There was one thing I never enjoyed as I strived to grow a healthy church.
The Great Cull.
Every few months we would prune our church’s database, culling people who left and adding new people.
I never enjoyed those moments when the numbers would go down.
Let’s face it every pastor hankers for growth in their church.
We want to see our church thrive in following Jesus while also growing numerically.
I discovered church growth was a poor goal. It’s a target that would wound me rather than help me.
Church growth is a good focus, but it can become a Frankenstein that devours you.
Church health was a less elusive goal and more likely to produce sustainable joy.
Our ministry name, Grow a Healthy Church, sums up how I approach church leadership.
In this post, I want to share my 14 key ways to grow a healthy church.
1. Jesus is THE Reason
The number one reason I serve in ministry is Jesus.
When I was a burnt-out, depressed 19-year-old I came to Christ. He gave me peace as His salvation transformed me from the inside out.
Hopelessness left and hope arrived. Unbelief turned into faith. The darkness was overcome by light.
I doubt I would be alive if Jesus had not intervened.
In ministry, I am motivated by a love for Jesus and gratitude for all He has done in my life. His call was apparent in those early days of salvation and I pursued it by going to Faith Bible College.
The season in bible college confirmed my passion to serve the Lord as a pastor.
The call resonated within me over the next 8 years as I waited to fulfil my dream.
After nearly 40 years in ministry, I can testify to the faithfulness of Jesus. His sovereign ability to equip and stand with us through every season has only increased my passion for His people and cause.
2. Grow a Healthy Church = Your Focus
Your primary focus should be to grow a healthy church, not just growing a church.
The church growth approach fixates on the number of people in your active database, membership list or whatever you call it.
Here is what I have discovered over 40 years of ministry:
- You can be small and not growing and be healthy. In fact small churches have genuine advantages.
- You can be large, growing, and unhealthy
- A church of 100 can be healthier than a church of 1000.
- Focussing on health positions churches for the growth Jesus gives
Here is an axiom I created.
Healthy churches grow to their optimum size
This optimum size is determined by a range of factors including demographics, leadership capacity, community connections and so on.
The saying, ‘healthy churches grow’ is not true.
When church leaders hear ‘healthy churches grow’ they think,
‘My church is not growing, so it must be unhealthy’ and then ‘I must be a second-rate pastor. Perhaps I should quit.”
The truth is unhealthy churches grow. I have seen this with my own eyes.
It’s also true healthy churches can stop growing.
Of course, you can’t just do nothing when your church is stalled. There are key things you can do when your church stops growing.
Here is another axiom I created:
Churches are like T-shirts, we need all sizes. We need micro, small, medium, large and mega-churches. All have a place and role to fulfil in Christ’s Kingdom.
Pastoring a small church is completely different to leading a large regional church. The skills and mindset are vastly different and require a different approach from the pastor and key leaders.
It is important for pastors and church leaders to grasp this difference and understand the impact of a church’s size upon the leadership dynamics.
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3. Healthy Pastors Make For Healthy Churches
I have been in pastoral ministry for close to 40 years.
10 years as a team pastor in our church, C3 Church Hepburn Heights. I was a youth pastor, small groups pastor and so on.
20 years as Senior Pastor of our church.
And over 9 years as a church consultant and coach.
As well as the usual pastoral pressures I have survived depression and cancer although interestingly enough I have never suffered burnout.
What has helped me survive?
I think there are a few key reasons why I have survived and never quit the ministry.
First and foremost is my walk with Jesus. I have never left the place of devotional prayer and bible reading.
Secondly, my wife Dianne has supported and strengthened me through many valleys of despair.
And thirdly, my friends have stood with me, consoling and cajoling me as I needed.
I have written at length about the 11 Genuine Reasons I Have Never Quit Ministry.
You will traverse through different seasons as a church leader. There will be times of immense joy and momentum and conversely there will be moments of deep pain and adversity.
As Paul writes,
We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Cor 4:8–9
The Call to Ministry
My good friend Rob Buckingham has also written at length about the reason he has continued to follow the call. 10 Reasons Why One Australian Pastor Continues To Walk In His Call To Pastoral Ministry.
Rob’s number one reason is the deep sense of the call of God to ministry.
I think pastors must carry a conviction and an ongoing awareness of what Jesus has called them to do. This conviction stabilized me at rocky times when I could have been shipwrecked through my own folly and unwillingness to bear the pain.
An abiding call to ministry remains a key component of my sustainability in ministry.
A significant heart challenge that pastors face is the comparison trap.
It is human to compare our life and fruit with another leader.
Comparison can be helpful in inspiring us to greater heights and learning from others how they approach innovation and problem-solving.
However, it can prove detrimental to our well-being when we focus on comparison especially when we feel threatened by another church’s success. I wrote about this at length when Hillsong launched in our city.
I knew pastors would be feeling a raft of emotions when Hillsong announced its arrival.
One of those emotions was panic. Will people leave my church? Will I survive Hillsong coming to my neighbourhood?
4. Healthy Pastors Prioritize Leadership
Ministry builds people.
Leadership builds churches.
It is vital to understand the difference between leadership and ministry.
Dr Ian Jagelman has helped me to understand the difference between ministry and leadership.
Ministry builds people. Leadership builds churches.Dr Ian Jagelman
Ministry is a range of things.
It can be counselling, praying with people, or leading a small group discussion. Greeting people on the door at church, or leading worship as a singer or musician are ministry tasks.
Visiting a sick person, preaching, leading someone to Christ, running meetings, or hospitality all fall into this category.
It heals, builds and equips people to walk with Jesus.
Ministry is different to leadership.
Leadership involves mentoring leaders, emerging and established ones as well.
Leadership involves …
- Creating and casting vision
- Forward planning
- Thinking about the future
- Evaluating current programs and strategies for their effectiveness
- Articulating Christ honouring values
- Selecting the right personnel for key roles in the church
- Solving crucial problems
- Coaching emerging leaders recruiting new volunteers
- Strategic thinking
These are all priorities of leadership, and it is important to live in alignment with your leadership priorities.
The Lord uses a variety of processes to develop our leadership skills and mindset. The making of a leader is undoubtedly a lifetime journey.
5. Productive Pastors Get Results
We can all get better at what we do.
One key way I have improved my productivity is how I organize my work.
I Love Trello
Trello helps me stay focused and outlines the key steps to achieving my objectives.
My annual goals are based on my key activities.
I set up Trello Boards for each of my key activities and structure these boards to reflect my focal points.
For instance up, the Hub is one of the major focal points of my ministry.
In my Trello Board for the Hub, I have lists for Content Creation, Training and Marketing.
In each list, I prioritize the tasks in an appropriate order.
My next step is to move each task into a Primary Trello board which contains my focal points for the coming weeks.
Basically, each task moves up the chain until is completed and then archived.
I find this pathway keeps me focussed on my main endeavours and gives me a sense of control over my focus and output.
I’ve designed this system to suit my style and personality. If it suits you, try it. If not, keep refining your own system until you’re happy with it.
I know some people prefer using emails, calendar items or paper lists to get things done.
I prefer a system that is linked to my overall purpose while reminding me of my primary objectives with Grow a Healthy Church.
Technology improves my productivity
Here are a bundle of apps I use to power up my world, How To Increase Your Personal Productivity With 12 Apps I Love.
It’s vital to structure your week for maximum productivity. I’ve outlined How I Structured My Week for Maximum Effectiveness in this post, and it does make a difference to your effectiveness.
6. Personal Growth is Never Optional
Personal growth is not optional for any pastor who wants to thrive in ministry and grow a healthy church.
As Paul said, take heed to yourself.
Constant and steady improvement should be our aim as people who want to honour Christ with our skills and attitudes.
We should learn how to increase our capacity and become more productive over the years.
An excellent way to develop your capacity in ministry and leadership is by learning to become an intentionally reflective leader.
Reflection skills can be enhanced, and it is important to understand why reflection questions for leaders are a good idea.
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Another intentional way to grow is to connect with those who have walked the path we are currently walking.
One of my life habits has been to observe people 10-15 years older than me. I consider their patterns of life and emulate their attitude and actions.
My good friend Rod Waters did this uniquely when I asked him to give life-changing advice to his 35-year-old self.
I also wrote myself a Dear John letter to my younger self.
Many pastors have honed their skills by working in the ‘second chair’ as a pastor on a team.
My pastor, Frank Hultgren, gave me countless opportunities to grow in ministry and leadership. He nurtured my gifts and corrected me when I got it wrong.
These formative years increased resilience, corrected attitudes, and refined ministry skills.
I was team pastor in our church for 10 years, serving in youth ministry and then small groups and pastoral care. I was a fervent young leader with lots of daring ideas about church life.
This season of service prepared me for future ministry opportunities. It grounded me in an apprenticeship role with a pastor who shaped me through love and the occasional, well-earned rebuke.
Jesus is working in our lives for an ultimate purpose. As we traverse through these seasons of personal growth, we discover an eye-opening helicopter view of the making of a pastor and leader.
7. You Will Never Grow Without Visitors
Here is a foundational truth about church growth: your church will never grow without visitors.
Without visitors, your church will stall.
Decline will occur without visitors.
Dying churches have no visitors.
Unhealthy churches fixate on themselves.
