Category Archives: Church Revitalization

Excellent Article on Small Church vs. Large Church Dynamics

I recently completed a research project at Fuller examining the difference between small church and large church ministry. Honestly, before engaging in that project this had never been something I’d given a ton of thought.

An article by Tim Keller dealing with this subject caught my eye today, and I found it quite insightful.

Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most common reasons for pastoral leadership mistakes is blindness to the significance of church size. Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and what ministers, staff, and lay leaders do.

We tend to think of the chief differences between churches mainly in denominational or theological terms, but that underestimates the impact of size on how a church operates. The difference between how churches of 100 and 1,000 function may be much greater than the difference between a Presbyterian and a Baptist church of the same size. The staff person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is in many ways making a far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another.

A large church is not simply a bigger version of a small church. The difference in communication, community formation, and decision-making processes are so great that the leadership skills required in each are of almost completely different orders.

And …

Every church has a culture that goes with its size and which must be accepted. Most people tend to prefer a certain size culture, and unfortunately, many give their favorite size culture a moral status and treat other size categories as spiritually and morally inferior. They may insist that the only biblical way to do church is to practice a certain size culture despite the fact that the congregation they attend is much too big or too small to fit that culture.

For example, if some members of a church of 2,000 feel they should be able to get the senior pastor personally on the phone without much difficulty, they are insisting on getting a kind of pastoral care that a church of under 200 provides. Of course the pastor would soon be overwhelmed. Yet the members may insist that if he can’t be reached he is failing his biblical duty to be their shepherd.
Another example: the new senior pastor of a church of 1,500 may insist that virtually all decisions be made by consensus among the whole board and staff. Soon the board is meeting every week for six hours each time! Still the pastor may insist that for staff members to be making their own decisions would mean they are acting unaccountably or failing to build community. To impose a size-culture practice on a church that does not have that size will wreak havoc on it and eventually force the church back into the size with which the practices are compatible.

A further example: New members who have just joined a smaller church after years of attending a much larger one may begin complaining about the lack of professional quality in the church’s ministries and insisting that this shows a lack of spiritual excellence. The real problem, however, is that in the smaller church volunteers do things that in the larger church are done by full-time staff. Similarly, new members of the smaller church might complain that the pastor’s sermons are not as polished and well-researched as they had come to expect in the larger church. While a large-church pastor with multiple staff can afford to put twenty hours a week into sermon preparation, the solo pastor of a smaller church can devote less than half of that time each week.

This means a wise pastor may have to sympathetically confront people who are just not able to handle the church’s size culture—just like many people cannot adapt to life in geographic cultures different from the one they were used to. Some people are organizationally suspicious, often for valid reasons from their experience. Others can’t handle not having the preacher as their pastor. We must suggest to them they are asking for the impossible in a church that size. We must not imply that it would be immaturity on their part to seek a different church, though we should not actively encourage anyone to leave, either.

There’s a lot more to this article as it is 15 pages long, but worth reading. To access the entire thing in a .pdf, click here.

An important question a church leader should think about: which church culture – small or large – would you fit best in as God has gifted you? The dynamics of each are drastically different, and require very different approaches as it pertains to leadership.

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Brian Mashburn: Change How You Do Church Or Watch Your Church Die

I just read this provocatively titled post by Brian Mashburn … access it here.

From Brian’s post:

  • 65% of the Builder generation attends church
  • 35% of the Boomer generation attends
  • 15% of Generation X (my generation) attends
  • 4% of the Millennials attend

The vote is in. At an exponential rate, the way we do church is not working as a wineskin for delivering the greatest message the world has ever known.

So my question is, what needs to change?

Could it be that churches in the era of the builders and busters were simply more evangelistic than most churches nowadays?

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Notes From the Pepperdine Lectures – Tim Spivey pt. 3

Notes from the Pepperdine Bible Lectures – part three of Tim Spivey’s class on church revitalization/renewal.


  • Don’t highlight visitors. Don’t ask them to stand up, don’t ask them to wave, don’t call attention to them at all. They don’t want the attention!
  • Don’t make filling out a card the goal for visitors. Make bringing them back, maturing them, growing them spiritually your goal.


  • Excellence is a sign of maturity and health.
  • Excellence happens at the intersection of service and vision.
  • Church leaders must ask themselves, “Do we have a reputation of making sausage out of volunteers?” In churches, consistent excellence largely comes from taking care of volunteers.
  • “More is not better. Better is better.”
  • Don’t strive to do more things – strive to do the things you do decide to do excellently.

