“I just didn’t think it would happen to me.” Those words played hide and seek in my head while I listened to his all-too-common story. Kenneth’s first call to a church had started pretty well. He’d heeded the advice of his seminary professors and spent his first year just “loving on” his congregation and getting to know the lay of the land. All was going well until he began focusing on growing his church. Less than six months later, he was looking for a new job.
When it comes to growing your church, what you don’t know can hurt you … and it can negatively affect you, your career, and your family in ways too many former pastors could not even begin to imagine.
So before you decide to dip your toes into the waters of church transformation or take a stab at church resurrection, here are some things every pastor should know about church growth.
- Let’s start with the easy one – the “duh!” that no pastor should fall for. When it comes to growing a church, there are no shortcuts, no magic bullets, and no prescribed combination of programs, and it’s neither simple nor easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise has some sort of snake oil to sell you, they’re pulling your leg, or they’re hopelessly naive (or hoping that you are).
- Growing a church is difficult, taxing, time-consuming work. You may not have to put in seventy hours a week, but you are going to have to put in blood, sweat, and tears. You’ll have to navigate those in your congregation who already demand your time and attention and balance that with the reality that you have to spend significant time in the unchurched world with unchurched people and be intentional about having spiritually fruitful conversations.
- Growing your church means putting your job on the line. It’s risky. Here’s reality: if you double your attendance, there will be conflict – largely because the existing leaders will realize they’re about to lose control. We call that textbook… it always happens. Many former pastors share about the time when they grew their church… and in so doing, lost their jobs.
- It really is all about numbers. I know that’s hard to hear, but how will you know if your church is growing if you’re not counting? You have to count attendance in worship and in small groups. You have to count income and outgo and per capita giving. But as important as those are, there are other more important numbers that growing churches count. In the order of importance, those numbers are…
- Adult baptisms
- Weekly first-time visitors
- Weekly first-time visitors who match your target group
- First-time visitors who return
- First-time visitors who match your target group who return.
If you measure what’s important you’ll see growth.
- An effective church growth strategy starts with the heart. If your church leaders have a heart for reaching the community for Jesus Christ then they’ll find the stomach for the conflict that will inevitably erupt. There’s a difference between knowing the church needs to grow and having a “heart” – a passion – for that growth. Almost everyone in a church agrees that their church needs to grow, but few are willing to put up with the changes necessary for that growth. That’s why the heart is so important – a passionate, willing heart is able to put personal preferences aside for the sake of reaching people for Jesus.
- Church growth will test your leadership ability. The first test of your leadership is whether or not you can create a conflagration of passion for your church growth vision. If you can’t do that, the chances of a successful church growth campaign falls to zero.
Growing a church isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s hard work. And you’re pretty much putting it all on the line. Jesus said to count the cost before following him… it’s no less important to count the cost before you launch a church growth strategy.
Question: Have you launched a church growth strategy before? Tell us how it went. What went right? What went wrong? And what were the results? Let us know in the Comments section below.
I hate this article. Once again church as business model and no room for God. It’s all about what YOU can do. Whatever happened to feeding the sheep through helping congregants grow deeper in their faith and learning how to serve God? The main goal of a pastor is to teach the scripture and help spiritual growth to occur. Prayerfully, our presence, faith, words, and actions will be used by God to touch the lives of others. Small and medium churches have a place in the world too. In my experience, mega churches tend to offer salvation message only and if you want to grow in depth and learn how to “be,” one needs deeper, more meaningful instruction.
The goal of this article – and all the work we do for that matter – has nothing to do with creating mega churches out of small or medium sized churches. It’s about helping churches become faithful in sharing the gospel with those outside the congregation. However, if all a pastor does is spend his/her time in the office creating a great sermon and awesome discipleship materials for 125 people – and the congregation’s behaviors don’t change significantly – then the church will age, dwindle, and a day will come when the doors will close – 41 different churches experience that reality every single day in the US. On the other hand, if a pastor chooses to model Great Commission behavior and grows the church through conversions and baptisms then all those things that the article speaks about will come to pass. That’s not “business,” that’s just reality.
Of course, if a pastor chooses to depend on the congregation to “do as I say, not as I do” then the results will be more of what we’ve seen over the past five decades of escalating church decline and disaffiliated Christians.
