Last Sunday was a beautiful day at Itawamba Christian Church. A sanctuary filled to capacity and a congregation that ranged in age from 8 weeks old to 80+ years of age. This week has found me being bombarded on social media with posts featuring students of all ages who are receiving kudos for the work this school year as the academic year winds down. Families are growing, students are heading to the next challenges and our congregation continues to grow as well.
Education in our country begins early with hopes that every student will grow academically to become a productive member of society. In the earliest years we find the ratio of teachers and paras to students being intentionally low. We know the smallest among us will need more individual attention in order to thrive. These ratios increase a bit going into elementary school but a major shift occurs in middle school and high school. Students slowly are permitted to pick some of their courses and move from classroom to classroom instead of being based in a single familiar classroom. As students approach high school graduation the options become even more. Some students will actually start taking college level classes, some will go off-campus to work in independent study situations, while others take a more traditional route. The approach to education radically changes as the needs of the student demand.
As the school year ends, I suspect some of the graduating class are thinking back to where they have traveled. Hopefully they will reflect positively on those teachers who helped them earlier in their educational career. Looking back is fun and helpful but reality demands we move forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
Growing congregations experience a similar path. As a congregation grows, so do the structures and formats that enable the congregation to function well for all within it. Sadly, many congregations don’t experience growth. For a variety of reasons, the congregation is stuck. Perhaps the pool of available people to draw from is exhausted. Perhaps fear of facing the organizational challenges of a larger congregation are too costly. Perhaps adhering to patterns that reflect “they way we’ve always done it” are simply easier to maintain.
As a congregation we are moving into what I would call “middle school”. We are no longer a small congregation. We are not a large congregation. We are in between in what church growth experts called the medium sized church. Just as we understand and expect our students to experience school differently as they go through the education process, so should congregants expect life to be different as the congregation grows. Parts of the changes will be easy to embrace. Other parts will not. Just as anxiety builds in the elementary student as they prepare for the world of middle school, sometimes anxiety exists as we watch the congregation change.
I hope you are looking forward to seeing how God will continue to use our congregation for His glory. As we do experience growth, please don’t be surprised if it bothers you a little. Change is hard but the fact remains, growth is the natural order of things that are alive. Please try to reflect on the blessings that growth brings. Please remember that even though the sanctuary is getting fuller, hundreds of our neighbors still need a Savior and Church family. I can assure you all that the elders and I are very much aware of all these issues and are carefully crafting a roadmap that we believe honors God and manages the changes we need to face in a fashion that will bring the least amount of stress. Like a graduating student eager to face the next challenges life brings, I hope we are eager to reach our full potential as a congregation.