According to virtually every researcher in the US, the vast majority of churches in North America are declining in both membership and in attendance. However, all over North America, there are exceptions to the rule … some in the most unlikely of places. Some churches in rural areas are seeing significant growth … as much as 300 percent in one case here locally (the’ve gone from 70 to well over 200 in less than a year). There are churches in small towns – towns that are declining themselves – that are doing baptisms left and right. And, of course, there are those suburban and urban churches that seem to be doing something right.
And though that is indeed good news – perhaps even optimistic news – the fact is, the majority of our churches in North America are plateaued at best and declining at worst.
There are many reasons why there are so many unlikely churches growing. For some, they’ve hired consultants who have come in and pinpointed exactly what the problems are and how to take corrective action. For others, they’ve hired a coach who’s taken the leadership to the next level by encouraging and holding them accountable for excellent practices. Some are attending training events that have been designed specifically for them and their contexts.
But there’s a third, and a more important, reason why these churches are growing. Change. Churches that grow behave differently than churches that are stagnant or declining. These churches may, or may not, be familiar with Einstein’s rule … “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” That seems self evident, even though it took
a real genius to put into such succinct words. If your church is essentially unchanged in form and function since the nineties, eighties, seventies, sixties, or even the fifties, well, you might want to ponder Einstein’s rule a bit. The world around you has changed. You have a cell phone. You use a computer. You’re not the same person you were ten, fifteen, or fifty years ago … why would you think that the unchanging church would be inviting to today’s neighbors?
Dr. Charles Ridley, of Indiana University, has written what I call Ridley’s Corollary to Einstein’s rule. He wrote, “The best indicator of future performance is yesterday’s behaviors.” In other words, if you want to know what your church’s tomorrow is likely to look like, look at yesterday and then factor in time. If you’re going to grow your church, you’ll have to be different than you … and your congregation … was yesterday.
Take a look around your congregation this week. If you’re a member of one of the plateaued or declining congregations, ask yourself, what percentage of those attending will still be there in five years? Ten years? If your congregation is like most, fifteen years from now there won’t be enough living people in your church to pay to keep the lights on, let alone engage in effective ministry. Of course, that’s if you don’t do something to get beyond Ridley’s corollary and Einstein’s rule.