I recently came upon this “Reflections” column by Floyd Strater from our December 12, 1982, issue.
For many decades, as I recall, the editor of Christian Standard would ask a group of 12 or 13 people—a new group annually—to contribute four essays during the year. The topics were not assigned. Sam E. Stone told me he would strive for a variety of writers each year: men, women, preachers, professors, missionaries, and others from a broad geographical area.
Floyd Strater was serving as minister with Knott Avenue Christian Church in Anaheim, California, at the time he wrote this. He preached there for 20 years, overseeing an attendance increase from 500 to 1,900. He served as president of the North American Christian Convention in 1983, the year after this appeared. He retired from Knott Avenue in 1998 and then served as a church relations officer with Hope International University for a time.
He died in 2013 at the age of 88.
This column is longish, but Strater had some interesting things to say about the size of churches and how effectively—or ineffectively—they carry out their mission. There’s even sarcasm. Enjoy.
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Let the Church Be the Church
By Floyd Strater
(December 12, 1982)
Recently I attended a church growth seminar for all kinds of churches. One of the featured speakers was Dr. Paul Y. Cho who is pastor of the Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea. This church has 220,000 members. They have six church services a Sunday with 18,000 to 20,000 in each service. Every Friday 12,000 to 13,000 come and stay all night for prayer. This church has 45 ordained pastors, 220 licensed pastors (70 men and 150 women). This corps of 265 staff leaders oversee and train 33,615 lay leaders. Seoul is geographically divided into 12 divisions with a head for each division. There are 186 section heads, 2,627 area leaders, 15,395 home group leaders and 15,395 assistants for the home group leaders. They have more than 7,000 home Bible study units.
I attended three sessions to hear and see how this church is organized and how it works. It is unbelievable. I am sure I could dig and find fault with some of their doctrine. In all of their presentations I never heard them mention once the “priesthood of all believers.” We talk about it all the time and do nothing; they never mention it but put it into practice.
What size should the church be? Among our people the magic number is 200. We immediately say that this group in Korea is wrong—they should be planting other churches. They have started more than 100 new churches. They have doubled in the last few years and are now gearing up to double again and ultimately have 500,000 members. Of course we know that this will not work and anything that big cannot be spiritual! We need to do some soul searching before we cast the first stone.
Let’s look at ourselves for a moment. The new Directory of the Ministry shows that we have 5,324 churches in America with a total membership of 1,000,000. With close checking, the directory editors found that 280 churches had closed, merged, or moved and thus were removed from this year’s list. . . .
Church size is very interesting. We have only 72 churches in America with 1,000 or more members. [Note: Strater is speaking of total church membership, I believe, not average attendance.] The average size of all the other churches under 1,000 is 187.8. We now have 235 missions and a total of 748 missionaries.
Since we are free in Christ and do not have a headquarters to record all of our reporting, it is hard to be accurate in additions and growth. It is my understanding by those who have tried to check, that our churches last year averaged less than two additions for the whole year. Just think—the average congregation had 12 church board meetings, 47 committee meetings, 100 potluck dinners, 104 sermons, 52 prayer meetings, made building payments, bought air conditioning, gave 10 percent to missions, resurfaced the parking lot, but only won two people to the Lord Jesus Christ. God help us.
Great need—The Knott Avenue Christian Church, where I minister, is in the west edge of Anaheim, Calif. About twenty years ago our area was all orange groves. Now it is wall-to-wall people. . . . Within a six mile radius around our building are 560,000 people. In that circle there is not another Christian church. For the first six months of this year we have averaged 719, an increase of 100 per Sunday over a year ago. During the first six months of this year we have had 112 additions. By normal standards that sounds good—but is it?
California, Texas, and Arizona are the three fastest growing areas in our nation. People are fleeing the cold winters of the Midwest. Week after week I visit with lovely, committed Christians who have moved to California and have visited our church. Almost without exception they tell me that they like me and enjoyed the church, but they feel it is too big. I ask them what they are looking for in a church. This is the standard answer: “I want a church that is friendly, has great Bible preaching, a super youth program, a senior saints program, a strong Bible school with well-prepared teachers, is evangelistic, and is small.” Bless your hearts, there is no way to create such a church!
. . . We have a host of great preachers in California. Most of our preachers are filled with turmoil as they see the masses of people who need to be won to the Lord, but serve with churches filled with transplanted Christians who are Hell-bent on keeping the church pure and under 200.
The Jerusalem church started with 3,000 on the first day. How unholy! They had no building, no school, no elders and deacons, no Sunday school, no youth programs, no bus ministries, no youth camps—but the theme of the book of Acts is that the church continued to grow and multiply. By the time the church had its problem over the neglected widows in Acts 6, it is estimated that the membership had grown to 10,000. Stephen was killed but the church continued to grow and multiply. Ananias and Sapphira told lies in the assembly and dropped dead, but the church continued to grow and multiply. The agony of accepting the Gentiles into the fellowship of the body festered but the church continued to grow and multiply.
In fact I have searched the book of Acts frantically to find our standard phrase of today: “Oh, the church is holding its own.” Many of our churches have not changed their size in fifty years. Jesus did not say, “Go into all the world and keep the church pure, or keep it small.” The church must be big enough to save the whole world. Our vision for the size of the church does not have to be based upon the seating capacity of our building. We, too, could have six church services on a Sunday.
Let it grow—Let me share ten things from my heart as suggestions to let your church grow.
1. Stop worrying about control and become concerned about outreach.
2. Accept the fact that you may not know every member by name.
3. Meet the needs of the people.
4. Be willing to take risks to grow.
5. Have perfect unity and harmony with the elders, deacons, and staff. (This is a must.)
6. Dream big.
7. Make the body a center of love and concern.
8. Forget about trivia and focus on the centrality of Christ.
9. Spend much time in prayer.
10. Bleed, hemorrhage, and agonize for souls.
Fear and insecurity are the greatest tools of the devil to keep our churches from growing. We have a fear of losing control and power. New people are a threat instead of a challenge. Many of our preachers have been forced into a mold by the congregation so that they are expected to know the name of every member and should be able to give a full medical update on every person in the hospital. If he is to play this role, it is frightening to think of his doing all of this when the church reaches 2,000.
Our faith must come to the front. We preach a Christ who can change and transform lives. Do not fear the new member. If you are running programs that do not work, then kill them and find some that will. We live in a supermarket age with huge consolidated schools but we want the church to remain the same. Where the Bible speaks we speak. That means we are not bound by tradition.
Every day I drive in the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the freeways and dream of 560,000 who live within six miles of our church building. There is no one else to reach them but us. My prayer is that we can let the church be the church and make our faith equal to the need. This cult-infested society is looking for what we have, but we are all locked in our church building talking to one another.
I believe we have the truth and the plea. We are blessed with thirty-eight Bible colleges training young people to go out and serve Jesus. We have some great preachers and some beautiful, committed Christian people all across America. We have the truth and the truth will make us free. There are one million of us who wear the name of Jesus. If each of us would just win one this year we could start a revival across America.
Let the church be the church. Christ is still the head of the church and He is the Savior of the body. We are His ambassadors who have been sent into the world of sin to reconcile all people unto Him. I believe there are great days ahead for us. I am excited about some good things that I see happening among our churches. Our nation, the cults, and the denominations are ready for the message which we have. This could be our greatest hour. Let’s take this old world for God. I’ll be praying for you. Please pray for me.
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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard