Every pastor at some time or another has asked this question: what stops a church from growing?
Whether the church is 25, 525 or 2025, pastors ask this question.
Whether the church is a brand new plant, 15 years old or into its 5th generation of members, pastors ask this question.
Whether the church is in a remote regional town, a bustling thriving city or small village in a developing country, pastors ask this question.
Whether the church is staff led, elder led or congregationally governed, pastors ask this question.
Regardless of their ethnicity, age, culture or experience pastors will invariably compare their church and its growth (or lack thereof) with another church in town and ask, why doesn’t my church grow like that church?
Now, my focus in church leadership, consulting and coaching is never church growth.
It’s church health.
I consider church growth to be an outcome rather than an objective.
So for me it’s really the wrong question.
However, given the fact that pastors ask this question let me try to answer it by considering what factors limit church growth.
What Stops A Church From Growing?
If you are in regional town that is experiencing an economic downturn or declining in numbers then it is going to be hard to grow your church. In contrast, if you are in an area that is experiencing a boom in population growth then you’re more likely to grow your church. In my mind location is a key factor.
When the culture of the church is vastly different to the culture of the region then growth is not easy. For instance, if your car park is filled with Audi’s, Mercedes and BMW’s and the neighbouring garages are filled with 19 year old Hyundai sedans you will experience a cultural disconnect and growth will not be easy. If you’re in a young family’s suburb and your target audience are hipster young adults then your church’s growth will be limited.
Energy of the pastor
If the pastor is weary and exhausted then achieving growth can be difficult. Now every pastor feels tired almost every week so I’m not talking about regulation tiredness but accumulated fatigue.
Pastors can experience this because of ongoing relational conflicts, lack of personal boundaries, poor management of days off and holidays, ill health and a lack of positive addictions that reenergize a leader.
When a pastor lacks energy the focus must be on restoring their energy before you focus on church growth.
Barriers to involvement in serving and small groups
When new people find it difficult to get into a small group or serve they tend to leave a church.
A pastor in an Australian mega church told me that 93% of their new people leave within one year if they do not join a small group or start serving.
Broken pathway for visitors
Churches that ignore or neglect visitors rarely enjoy sustained growth. I’m continually surprised by how little attention churches pay to their visitors.
This neglect generally begins at their digital doorway, the church website, and continues in the poor hospitality shown to guests. And don’t get me started on polystyrene cups and instant coffee!
A key to connecting with visitors is getting their contact details.
If you don’t get their details you have no way to follow them up with a phone call and postcard, let alone seek to help them.
A church visitor connect card is a simple and essential tool in growing your church.
Country club churches that focus on the needs of members rarely enjoy growth.
The narcissistic nature of an inward church discourages healthy connection with outsiders and inhibits growth.
There’s an X factor in church growth that no one can figure out. I rest easy in the truth that it is our sovereign God who ultimately determines the growth of a church.
I think there are occasions when He blows the lid off a church and exponentially grows it regardless of their strategies or programs.
I also think there are times that in His mercy God limits the growth of an unhealthy church.
Generally I think that God places the right leaders in the right situation for the right amount of growth and our responsibility is to maximize our calling in response to Christ.
My bottom line
You could be in the right location with massive energy, connecting with your culture through your outward focus and have strong pathways for visitors, small groups and serving and still not grow.
I truly believe that churches are designed to grow to their optimum size.
Your church has an optimum size.
Working with these next steps will help you determine what that is your optimum size
What are your next steps?
1. Answer these questions
Who am I? What’s my assignment in Christ?
Where do I live? What’s my context? What are the opportunities or limitations connected with my location?
Do I have the energy to increase my capacity?
Answering these questions requires you to think sanely and honestly about yourself and the call Christ has given specifically to you.
2. Get outside perspective
I have people in my world who give me perspective. Real live, in the flesh, people like my good friend Rod Waters who help me see life from different angles.
I’ve also engaged mentors and coaches over the years who have stretched and developed me.
Ask some of your good, trustworthy friends for their perspective.
3. What’s one thing you can shift today?
What one action could you take today to remove any potential hindrances to you obtaining your optimum size?
So there you have it.
My incomplete and generally unsatisfactory list!
I wish I could post an actionable list that would guarantee growth for your church but I’d be lying. It would ultimately frustrate you.
And that’s probably why I tend to focus on health and not growth.