I once heard Rick Warren say at a conference, “You can either structure for growth, or you can structure for control, but you can’t structure for both.” In my years as a small-group pastor, senior pastor, and small-group ministry consultant, I have learned that a more literal version of Rick’s sentiment is this: “You can structure for rapid growth, or you can structure for controlled growth, but you can’t structure for both.”
Think about it: When a church says they want to experience growth, they often hire staff members who are highly motivated to reach people fast. Those staff members start bringing in more people and the church feels excited—but then things get messy. The church needs to start more groups to accommodate the growth, so they recruit more leaders. Some of those leaders may be pretty new to the church and perhaps aren’t as spiritually mature as leaders should be. The results aren’t good: In one group, there’s poor teaching that leads some group members to believe incorrect doctrine. In another group, there are two singles who have started sleeping together. In yet another group, several group members have started fighting, and the group leader doesn’t know how to stop it. Suddenly the staff member in charge of groups is brought before the board and reprimanded for doing a poor job.
Nine times out of ten, the problem in this kind of scenario is not the staff person—it’s mindset. Church leaders want their churches to grow fast, but they don’t want things to feel messy and out of control. The reality is simply difficult to swallow: rapid growth and controlled growth are like oil and water; they don’t mix. Church leaders must determine which is of greater value: growth or control. Of course, we all want some of both, but your church must decide which of the two you value more.
Controlled Growth Strategy
We often hear the word “control” and attribute negative notions to it. For instance, we may associate it with being a control freak, or we may think control is unspiritual because it means we’re not trusting God. But control can be a good thing. For instance, it takes a level of control to effectively steward our ministry resources well. Shepherding others, too, takes a measure of control as we think strategically about how best to minister to people. Consider: You can’t protect the sheep against false teaching without monitoring what is being taught. You can’t ensure that trained leaders are in place without controlling how they’re trained. So controlled growth is not unspiritual or negative. It’s a very positive approach in small-group ministry. Having a controlled growth strategy simply means leading a small-group ministry to grow steadily over a long period of time while ensuring sound doctrine, leader training, leader care, and church members’ spiritual health.
Rapid Growth Strategy
Rapid growth often sounds really positive and exciting. After all, rapid growth is what gets written about in church leader magazines and websites. Rapid growth stories seem to go viral, and pastors of rapidly growing ministries often become ministry celebrities. Sounds exciting—like an amusement park ride.
But how excited would you be about a roller coaster, if halfway through the ride your harness suddenly failed? Even if the beginning of the ride was exhilarating, the remainder would be terrifying, and you’d be exhausted and traumatized by the end. That’s what it’s often like being part of a fast-growing ministry.