My family belongs to a church that’s losing about 20-percent of its congregation this summer. Yet, we’re not upset about this development; we’re actually celebrating it!
That’s because the 40 or so people leaving our small congregation are planting two new churches. Sure, we’ll miss our brothers and sisters. And, I’m sure we’ll struggle to fill the holes they’ll leave. Yet, when the pastors started our church, they cast a vision to do exactly what we’re doing.
They wanted our church to be a family – an authentic body through which God would move and act. Yet, relating as an organic family necessarily meant staying small. After all, one key component of healthy families is that they’re relationally connected. And, one can maintain only a limited number of real relationships.
Yet, this presented a problem: how can a church stay small and still fulfill the Great Commission to go and make disciples? Put simply, it reproduces. Just like families raise children and then release them to grow new families, so our church envisioned planting new churches as members matured and responded to God’s call.
Releasing part of our congregation this summer to plant new churches means we’re staying true to this vision. We’re fulfilling the call to be God’s family and we’re fulfilling the Great Commission – to go and make disciples.
It strikes me, though, that this church model is the antithesis of the satellite model that’s becoming increasingly popular. Instead of aiming to stay small, the satellite model enables churches to grow tremendously large. First, a church grows into a mega-church, usually with a compelling Sunday service and plethora of programs. Then, it duplicates its service and programs in another location. And, practically overnight, a new campus is born.
The satellite model is attractional – or, as one blogger calls it, “Come and See.” Our tiny church is missional, or according to this same blogger, “Go and Be.” “Come and See” versus “Go and Be.”
God uses all sorts of church models. And, certainly the come and see model has its strengths. It’s enabled many Christians to introduce their seeker friends to Christ through the medium of a compelling presentation of the gospel. And, it’s given birth to many programs that have impacted peoples’ lives and entire communities.
Still, it bothers me that this church growth model more closely resembles a franchise like Walmart than the nuclear family. It seems to rely on marketing a brand of church programs and services, rather than calling God’s people into familial relationships. Sure, pockets of close relationships exist – in small groups or sub-ministries. But, that’s not normally what drives these churches. Before more churches jump on the satellite bandwagon, I think leaders need to pause and consider. What does it mean for the church to be a body? And, does our corporate model help or hinder that reality?