In our travels, Michelle and I have worked alongside Pastors and leaders of ministries of all shapes and sizes. Many of the churches we have been to were smaller. In fact, the majority (59%) of US churches are under 100 people, and nearly all (94%) are under 500 people. Their ministry reach may be greater in their community, but this is their average Sunday morning attendance (according to a study done by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research).
The truth is that great spiritual leaders sometimes Pastor smaller churches, while poorer leaders can somehow achieve leadership roles too great for them to fulfill. There is not a generic answer why some churches grow and others don't. While we are passionate about reaching people for Christ and the local church impacting the community with the Gospel, we are equally passionate about church health and great discipleship. However, God wants us to have both.
One of the trappings we've consistently seen, however, with smaller churches as well as youth groups (probably due to the smaller group environment and leadership structure) is Pastors and leaders who focus to heavily on connecting their people to themselves, rather than God. One of the litmus tests of good spiritual leadership is deliberately connecting those we mentor towards God, rather than dependency on ourselves.
Here's 7 practical ways you can help people depend more on the Lord than your leadership:
1. Focus on building up leaders around you who your congregants can connect with
Rather than needing to have the final say in the spiritual questions and direction of each person in your ministry, build up many leaders in your congregation.
We've seen this be a painful thing for some Pastors. Their group grows to an unmanageable size, and because they don't want to let go of this control to leaders, the group continues to hit a wall numerically of what they can emotionally manage.
2. Let the Body of Christ Bring It's Unique Gifts
When you bring in outside speakers and ministers, be open to the specific ministry and strengths God has entrusted them with for your community. Don't control this process, rather let God do something outside your ministry zone.
3. Seek the opinion of outside Leaders
They will see your church's strengths and weaknesses with a fresh perspective, an outside perspective, and can be invaluable to providing needed change in your leadership style.
4. Be careful not to lean on your personality in ministry
Seek to be authentic with your people as well as with yourself in solitude. When you allow your personality to overwhelm your ministry, you set up future transitions in your church for failure. The ministry has been built and rises and falls on you .. which is nearsighted leadership, focused on your kingdom rather than God's Kingdom.
5. Give your congregants a broad and deep teaching from Scripture
Teach them what God says, not your own opinions and stories. These should only emphasize what is clear from His Word. Many of your congregants will only go as deep as you go. The mantle of spiritual leadership cannot be taken lightly. We must be serious about personal spiritual training and growth in knowledge of God and the Scriptures.
6. Teach those you lead to take their needs and answers to the Lord through prayer and study of Scripture
Don't always answer their spiritual questions, rather "teach them to fish," by pointing them to the example of Christ as well as showing them how to encounter God in their lives in Scriptural practices.
7. Teach your congregants to grow at their own pace in their walk with the Lord
This is one of the biggest mistakes we see from Pentecostal and charismatic leaders - Don't force or prod people to "act spiritual" before they are truly spiritual from the inner working of God in their heart. We don't want to teach people to be fake.
Allow people to grow at their own pace in outward responses of their inward commitment to Christ, and pray that God does the work inside of them that only He can do.