Most pastors especially in America have faced the 200 barrier. Only a few of them are able to break this barrier. However, for most of them breaking this barrier seems the hardest job on earth. In fact, most pastors never even think of breaking the 200 barrier. Nevertheless, breaking this barrier is a possible endeavor if one put some effort on it (Rainer, Wagner & Towns, 1998). In the book "the everychurch Guide to Growth", Elmer Towns, C.Peter Wagner and Thom S. Rainer have presented various ways of breaking through this barrier. They have analyzed the various barriers that exist in churches and have categorized them into three groups. The first group is the 200 (small size) barrier, then the 400 (middle sized) barrier and finally the 1000 (large church) barrier.
Three authors wrote the book "the everychurch Guide to Growth". The first author is Peter Wagner. He deals with the portion of this book that addresses the 200 barrier. This is the most difficult barrier to overcome in any local church. The second author is Dr. Thom Rainer. He is the founding dean of “Billy Graham School of missions, evangelism and church growth” wrote this portion of the book. His assessment of the 400 barrier has contributed so much in the growth of many churches. The third author is Elmer Town. He wrote the portion of this book that deals with overcoming barriers of 1000 people in any local church. He is the editor of “Christian life magazine”. He begins by commenting that a church with 1000 believers is a large church by any standard. However, this number can still be increased. His work has enabled churches with around 100 members in attendance to increase in number.
Quantifying growth barriers
The book quantifies the barriers to growth in local churches. The authors emphasize that there are numerous predictable barriers to the growth of any local church (Rainer, Wagner & Towns, 1998). People can slow down the growth rate of believers in a church. Many methods that churches employ in order to increase the number of members have proved to be ineffective. Methods such as prayer and fasting, reading and quoting of many verses in the bible, contribution in terms of finances or being very holy rarely add more people in any church. The important factor that causes actual growth in the church is the number of believers involved in the growth process. This factor works regardless of the church that applies it. Whether it is the Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness or Assemblies of God, increase depends on the number of people who are involved in the process.
The 200 barrier
Many pastors desire that their churches should grow. The desire of all pastors is to find as many lost souls as possible. Most churches have very few active members. One of the most difficult barriers to break is the 200 barrier. Many pastors put this as their target or top agenda. For all pastors whom deeply care about the growth in the church, this target is never easy to achieve. There are two types of growth. The two are internal growth and external growth. External growth involves bringing in new members in any local church. Internal growth is the process of assisting members to mature in their Christian life. Pastors with small churches desire to see there churches growing to middle or large sizes. The question they all ask is how I can do this, how can I break the 200 barrier?
Peter Wagner one of the authors of the book provides five realistic and practical solutions to this question. The first important solution he gives is that each pastor should recognize that the 200 barrier exists. He comments that the 200 barrier is as real as the law of gravity (Rainer, Wagner & Towns, 1998). After recognizing, the reality of this barrier is when a pastor can think of ways of overcoming it. The second step is to understand why the barrier exists. The author states that the 200 barrier exists because of sociological, behavioral, psychological and spiritual factors. All these factors combine and make the members of a local church to prefer that the size of the church should remain at less than 200 members.
The third solution he provides is realistic assessment of the likelihood of the church overcoming the 200 barrier. Since not all churches can overcome the 200 barrier, this assessment is very important. The systematic solutions to overcoming this barrier shows that no spiritual acts that can be engaged in overcoming this barrier. The forth point is applied only if the pastor realize that in his local church, it is possible to rise above the 200 boundary. The fifth point involves the practical application of the steps that will cause the church to grow and overcome this barrier. Overcoming the 200 barrier is not easy, it should be considered with utmost seriousness.
The other barriers
The 200, 400 and the 1000 barriers are the predictable ones dealt with in this book. These barriers are important in understanding the internal dynamics of churches. The 400 and 1000 barriers are also difficult to overcome, though not as hard as the 200 barrier. The authors contribute this to the large number of believers who can be engaged in the growth process. When a local church has slightly less than 400 members, they can be motivated to be involved in evangelical activities and their impact will be greater than that of a church with less than 200 people. The descriptions that pastors have about their churches are another factor that causes the church to stagnate. Stagnation in this sense means the inability to increase in number. For instance if a pastor describes his church as middle sized, the size is more than a statistical description. This implies that the “middle size” is actually a state of mind.
The singular goal of each church is to advance the kingdom of god (Rainer, Wagner & Towns, 1998). Each church should be involved in the noble cause of winning lost sheep back to the love of Christ. If there is a church which is not involved n this aspect of the kingdom of God, then the authors state that such a church is ill and needs healing. The final words of Jesus Christ are these that his gospel should spread from Judea to all parts of the world. The authors believe that these are very important words, which no single church should neglect. In neglecting the great commission, the church can contract a terminal disease. A terminal disease marks the end of a given local church. The question that the authors pose to readers is whether it is true that a church can contract a terminal disease. The answer to this question is yes, t is true because many churches die each year.
The authors recommend that all churches with terminal diseases should begin making arrangements of dying with dignity. They suggest that instead of kicking and screaming, it is better if the church dies peacefully. Determination of the possibility of a church having a terminal disease can be the beginning of moving towards growth. This is only possible by the grace of God. God heals all diseases in individuals, what can hinder him from healing a sick church. The authors of this great book suggest that seeking God to heal a church and to enable it to grow is possible at any time in the life of the church. This is because god is in the throne and he reigns forever and ever. He has the ability to raise the dead and can even raise a dead church.
One of the points the all the three authors agree on is that the main reason why churches never overcome their barriers is that many pastors ponder on how to maintain their congregations instead of thinking of how the number of worshipers can increase. Looking at a church with a perspective of maintaining the members is legitimate. However, all pastors should not only think of maintenance, they should also develop ways of increasing the flock. The authors quote what Rick Warren said about churches. He said that the church is like a living organism and should grow naturally. In absence of growth, the church is dying or simply surviving.
The book should help not only pastors but also the members of any local church to remove obstacles of growth. This should be done with an understanding the only God can cause the actual growth of any church. As it is written in the bible, I planted, “Apollos watered and God gave the increase”. If members understand this and increase the ability to identify other factors that hinder growth, all churches will grow spontaneously. This is like working hand in hand with God through prayer and implementing factors that will cause the actual growth of the church.