This coming Sunday I’m preaching on “The Blessings of an Imperfect Church.” As part of my preparation I picked up a copy of Steve Sjogren’s book, The Perfectly Imperfect Church: Redefining the “Ideal” Church. I’ve enjoyed Sjogren’s books in the past, and thought this one might be useful as well.
Sjogren begins by identifying four kinds of churches. The first he calls the struggling church. This kind of church has fewer than 200 in average attendance. Most churches in America fit in this category. Everything in this church is work. Leadership is hard to come by. Because there are few leaders, those there are tire quickly. He says leading a struggling cuhrch is like his friend’s experience one a yacht trip when the crew was only half what was needed. They finally made it to port, but just barely.
My current congregation fits into this category. In a lot of ways we’re doing pretty well. Attendance is up since I’ve been here and we’re managing to pay the bills. But Sjogren’s right. It’s lots of work. As Senior Pastor I have to pay attention each pay period to make sure there’s enough income to make payroll – and pay all the debts we’ve accumulated caring for our historic buildings. We have a thriving children’s ministry – last week at our after-school program for 5-6th graders we had at least 40 kids, most non-church kids. But we’re going to have to change the program radically – we just don’t have the people we need to handle that many of the kind of kids we’re attracting and maintain a safe, positive environment for them all. We need to start new small groups – but leadership is already stressed. Large churches like Sjogren’s Cincinnati Vineyard make some things look so easy.
The second kind of church is the Ego-Driven Church. These view largeness – of the church and pastor’s persona – as an end in themselves. They tend to be self-centered. He doubts they’ll last for the long haul.
The Launching Pad Church is the third type. In common language we might call this a healthy Megachurch (where the last type was the UNhealthy Megachurch). This kind of church is evidently blessed by God and completely willing to share that blessing. Instead of simply growing, they seek to plant other churches. This kind of church also shares with other churches as a teaching church, sharing the knowledge & skills it has gained with others.
The final type of church in Sjogren’s typology is the Pretty Good Church. This type is distinguiched by size – averaging 300-500 in attendance, which gives it enough resources, both financial & leadership, to maintain the church. He thinks this kind of church may be the healthiest, even saying that if he had it to do over again, he would have led his congregation to become several smaller congregations scattered geographically instead of a megachurch.
I’ve not been to the Cincy Vineyard proper, but got to check out their MercyWorks poverty ministry when we were looking to start something similar in Indy. They seem to be in that growing-but-fruitful catagory.
I’m not sure if you need 300 to get out of Struggling. I’ve see good churches in the 150-200 range with a fairly deep bench.