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07/01/2013 by Chris Green


The gospel is all about growth.  Jesus’ kingdom will be one over every tribe, nation and language. The earth will be filled with his glory as the oceans cover the sea. He told parables about growing plants, frothing yeast, bursting wineskins, full harvests – did he tell any about decline?

That means the gospel grows – but it doesn’t mean every church is intended to grow unendingly.  The gifts to grow a megachurch are rare – which is why there are so few of them.  If most churches plateau at around 200, there’s a strong case for saying that rather than putting them on steroids to make them grow artificially, we simply aim to plant many, many more.

But that’s a bit too easy.  Not the planting (that’s hard), but the quick self justification of size.

Japanese gardeners have  hobby of growing Bonsai trees – miniature versions of real trees, kept small by meticulous pruning and shaping, and keeping the roots firmly under control.

Much attention has been paid to the sins of artificially enhanced church growth – little has been paid to the sin of artificially miniaturized church.

Bonsai church.

What keeps a church artificially small?

  • Refusing to develop new teachers, disciplers and leaders. Just wait until the old ones want to stop and then find a straight replacement.
  • Refusing to allow ministries to develop which aren’t the passion of the pastor.
  • Waiting until someone’s properly mature (and I mean properly) before taking a risk with their gifts.
  • Limiting the sense of membership to those who have access to the pastor’s limited time.
  • Etc.

Process questions

Does your church feel like a Bonsai church?  What are the ways that you think it is being kept small?

Are you a secret Bonsai gardener?  What are the habits you engage in to keep the church at a manageable size? For instance, if you’re a pastor, do you feel you need to know everyone by name?  How many names do you think you can you remember?

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