruitfulness and health (which have been known to lead to church growth).
2. Give away responsibility and authority.
40-50 is a barrier often because 40-50 is about the number of people that one person can lead by himself. Unfortunately, many leaders are just not willing or able to let go of or share the reigns to let others lead with them.
To multiply, the leader must become a leader of leaders.
Fear of losing control. Fear of someone doing it better. Fear of someone messing up. And, “They’re just not ready yet!” I know. Every time I read the passage about Jesus sending out the 70, I have to stop myself from yelling, “They’re just not ready yet, Jesus!”
Sending the disciples out was part of Jesus’ strategy for getting them ready, and it will be so for your leaders as well. For the sake of your sanity, for the development of people, and the growth of church and kingdom, let go and send them into ministry and leadership.
3. Develop a 2nd and a 3rd group.
40-50 is a barrier often because it’s a group that can fit in one big room. And sometimes we are too much in love with knowing everybody, having everybody together all the time, and having everybody listening to me (ouch!).
To move past 50 you need multiple groups, which means multiple leaders, which means more people owning the vision and growth of the church.
And starting multiple groups, whether its classes, teams, or whatever, helps get multiplication muscles moving for future growth.
4. Establish systems that lead people to Christ and His mission.
How do people hear about your church? What do we want people to know and do once they attend? How do we want people to connect beyond just attendance? How will we help people move toward Christ? How do we help people become leaders?
These kinds of questions help us develop a step by step path for new people coming into the church. Today more than ever, connecting with Christ and His church is not something we can assume people know how to do. We have to lead them there. Systems help us do that.
5. Be on the lookout for speed bumps and dead ends.
Where are people getting hung up in their development as disciples? What is causing attendance to stagnate? What needs are going unmet? Some common speed bumps:
- Building & space issues. A full building is fun for us pastors, but it can put a lid on the growth of the ministry. Starting a second gathering or moving to a larger facility can keep the group growing. Rule of thumb: at 60% full, start making other arrangements and thinking about how you can create more space (2nd service, larger facility, etc.).
- Unity issues within the church.The radar of the world is up for hypocrisy and disunity among believers. Keep relationships straight in order to grow people and the church.
- Needs in the body that are going unmet. Watch for your Acts 6 moments. In Acts 6, the Hellenistic widows were being neglected, threatening unity and testimony. A ministry was started to meet the needs and keep the people and churches growing together.
What other issues or observations about breaking the 50 barrier would you add to my list?
One of my favorite church planting axioms is “In every apple there is an orchard.” God made every living thing in creation with the potential to make more. We’re all carrying seeds that can be planted to grow more of what God wants. For us, that’s disciples and churches. Do you see your church, no matter the size as a potential orchard to create more for God’s glory?