It really isn’t about the numbers. Your article states that it is. If, as you say, the goal is to help spread the gospel then the focus has to be on more than just the numbers. We are called to follow Christ’s example of loving God and loving others…this is shown through how we treat one another and not in the number of people who come to our “churches.” The question is, if as a Pastor your first goal or focus is on bringing in the numbers (survivor mode) then doesn’t the message of love, community, forgiveness, service, etc, all fall to the wayside? People become stats and not individuals. I agree, leadership, and Pastors, need to reflect what they preach and they need to have a deeper understanding of faith and well developed spiritual base which will be used to help demonstrate Christ’s example. In all the New Testament, Jesus did not once go seeking followers…people followed because of his example. Perhaps the message of Christ is more about how we are called to build up the “church” (believers themselves) by following the example set for us through His example and not merely through adding numbers to our club/society/church. Just because someone stands in a garage, it doesn’t make them a car….hence just because a building has 10 or 10000 people, it doesn’t mean that they are followers of Christ either. If we lose sight of why we are there…then we have lost sight of Christ’s message and it does merely become a numbers game or like minded club mentality and survivorship. I am not saying Pastor’s don’t need to be part of church growth – what I am saying is that it is up to the entire community of believers to be part of it as well. The Pastor’s primary role is to, again, teach (through all manner of instruction) the scripture first and help others grown in faith so that the Church (the person) may be used singularly or corporately by God. It seems to me in my experience as an ordained clergy person that once the business model of CEO crept into the definition of Pastor, that churches began spinning out of control. All things decline and die in order for new growth and new ideas to take place, for new ways of worship to be experienced…when did that become a bad thing? We deceive ourselves when we think nothing will ever change. God is and often does work in and through chaos. We call it renewal.
We may end up either having to agree to disagree or come to the conclusion that we’re saying much of the same thing, only with a different emphasis.
As far as I can tell, the problem with downplaying numbers is that it’s antithetical to the New Testament. Jesus counted. The apostles counted. And the early church counted. Numbers aren’t numbers, they’re people. (There were 12 apostles, 72 sent out, 4000 & 5000 fed, 153 fish, 120 at the first prayer meeting in Acts, 3000 converts, 2000 more converts, and the numbers continue in Paul’s letters and into the Revelation as well.) It’s not about survival, it’s about making disciples. We’ve been preaching and “teaching” in the church for over 50 years with one program after another. Christian ed has largely failed the church – we have churches filled with members who “know” about God, about faithfulness, about evangelism, but who haven’t shared the gospel with anyone ever in their life. To be frank, if teaching was the answer, Christianity in the US would be in fine shape.
But there’s another reason why numbers are so important. The vast majority of small and mid-sized churches in the US did 0 baptisms last year. None. Zip. Similarly, the vast majority of churches saw significant decline in attendance in worship, small groups, Sunday school, etc. Without tracking numbers, there’s no accountability. The fact is, the majority of pastors in the US need to do one of two things: (1) get focused on reaching the lost by being with the lost and by intentionally sharing the gospel in culturally relevant ways so that the pastors are growing the kingdom in measurable ways, as in increasing the number of conversion baptisms from nil to bunches; or else (2) they should find another line of work because they’re not making disciples and baptizing. Instead, they’re telling the congregation that they should. And though it’s true that the congregation “should,” that’s no excuse for 0 baptisms and declining churches. The pastor should at least be fruitful in reaching the lost, even if no one else is. And bearing fruit is measurable.
I agree that there is a life cycle in everything … except there shouldn’t be one in Christianity in any nation. US Christianity, however, is in serious decline … and in my personal opinion, the local church is the best hope of turning that around. Do some churches need to die? Probably. Will most of the churches that are likely to die in the next decade be small and medium sized churches? Indubitably. Is that okay? Not in my personal opinion.
This year alone we’ve worked with dozens of churches and hundreds of pastors. The majority of those churches were small and medium sized and led by fine pastors who spent most of their time teaching and preaching and loving and shepherding the membership. And the majority of those churches are in serious decline – still. Preaching and teaching is important, but it’s not the answer now any more than it was in the first century. Jesus didn’t sit with his 12 all day long teaching and preaching. They followed him out of the “church” and into the harvest fields and saw firsthand what evangelism looked like. Those who wouldn’t follow he left behind without batting an eye. In my opinion, it’s time for pastors to do the same.
Bill, I agree with some of your comments, so yes, we are basically saying the same thing in many ways; however, there are some theological differences I believe. This is one of the issues with articles that paint blanket statements for the Christian Church in general. Assumptions are never a good thing because everyone has their own experiences, interpretations, and applications of Scripture and faith.
First, many times, the lost are already in the church sitting in the pews and in class rooms and they keep coming back beccause now that they have been baptized and saved, the question on their heart and mind is “now what?”…and “how do I form a close relationship with God…and “how do I begin to be who I am called to be in Christ?” (Pointing back to the car/garage comparison).
