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Church Growth: Why it is Not the Pastor’s Fault

Photo by Jacky Watt on Unsplash

Photo by Jacky Watt on Unsplash

A story published on the Christianity Today International website introduced to readers the idea that small to mid-sized churches face criticism in regards to growth. The author of the article, Karl Vaters, writes, “Small and mid-size churches are stuck in an in-between zone that makes people assume [they are] unhealthy and broken even when [they are] not.” On the spectrum of perception, a large church and a small church are judged on the same assumption that their size is an appropriate reflection of the pastor’s calling. An interesting theory, for sure. The author goes on to say that churches that fall in the middle of this spectrum are being pressured to get bigger, and people believe that the pastor is the reason they do or do not grow. Nathaniel Thomas, pastor of a small to mid-sized church in three locations across tidewater Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, argues that mid-sized churches are stuck because they are not fully being led by the pastor.

To base the growth potential of a churches’ congregation on the calling of its leader is common. However, if the church is governed in a way that, in Thomas’ words, “Keeps the history of the church alive without keeping Jesus’ love alive,” then that is not an accurate depiction of the pastor’s ability to increase membership.

Thomas is referring to the tradition in some Christian church denominations to vote a pastor in, while still allowing all decisions to be made by the deacon board and other church officials. According to the National Association of Evangelicals, “The majority of lead pastors for American evangelical churches (64 percent) are selected by a congregational vote.” Some pastors are only expected to deliver a Sunday morning sermon and mid-week service teachings - not to lead the church.

People attend large churches because they follow the pastor. People attend small churches because they know the members. People attend mid-sized churches because of family history or a potential leadership title.

Thomas adds, “In a traditional church the leader cannot truly speak from God if the board doesn’t agree because they make the decisions.” The bible had strong leaders. In the Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians 11: 1, Paul writes, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

Thomas concludes:

“The Bible says that Paul asked them to follow him as he followed Christ – it doesn’t say to follow the leadership of the church’s board of officials. The congregation must get to the point where they ask themselves, ‘Is this the leader that God sent to lead me?’ And if so, let them lead you.”

Some may believe that all mid-sized churches are struggling with growth and that the right pastor is the remedy. The right pastor can do wonders, but only if he or she is given the room to lead.


Most Pastors Chosen By Congregational Vote. (2015, December 10). Retrieved from

Vaters, K. (2019, March 6). Small Churches Are Stuck (But Not The Way You Think). Retrieved from

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