Importance of Media

  • Tim walks through several terrible PowerPoint presentations and contrasts them with good looking ones.
  • Poor looking media matters when it comes to reaching young families! Many church leaders reduce the importance of this, but that’s a mistake.
  • “If I’m in my 30s, I’m checking out your website before I visit your church. 40% of people who come to church today check you out on the web or another source before stepping foot through your door.”
  • If your website is terrible, they’ll likely not bother coming. It must “pop” visually.
  • Tim recommends signing up at – it’s $199.00 per year for a membership, and you get access to loads of professional quality media to use for PowerPoint presentations, print media (like your church bulletins), and your website.
  • The initial transition to making your media excellent will cost money (website, bulletin, stage design, etc.), but it’s well worth it!
  • Jim Collins: “Good is the enemy of great …” – we don’t have many “great” churches because too many are satisfied with “good” churches!

Emotional Triangle

  • Emotional triangle – when two people or parts of a system are uncomfortable with each other, they will seek a third party to stabilize their relationship.
  • Three people making up the triangle: 1) Offender (persecutor), 2) Offended (victim), 3) Rescuer (person the victim gossips with about the persecutor).
  • Rather than the victim speaking with the persecutor and resolving the problem, the victim runs to the rescuer and spills their guts.
  • The persecutor becomes a new victim, and the triangle multiplies as this new victim runs to another rescuer to talk about the other person (instead of talking to the other person).
  • Emotional Triangles are a mess and cause churches to divide!
  • Church leaders must be rigid about getting people to talk to one another, and not about one another.

Good Questions to Ask During the Hiring Process

  • Three C’s & One F: 1) Character, 2) Competency, 3) Chemistry, 4) Fit.
  • Character: Are they spiritually mature/healthy/growing?
  • Competency: Are they capable? Can they get the job done?
  • Chemistry: Do they play well in the sandbox with others? Will they get along with other staff members?
  • Fit: Does this person fit our church?

After They’re Hired

  • Treat them well. Expect the best from them, but treat them well!
  • The apostles weren’t persecuted by the church, they were persecuted by the pagans! Churches of Christ are a species that seem to like to eat their own young!
  • Treat them well and you have every right to ask them to perform their best.

Tips for Building Healthy Leadership Teams

  • Leadership dysfunction is the #1 affliction of Churches of Christ! Here are a few tips:
  • Clarify Roles – each staff member should know what their job is and what’s expected.
  • Guard the Gate – never bring in an elder who’s “good enough” – never bring in a staff member who’s “good enough.”
  • Ministers shouldn’t ask elders to treat them well while treating the elders poorly, and vice-versa.
  • Talk to, not about each other – if there’s a problem, say it to the person you have the problem with. Don’t gossip, don’t create emotional triangles.
  • Meet together regularly.
  • Review staff performance annually – this is not a review the staff person being evaluated should be present for. Elders honestly evaluate staff performance on an annual basis.
  • Be ruthlessly committed to one another’s success.
  • Set rules for what you will and won’t argue about.
  • Write things down that are said in meetings – this will keep everyone on the same page.
  • Develop a process for exiting dysfunctional members.

Concluding Miscellaneous Tips

  • Eliminate this phrase: “my church.” Get people to eliminate that sort of language/attitude.
  • Eliminate this phrase as it pertains to assemblies: “private devotion to the Lord” (as in during the Lord’s Supper). We don’t meet corporately to have “private” devotion time with the Lord. If people want private time with God, tell them to do it in their homes. Assemblies are about coming together with the body … not quiet time.
  • Church bylaws need to be rewritten every few years. Do not allow them to become outdated.
  • Rotate volunteers to avoid burnout.
  • Staff should be involved in the hiring process – do not form a committee of non-ministers to hire new staff when you have trained professionals at your disposal.
  • Be CAREFUL hiring – all it takes is one bad apple to tank a church.
  • Making the five guys who get the most votes elders is a TERRIBLE/RECKLESS process for elder selection.

Phew, that was a lot. Great class, Tim!

For more like this, visit Tim’s blog here or listen to his preaching here.

If you’re interested in ordering audio or video recordings from the 2010 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, go here.

More notes from the 2011 Pepperdine Bible Lectures coming soon … stay tuned to this website, or subscribe to to get the latest updates in your inbox or favorite reader.

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