It’s sad just how uninformed/naive, people really are…willing to take at face value all that is being said on t.v. and from the pulpit as Scriptural when if fact it is often laced with hidden agendas, motives, fear, manipulation, and coercion due to some kind of personal gain (reputation, power, prestige, money, influence, ratings) for the minister/ministry. I, too, have experienced losing a congratulation due to growth and the power struggle between the “new-berries” and the “elder-berries.” But you keep focused on why are you are called in the first place and trust that God do the rest.
Yes, numbers were used in Scripture to delineate sizes of crowds, followers etc., however we are also told that many who followed did so because they sought the signs and miracles of the event, the day, the experiences, and when faced with the difficulty of being a true follower, many fell away, they left the scene, and this even happened to Jesus. Just because there was a crowd present, one cannot surmise that they were all saved or all believers – (hence the parable of the seed). We also know that we are told that many will say “Lord, Lord” to only be greeted with “I do not know you.” Therefore, numbers are not a certain nor clear delineation of a persons faith.
Numbers are NOT the determination of what is and should be considered a “successful” ministry (aghast – I hate that phrase). If numbers are all that matter (which earlier you stated that all churches were useful), then it logically follows that the only “successful churches” out there are the large/mega churches – for which I beg to differ. Now, please hear me, I am not putting down any sized church. THEY are all relevant and desperately needed.
And yes, I also agree that baptism are down; however, there is also growth that is to take place within each person after the baptism. Hence why education and dare I say, learning to “be present” and quiet to hear the still small voice of God in a world consumed with doing, and planning is so vital to our life of faith. There is still the mystery of God that is at play in us and in the world as well. We cannot expect to have all the answers.
I do agree, that unfortunately people want quick fixes to systemic issues/problems and we in the U.S.A. are so self focused that we fail to see that the call to Christianity is a call into community and care for one another; therefore, we are focused on me, my, mine, and we wait for others to do the tasks that are needed instead of seeing that it does take the entire village (in this case the church) to work in conjunction both/and with God and one another to discover their unique purpose for that given community. So, yes, education, alone isn’t the fix, neither are programs, quick solutions, magic tricks (as you stated in your article), it does take hard work by all of us. I firmly believe that if we truly keep our focus (ministry, teaching, ethical stance) on God, and that if we ALL seek to serve, love, understand, live and be who Christ is calling us to be then God will use us to further God’s work. We probably attended different seminaries and have been influenced by different theologies, philosophies, ideologies, but my belief is that salvation is a gift from the Great I Am and I am only the instrument through which God may or may not use. Consequently, I can’t and don’t take credit for someone’s baptism nor their conversion. I am only a cog in the wheel and who knows how many people were used before I had the humble privilege of walking with that person into the baptistery.
History has shown us that Christianity has gone through many transformations in order to be where it is today. History has shown us the ebb and flow of this faiths growth cycle and in such, we have seen every season under heaven here as well. We are not the first generation of individuals who have been concerned about what seems to be a decline of our amazing faith. However, God is greater than all that and God, in God’s infinite wisdom, is able to create something life giving out of what appeared to be ashes. So I choose to not live in fear and believe that God has a purpose for this winter season as well. I do my part and encourage my congregants to do theirs as well. My frustration, is that we seem to always be focusing on the the negative side of church numbers and we make them out to be the end all without realizing that it is the faith journey that is ultimately what matters. As individuals, we, too, have seasons in our lives – sometimes it is about evangelizing, maybe it’s serving, maybe teaching, maybe praying, maybe simply being. The key to our faith and our church, is ascertaining what season we/it is in and discerning the direction God is taking us/it.
Please hear me, I am not saying nor am I putting down the work that you do. I commend you for it; however, often times articles are written in a way that seems to offer this quick fix gimmicks to rather complicated situations. I do think we can agree, that there is a lot of work that still needs to transpire – both with the laity and the clergy section of the church. Again, it takes us all to do the work we are all called to do.
Thank you for engaging me in conversation. It has been very enlightening and revealing. I pray God’s Grace and Peace on you and yours. Please continue to serve God in the manner you are called. I appreciate your comments and your your insight. You have given me food for thought and allowed me to express myself most graciously. Be blessed.
#1 this article begins with certain assumptions, such as, making disciples is the church’s main objective, and that Christ should be the Center, and that the pastor should lead, nuture and guide the flock. These are basic, foundational truths that every Christain pastor should believe. So let’s begin with the understanding hat none of us are spiritual morons.
