Finding a Balance: Is Your Church Wide or Deep?

Balanced scales
(iStock photo)

There are two requirements set on pastors and their churches, and they seem to be contradictory:

Our churches must simultaneously go deep and wide. Here's what I mean by that: When I listen to people talk about different kinds of churches, a tension I hear is that there are "seeker friendly" churches on one side of the spectrum and churches for established Christians on the other.

The first is criticized for not being deep enough—for serving up a watered-down gospel that's appealing enough to draw in the masses but doesn't actually challenge anyone. The second is criticized for having a knowledge and vocabulary that is almost a prerequisite for getting in the door.

The activities, the messages, the programs are all set up for those who have been in the church their whole lives—making it hard for a newcomer to feel welcome.

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This is the tightrope we walk as pastors. We want to speak and lead in a way that draws in new people while still challenging those more established in their faith to move to deeper levels of faith. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle.

Here are three suggestions as you try to navigate this tension:

1. Know your calling. Do you have a heart for the unchurched or do you have more of a heart for those who have spent most of their lives in the pews? It's OK, as a pastor, to have a group of people to whom you feel particularly called. It is also okay to order your ministry in a way that caters to that calling.

You're not leaving people out. You're being obedient to who God made you to be.

Your church is not required to be a good fit for every person in every stage of life. In fact, sometimes you'll end up taking better care of your church by not trying to serve every single person (with every unique need) who walks through the door. God calls many different pastors, at many different churches, to minister in unique ways.

Do what you're called to do, leaving the faith and growth of all believers ultimately up to God Himself.

2. Teach plainly; challenge deeply. When it comes to teaching God's word, sometimes we feel pressure to excavate the Scriptures for new and profound truths to keep our audience engaged, but the truth is: His truth doesn't change. Take yourself off the hook from having to find something previously unearthed in the most-read book in history.

Just teach what it says.

If you do that, your whole congregation will be able to keep up, no matter their church background.

The place where you can dive deeper into new territory is in the application. Whether you're teaching a small group Bible study or teaching in front of the entire church, challenge those listening to apply this truth to their daily lives. By teaching God's word and challenging them to apply it to their lives, you'll be able to meet them where they are in different stages of their Christian walk.

3. Provide a safe place, and trust God to do the rest. Everyone, no matter how long they've been going to church, is going through something different. Your job is not to make sure you say the perfect thing to each person, each Sunday, but to love people where they are.

If it's their first Sunday at church, invite them in and give them the space and freedom to figure out who God is, and what that means for them. If someone has been going to church forever, invite them in, and give them space and freedom to figure out who God is and what that means for them.

Your job as a pastor is not to create a one-size-fits-all maze for your whole congregation. If you provide a safe space and point them towards God's truth, you can trust God to do the rest.

With more than a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership, and, all while staying involved in the local church.

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