Tim Suttle offers some of the most refreshing wisdom about church I have read in a long time.

His five reasons why “small” may not be the worst thing that can be said about a church, are insightful and deeply encouraging. His points should be read, studied, thought about, and prayed over. They can be read here: http://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/5-reasons-your-church-should-be-smaller.html

Although it is difficult to cut out anything Suttle says, here is an abbreviated version of his words with a few comments from me:

1. Faithfulness, not success, is the goal of the church

The church’s job is not to grow, multiply, or expand. …The church’s job is to be the church—to be the faithful people of God who organize their common life together in such a way that they image God to all creation.

This is such an important insight. On March 16 on this blog I wrote:

“modest numbers may not be the worst thing in the world. There is a gentleness and intimacy that can be present in worship with 120 that may be lost when a gathering expands to 1,000. The wind of the Spirit blows unpredictably. And, even without fabulous growth in numbers, our only call is to remain faithful and open to the movement of that Love who calls us to authentic relationship with all of life. This in itself is a kind of growth, even when it is not manifest in spectacular stats.”

2. A fixation on success creates anxiety and burnout

When a church chases ministry greatness, and makes growing attendance their primary metric for success, the most consistent outcome is not growth. The most consistent outcome is anxiety.

Too many church communities are buried under a burden of guilt, anxiety and pressure. People in church leadership are constantly assaulted by voices telling us we must do better, try harder, work smarter, be more attractive, fix this, correct that, try this shiny new program. It does not sound like Jesus advice. Jesus said,

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11:28)

Heeding this call may not cause explosive growth in church attendance. But, in a culture that is beset with busyness, it is a radical counter-cultural challenge that the church would do well to heed.

3. We are not in control of ministry outcomes

Who holds the future of the church? Is it God, or is it the visionary leader with a 5-year plan?

A recent poll in Canada, a most secular of nations compared to our much more religious neighbour to the south, has demonstrated a turn around in some of the gloomy prognostications about the imminent death of formal religion in Canada. It turns out the numbers of religious adherents in Canada have shown a marked improvement. What is the  cause of this religious revival? Is it harder work and more appealing church programs? No. The improvement in numbers of Canadians practicing religion today compared with two decades ago is immigration.

4. Growth is not always a good sign

There can be so many reasons that a church may grow. The presence of an individual charismatic speaker who draws a large crowd is not necessarily a sign of healthy church life. The impact of a powerful impressive worship band on a church community can be explosive, but may not always be a sign of growth in gentleness and kindness.

5. The pursuit of greatness drowns out goodness and virtue

When Jim Collins wrote his renowned leadership manual Good to Great, church leaders ate it
 up. His central thesis, “Good is the enemy of
 Great,” contends that leaders who become satisfied with a good organization will cease to press 
toward greatness. My thesis is a complete reversal of Collins’s. I say that Great is the enemy of Good in Christian leadership.

The greatness to which we are called is the greatness of God’s Spirit. And the greatness of God’s Spirit is,

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and inner strength. (Galatians 5:22,23)

Whether a community is 200 or 20,000, the presence of these qualities is the only true evidence of God’s presence and action at work in that community. If we are going to seek growth, let’s seek growth in God’s Spirit and look for an increase in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and inner strength.”


Thank you Jaqueline for bringing Tim Suttle’s beautiful piece to my attention.