#2 the article begins with a conditional, “if” you are interested in church growth. Obviously, not every pastor is not interested in growing their church, and/or others believe that God will either grow or not grow their church with no participation from the pastor (“…God giveth the increase.”). If you belong to these categories, simply put the article down, move on, and read something else. This article is for those WHO IN “ADDITION” TO IMPLEMENTING THE BASIC, FOUNDATIONAL, ELEMENTARY principles of God’s Word, ALSO would like to participate in TRYING to grow their church.
I believe this article contains many invaluable insights and caveats for those interested in the qualitative and quantitative growth of their church. Good job and many thanks!! Be blessed!!
Thank you to RevVSFishel and Bill Tenny-Brittian for this wonderful example of what a comment section on an article about church can be. I got a great deal out of reading and considering each of your comments.
Thank you for your kind remarks.
I agree 100%! I recently left a mega-church to help a struggling smaller church focus on the God-given mandate to “Go make disciples.” In 6 weeks we were able to double attendance – with only 1 full-time staff member (me). Why?
1. The leadership and congregation had a heart to grow, but they lacked direction and really didn’t understand how to grow / where to start. I had the experience of knowing where to focus (no silver bullets) and that growth doesn’t happen without prayer and intentional effort.
2. I spent the first four weeks casting vision and challenging the church to take small steps: a) understand the mission, b) pray for those far from God, c) get ready for company by using your gifts d) invite someone to church (fall kickoff series).
3. We did the hard work of getting the building ready and tweaking the service. We didn’t just talk about it we got after it. We replaced ceiling tiles, repainted the kid’s rooms, created a rehearsed and fun service (with existing volunteers), put up colorful signage, updated the logo, implemented a Connection Card, launched a prayer team, and more importantly we trusted God to bless our efforts!
We haven’t arrived, but it really is true – if you are faithful with little, God will put you in charge of much.
BTW – 2 books that really helped: Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley, and Launch by Nelson Searcy.
I do appreciate the interesting comments. If a Pastor has a vision and the Church supports the Pastor, growth will come. The Pastor is the head of the Church body and he must be supported by
not only good people but with
trustees who believe in growth and
good deacons who support and
back him prayfully. In order to see
growth a Church cannot become
stagnant nor be complacent. Satan
loves it when people are not giving
God 100%. Numbers are very
important to the Church. Change
comes and its hard for some people
who are satisfied with “our four
and no more” to accept this. Christ
comissioned each born agained
Christian to go into the highways
and the byways and compell them
to come in. As christians we have
to show Christ to this lost world
through the preaching, the
teaching and the example of Jesus
Christ in our lives. In order to do
this we need the numbers to help
us. We need a place for the
numbers/multitudes and this
requires tithes, offerings, building
funds and people support.
Standing with the vision of the
man of God. Time is growing short.
Souls need salvation. Our
commission is to win them to
Christ while we have the
opportunity to do so. Work while it
is still day for the night cometh
when no man can work. Build new
houses for the kingdom and watch
them come in. I have been a
Christian for 60 years, won many, many to Christ and my
heart is thrilled with the number of
souls I see coming to know Christ
as their King, Lord and their
Savior. To God be the glory. Amen
[…] What Every Pastor Should Know about Church Growth […]
Nice article. What I will love to add is that the Church is mandated to grow both in numbers by getting as many converts as possible and then turning as many of these converts into people who have faith in God and other people I.e. believe unconditionally that God and others love them so that they can faithfully love (AGAPE) God and others as they should. Otherwise the numbers will beat us. If you are not busy trying to feed your growing population someone else will..
Converts who don’t make converts aren’t really converts: they’re just church members. I don’t think the world needs more church members; what we need is more sold-out disciples of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for this write up Bill. I was really blessed. I started a church here in Canada that grew rapidly from one family (mine) to 44 families represented in 8 years and then it suddenly plateaued. We are trusting God to see fresh momentum again and it will only happen as it happened before which is through prayer and intentionality…period!
I agree that it’s about numbers in a real sense of the term. In Genesis we are told tells “be fruitful and MULTIPLY” Jesus came and said “MAKE Disciples”, He emphasized fruit. Rather than think mega church how about thinking growth by bring fruitful? It was no accident that Jesus went from 12 to 72 to 120, 500 and then 3000 plus.
If we grow deep we will grow wide inevitably today tomorrow or at some point. That’s His will and that’s what pleases Him, many more becoming like Jesus.
Thanks once again
Shepherds don’t make sheep; sheep make sheep.