“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.