Only Four Things Grow Churches

I’m fond of reminding church leaders that only a few things grow churches, but there are literally thousands of things that keep churches from growing.

When it comes to growing churches, you can do one of two things. You can focus on trying to fix what’s broken so that you end up with a “healthy” church. This is a popular plan that’s largely based on a therapeutic model. Fix what’s wrong and then you (or the church) will do what it’s designed to do naturally. But in most churches, that means trying to fix a whole lot of brokenness.

On the other hand, the alternative is to focus on those things that grow churches and deal with the broken things as they come up (and get in the way). And that’s the model we’ve been successfully leading and teaching for over two decades now. With that said, here are the four things we know that grow churches.

A Robust Inviting Strategy

The capital “C” Church grows whenever someone who was not a Christian intentionally opts to become one. That part of an inviting strategy is often called evangelism (the dreaded E word). The local church grows whenever someone affiliates with a local congregation. Growing churches have a robust inviting strategy with specific tactics for both. They not only see a steady stream of first-time visitors, they see a steady stream of baptisms as well.

An Effective Connecting Strategy

The average church in the US only sees about 15 percent of their first-time visitors return for a second time. And the number of those guests who return and remain involved twelve months later is typically less than half of that. However, churches with an effective connecting strategy boost their return and retention rate to well over 50 percent (some of the churches we work with see north of a 75 percent return rate!). Of course, just getting people to return so they can see the greatest show on earth doesn’t mean very much. Which is why the third and fourth strategies are so important.

A Comprehensive Discipleship Strategy

Once upon a time Christian Education, as many of us remember it, was focused on ensuring we all knew the characters, the history, and the background of the stories in the Bible. We learned about Jesus and God and the Spirit and the Gospel stories and … and … and. And in hindsight, those methods didn’t work as well as we’d hoped. We ended up with church members with a basic familiarity with scripture, but not as many well-trained disciples whose lives were dedicated to Jesus Christ and to following his commands. Growing churches have a comprehensive discipleship strategy that gets beyond the intellect and taps into the emotions, but even more so helps their members change their behavior.

A Compelling Sending Strategy

In the New Testament Jesus said, “Go.” Several times. He even gave directions “From Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and beyond.” But the apostles hunkered down in the downtown Jerusalem church office – even after all the rest of the Christians left town (Act 8:1). Growing churches have a strategy for going and making such a difference in the community that it energizes the average person in the pew and compels them to faithful missional action.

Today’s growing churches give serious attention to these four strategies – what we have come to call the Four Core Processes. Bill Easum and I introduced them in our book Effective Staffing for Vital Churches. Over the next eight months, I’ll be leading the Only Four Things Grow Churches seminar in cities across the US. Join us to learn how you can develop effective strategies that will lead your church to growth.

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