Summary: Using "The Bonsai Theory of Church Growth" this series shows how growing a church is the oposite of growing a Bonsai tree.

On Not Becoming a Bonsai Church

Keep the Pot Small

Some of you are familiar with the name, Kenneth Hemphill. He was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Norfolk, Va. Ken- I’ll use his name as if I know him personally- has an unusual hobby--- he collects and grows Bonsai trees. Bonsai trees are miniature trees. He wrote this book, “The Bonsai Theory of Church Growth”, which Neal Borst shared with me. It is a tremendous book with lessons that this church MUST learn. It was divine timing Neal. I want to share some of the secrets with you. I want to begin by reading a few sentences.

Pages 13-14 “The principles that keep a tree small will also keep a church small…It is my conviction that many churches, without knowing it are doing things which virtually assure that they will remain small- a sort of bonsai church… church growth is natural and artificial measures must be taken to keep a church from growing.”

I was so amazed at the principles of the Bonsai that I went to St. Pete and bought one. Today, and next week (and maybe the next one too), I want to share with you some of the secrets of keeping a Bonsai tree small. If you will let your mind work you will see the lessons for the church.

1. Keep the Pot Small

The pot must be fitted to the tree. Actually, I should say… the tree will be fitted to the size of the pot. The size of the pot determines the size of the tree.

There is a specific relationship between the size of the root system and the size of the tree. The size of the pot determines the size of the root system… therefore the size of the pot is the most important determiner of the size of the tree.

What are some of the “pots” for the church… the facts or factors that limit the size of the church


There are several that could apply to various churches…

A. The Building (Physical plant)

As with the Bonsai: the container can either restrict or facilitate growth.

One of the absolute undeniable truths of church growth is… If any portion of the building is 80% filled the natural growth will be inhibited or even stopped.

B. Land

Inadequate parking will limit the size. Members will ride around and look for spaces… visitor will not.

Also, inadequate access will limit growth.

Those two do not so much apply at NDBC. But there are some that do.

C. Organization

If you have four adult classes averaging about 12 to 14 per class… your church will not grow very much. Why? Because the average size for a class is about 10. Once you exceed that size… the class will rarely grow. Yes there are some senior classes that treasure fellowship and become a small church unto their self… meeting all the members needs. Those classes are comfortable. BUT THEY DON’T GROW!!!

The statistic that has stood the test is time is that classes will grow to about 10 and then plateau.

The only way to grow the church is to expand the size of the pot…. Start new classes.

It is a terrible word… but you have to divide and conquer.

D. Leadership

The organization cannot enlarge unless the leadership pool enlarges.

A growing church REQUIRES a sufficient number of well-trained and committed leaders.

This means professional and volunteer leaders.

The majority of the time and energy of the professional leaders, or paid staff, must be spent equipping lay leaders.

ALL ministries require leaders. One leader can only do so much. The only way to expand to more ministries is to equip more ministers.

The next pot is the one I believe is most important at NDBC… and the one I want to spend my time on today…


The most confining pot, for most churches, and the most determining pot for all churches is Vision.

Our scripture says “Where the people have no vision they perish.”

I don’t believe perish only means die. I think it should be interpreted… “Where the people have no clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God, one that propels them forward, draws them together and directs their actions… they will lose momentum, become fractured as a body and limp along in uncertain and different directions.

Nothing will so strongly determine the success of a church as VISION!

If you want to keep a church small… and Satan does… give it a small, confining vision.

A church can have a small vision because of…

Past hurts… thinking this church has too many problems to grow


Community restrictions… like a white church in a community that is becoming non-white.


Lack… of space, land, money, leaders, leaders, etc.

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