Gold fish are often a child’s first pet. They’re low maintenance, inexpensive, and easy to handle. I mean, you need a bowl and some cheap food, just add water and BOOM! You have a pet.
But there’s a fun fact about gold fish that I remember hearing years ago – if you place a small gold fish in a large fish bowl, it will grow to proportionally fit the fish bowl. This means that you can take a fish you win at the fair and watch it grow if you place it in the right environment. (To be fair, I don’t think you can get a bagged gold fish to turn into koi).
This same principle applies to churches. And no, I don’t mean physical buildings (this time). Churches have little ‘fish bowls’ all over the place – little things that stop them from growing any bigger than they already are.
The problem with ‘fish bowls’ in churches isn’t that they’re there. It’s inevitable that a church (or any organization) will reach it’s limits.
The problem is that the churches don’t often see the ‘fish bowls’ as limits. They’re “what makes us, ‘us'”, or “what we’ve always done”. They’re often seen as harmless.
Things like popcorn announcements or popcorn prayer concerns during the service. Things like using the bulletin for community or personal events. Things like passing clipboards around to rally volunteers for vaguely defined jobs and roles. Things like having an unorganized children’s ministry, or having the pastor run the whole worship service.
These things seem harmless because they’re ‘working’ currently. But these harmless things are potentially stunting your churches growth.
So here are a few ways to identify ‘fish bowls’ within your church:
Are churches ‘1 Step’ up from your size doing the same things? In business, there is something called ‘best practices’, which is essentially where to model yourself after someone succeeding at something you want. Want to be a millionaire? Act like a millionaire? Want to be healthier? Act like someone healthier than you?
Want to be a growing church? Act like a growing church.
There are seemingly natural ‘steps’ to church growth. In order to take the next ‘step’, you have to begin acting like you are at that step. My current church is averaging around 80-90 a week, which is representing some solid growth. In order to maintain that, I’m looking at churches in the area that are in between 100-150 and trying to copy them.
If you suddenly grew by 10%, would you still be comfortable? If your prayer time or announcements suddenly took extra time each week because you had more people, would you be okay getting out at 10:40 instead of 10:30? If 8 new people were in church, but sitting in the pew next to you or (God forbid) in your seat, would you feel comfortable?
If you’re uncomfortable and unsure of how to handle any more people, you’ll never have any more people.
Do you have too many fish in one bowl? There’s a general rule about ministry called the ’80/20′ rule that states the following: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. Said another way, you’re putting too many fish into someones ‘bowl’.
Let’s say each goldfish represents a component of ministry: prayer during the worship service, organizing the children’s ministry, putting together the bulletins and newsletters, and so on. So if you put 80% of the goldfish into 20% of the ‘fish bowls’ you have as a church, you inadvertently stunt the growth of those different ministries.
Currently, I, like a majority of pastors, lead around anywhere from 90-100% of my churches worship service. I do this despite not being a gifted singer/musician or song leader.
And my churches worship service suffers for it.
Growth takes space, which often means that other people need to begin trying to take over different roles in ministry. People need to begin putting some fish in their bowls.
I love y’all, and there’s nothing you can do about it.