Breaking the 50 Barrier in Church Planting
The vast majority of church plants start out with less than 50 people. Actually, 70% of our current plants in Louisiana started below 50. 35% (or 582) of all Southern Baptist Churches in Louisiana reported attendance below 50 in 2015. Having 50 people or less is not bad. In some communities, 50 is a big church. A church of 50 has some advantages. Less overhead. More community. 50 people can encourage one another & reach out in ways that bigger churches cannot. Most church planters have the intention of their church growing beyond 50. Mostly because we are motivated to see more & more people saved & discipled for the glory of God. Also, some of us want to be vocational ministers & try to make a living as a clergyman & 50 people is usually not enough to sustain a large personnel budget in a church. 50 can be a barrier that’s tough to get beyond. So how do we get beyond 50 people?
1. Pray for breakthrough opportunities!
Sometimes a breakthrough opportunity can happen in the life of a church plant. These are opportunities that open up that can’t be explained except by God’s hand. A key meeting place, news story, financial contribution. Pray regularly for God to open doors that man can’t open or explain. These do not always = church growth, but they signal God is at work & will usually lead to fruitfulness & health (which have been known to lead to church growth).
2. Give away responsibility & authority
40-50 is a barrier often because 40-50 is about the number of people that one person can lead by themselves. And many leaders are just not willing or able to let go of or share the reigns to let others lead with them. To multiply the leader must become a leader of leaders. Fear of losing control. Fear of someone doing it better. Fear of someone messing up. And, “They’re just not ready yet!” I know. Every time I read the passage about Jesus sending out the 70, I have to stop myself from yelling, “they’re just not ready yet, Jesus!” Sending them was part of him getting them ready, & it will be so for your leaders as well. For the sake your sanity, for the development of people, & the growth of church & kingdom, let go & send them into ministry & leadership.
3. Develop a 2nd & a 3rd group
40-50 is a barrier often because it’s a group that can fit in one big room. And sometimes we’re in love with knowing everybody & having everybody together all the time. To move past 50 you need multiple groups, which means multiple leaders, which means more people owning the vision & growth of the church. And starting multiple groups, whether its classes, teams, or whatever, helps get multiplication muscles moving for future growth.
4. Establish systems that lead people to Christ & His Mission
How do people hear about your church? What do we want people to know & do once they attend? How do we want people to connect beyond just attendance? How will we help people move toward Christ? How do we help people become leaders? These kinds of questions help us develop a step by step path for new people coming into the church. Today more than ever, connecting with Christ & His church is not something we can assume people know how to do. We have to lead them there. Systems help us do that.
5. Be on the lookout for speed bumps & dead ends
Where are people getting hung up in their development as disciples? What is causing attendance to stagnate? What needs are going unmet? Some of the speed bumps I’ve hit in the three new churches I’ve been a part of are:
- Building & space issues. A full building is fun for us pastors, but it can put a lid on the growth of the ministry. Starting a second gathering or moving to a larger facility can keep the group growing. Rule of thumb is at 80% full, start making other arrangements.
- Unity issues within the church. The radar of the world is up for hypocrisy & disunity among believers. Keep relationships straight in order to grow people & the church.
- Needs in the body that are going unmet. Watch for your Acts 6 moments. In Acts 6, the Hellenistic widows were being neglected threatening unity & testimony. A ministry was started to meet the needs & keep the people & churches growing together.
What other issues or observations about breaking the 50 barrier would you add to my list?
One of my favorite Church Planting axioms is “In every apple there is an orchard.” God made every living thing in creation with the potential to make more. We’re all carrying seeds that can be planted to grow more of what God wants. For us, that’s disciples & churches. Do you see your church, no matter the size as a potential orchard to create more for God’s glory?
And another topic for another day, will be how to start a church above 50 people.