As I was reading "Leadership and Church Size - How Strategy Changes with Growth" by DR. TIMOTHY KELLER - Original Article, I was again struck with the challenges of moving any size organization from one stage to another. There are so many dynamics working against change that sometimes the task seems impossible. I especially found the section interesting on House Churches, because that's the size almost all of our ministries start at within LINC. The goal of almost all of our churches is to grow beyond the house church size and multiply. However, the various factors that work against this growth prove to be too difficult for some church planters to overcome.
Crossing the threshold to the next size category
The house church, like any small group, gets to saturation rather quickly. Once it gets to 40+ people, the intense face-to-face relationships become impossible to maintain. It then faces a choice: either multiplying off another house-church or growing out of the house-church dynamics into the next size category, the small church.
If it does not do either, evangelism becomes essentially impossible. The fellowship itself then can easily become ingrown and stagnant somewhat stifling, sometimes legalistic.
An ongoing problem for the stand-alone church of this size is the low quality of ministry to specific groups like children, youth, and singles. If it opts to multiply into another house church, the two (and eventually several) house churches can form an association and do things like youth ministry together. They can also meet for joint worship services periodically.
If it opts to grow out of the house-church size into a small church, it needs to prepare its people to do this by acknowledging the losses of intimacy, spontaneity, and informality and agreeing to bear these as a cost of mission, of opening its ranks to new people. This has to be a consensus group decision, to honor the dynamics of the house church even as it opts to change those dynamics.
I believe that if a house church really wants to grow beyond its current form, several things must take place:
The church must decide that it wants to grow. This seems like a no-brainer, but groups that get too comfortable don't really want to grow anymore. Things grow to a point where there are enough people to keep things interesting and give an appearance of success. If the group isn't really in agreement that growth is God's will and should happen despite the changes it brings, then it probably won't.
Evangelism must become the number one priority. All other activities become secondary. If this shift can't or doesn't happen, stagnation becomes almost inevitable
New goals must be set and achieved. Groups of people naturally settle into a routine. The problem with most churches that plateau at the house church stage is that they don't have goals that stretch them. Most of their attention goes to in-group activities. What start out as lofty goals quickly become reduced to the "attainable" as reality sets in. The necessary work of setting new growth goals, working the plan and evaluating outcomes is difficult. If done, it will build a system of accountability into the group that leads to accomplishing outcomes.
These seem like easy tasks, but are not for the average house size church. There is no silver bullet, only prayerful determination and hard work. It takes a new way of thinking to get beyond where a church currently is. Multiplication of disciples is God's will. The only question to ask is "Should our house church multiply itself or grow to become a small church?"