Expanding Your Congregation’s Capacity

“What would we need to change to accommodate the next 50 people God wants to send us?”
(Alice Mann, The In-Between Church, 1998)

Any minister worth his/her salt and serving between 1990 and 2005 knows about Size Transition Theory and Practice. This is a body of information describing the way churches relate and organize themselves based on their average Sunday attendance. Though we do this kind of consulting and training (http://www.pinnaclelead.com/church/size-transition-consulting.html), our requests for it are declining, largely because most churches have more pressing concerns in this post-modern context. Recently, our team was discussing Size Transitions, wondering how relevant its insights are now.

Then I had a fascinating experience. I’m doing visioning work with a church who is the fastest growing (numerically) congregation of its denomination in its state. I was there for worship, followed by a presentation on Size Transitions. This was my second visit to worship followed by a fellowship lunch, and I was again struck by the spiritual invigoration of this faith community. They engaged traditional elements of worship, yet with joy permeating the experience. As they prepared for communion, there were the traditional words of intinction, and then the pastor said, “Today we celebrate Holy Communion, where we believe as Jesus told us, that this is his body and blood. Since this is the body of Christ, we welcome to this meal every person that Jesus welcomes to himself, and we dare turn away every sinner and broken person that Jesus turns away from himself, and that is...” The pastor paused and the congregation nearly shouted – “NO ONE.” They are one enthusiastic faith community.

At the end of worship, we moved into the presentation on Size Transitions. Afterwards many of the disciples made insightful comments….

“That really helps us make sense of what’s going on around here.”

“I had never thought about church like that…this really helps.”

“Yes, we do carry around a mental model of what church looks like in our heads, expecting it to fit our model.”

“This gives us much to think about. I wonder if we can apply it now.”

“We have some work to do to get ready for those next 50 people.”

Evidently, Size Transition Theory and Practice still resonates with some congregations who are pushing the limits of their current size. Given this, readers may appreciate a few insights from Size Transitions. These are oldies but goodies.

* “What would we need to change to accommodate the next 50 people God wants to send us?” (Alice Mann, The In-Between Church, 1998). The essential question of Size Transitions Theory. This question is a great tool for evaluating most everything.

* When the lay and pastoral leadership function like the size above them at least 25% of the time, they will position the church for numerical growth. Leaders who are expanding their skills and altering their leadership approach are responsible and foresighted leaders.

* When lay and pastoral leadership function like the current size requires, without shifting their leadership and management approach, they will “bottleneck” the church; reducing the capacity for numerical growth. In essence, they manage the church down to a size they can handle with their current skill level.

* A leadership approach based on coaching principles opens the door for numerical growth, changing leaders from “direct service providers” to “equippers of the saints for ministry.”

* Churches who do not push through the transition zone between sizes will shrink back into a smaller size. Also, churches who remain in the transition zone for too long will experience negative consequences of some kind or another. Nobody can tolerate that much tension for too long.

* Being a part of a numerically growing church includes letting go and taking hold. It is normal in this kind of church to experience some grief over laying aside current ways of being church, while taking hold of new expressions of being church.

There are so many more helpful insights in Size Transition Theory and Practice. I hope these serve to stimulate your imagination regarding your ministry context. Though Alice Mann’s question is certainly a left-over from the Attractional Church of the Modern Era, it still serves to shake us out of our complacency regarding our current expression of church. So may we be found faithful – willing to push ourselves and our congregations to “make room for the next 50 people God wants to send us.”

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle Leadership Associates