Unhealthy churches fixate on growth.
A visitor focus is a healthy focus.
Healthy churches have an outward focus manifest in their care of visitors and attentiveness to their needs.
You can grow a healthy church when you start talking about connecting with and assimilating visitors.
Visitors don’t return for a second visit when churches neglect hospitality and don’t create a welcoming environment for newcomers.
Church visitor cards play an important role in obtaining visitors’ contact details.
Without these details, you have no way of following up with your visitors. You can’t influence their decision to return for the crucial second visit.
I find it surprising churches don’t intentionally use church visitor cards to engage with their visitors.
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8. Increase Your Financial Intelligence
Pastors need a level of financial intelligence to grow a healthy church.
They need to be familiar with budgets, financial reports, and policies. They should understand how to raise money and spend it wisely. An awareness of investments can help a pastor with their church and personal assets.
I once consulted with a church that gave no thought to a budget.
They just hit repeat every year. There was no room for innovation, very little faith and a lack of focus by the leadership.
Every church needs to establish a vision centred church budget.
A vision centred church budget developed by your team achieves several things:
- Clarify your allocation of resources
- Plan programs and ministries
- Helps set faith goals for income
- Spreads the burden of raising and allocating finances
- Allocates resources to your priorities
- Prevents you from just hitting to repeat last year’s program
A church can have an intentional approach to raising money once a budget is set.
Giving and Thank You Web Pages Templates
Thank You Email Template
While some pastors may avoid preaching on money, healthy leaders understand the need to disciple their church members on financial matters.
Policies and procedures
Sound financial policies and procedures prevent fraud, reduces inefficiency and uncertainty in your decision-making.
A policy is a decision you’ve already made.
You need procedures and policies for:
- Financial reports
- Receiving offerings including cash
- Expenditure limits
- Salaries. Strange things happen when these words collide: pastor salary.
Policies protect the church and help you grow a healthy church.
Policies and procedures protect the church and make it more effective and efficient. They are an essential element of current best practices which churches should operate within their financial procedures.
9. Effective Sunday Services
Effective discipleship happens in churches when people sit in rows and circles.
As people sit in rows they worship together, hear the Word preached, partake of communion and connect with their church family.
Your Sunday service will always be a central aspect of the life of your church.
Therefore, it is important to assess the Sunday service and to avoid services that lack punch and don’t achieve the mission of your church.
It should contain the primary elements of worship and the preaching of God’s Word.
Preaching is a central component of your service. Observing experienced preachers is one way to improve your preaching. I will never forget the 7 things I learnt watching TD Jakes preach at a conference.
Want to boost your preaching? Grab my book, Preaching in a Whatver World.
Boost your preaching with 5 templates for expositional, topical and first person narratives
Your Sunday service gives you an opportunity to pastor your flock through appropriate announcements and special events like baby dedications and the like.
Sunday services are the main doorway into your church. Therefore, you should be visitor aware and ensure visitors are warmly welcomed without being suffocated with care.
Use church visitor cards to engage with their visitors. This will help you connect with them and get them returning for a second visit.
Online church became central to our endeavours during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pastors pivoted to provide an online service that didn’t look like an Al-Qaeda hostage video and overcome their frustrations with the technology.
Measuring ‘success’ in the online church environment remains a challenge that pastors have to navigate.
10. Build a Leadership Pipeline
Building a leadership pipeline is crucial for growing a healthy church.
Through clear and defined leadership, you will build a healthy pipeline that will develop leaders and volunteers in the life of your church.
It is vital to have a clear and simple pathway to recruit new people into your volunteer roles. My church volunteer recruitment ideas will boost your volunteer numbers and help you sustain momentum in your leadership pipeline.
Once you have signed up new volunteers you need to induct them into their role simply and easily. It is important to create a volunteer onboarding process that helps the new volunteer settle quickly into their role with confidence and ease.
One way I often recommend to pastors wanting to develop leaders is to lead an emerging leaders’ group. I have seen this proven method to develop emerging leaders produce fruit time and again in a variety of situations.
This is a simple way to produce leaders over the years.
Want more on building a leadership pipeline? Grab my book 27 Ways to Build a Leadership Pipeline.
Turn Volunteers into Staff Members
One of the most exciting days in a pastor’s life is when a volunteer starts their journey as a staff member.
I remember my first day as a youth director in our church.
My first day was the beginning of many years in ministry and is still vividly in my mind. The excitement and anticipation of all the good things to come in ministry.
I grew through various roles as a youth pastor, small groups’ director, pastoral care guy and so on. These were formative days in my ministry journey and helped me discover how to be a successful support leader.
I eventually became the senior pastor of our church. A key aspect of my role was leading and managing our staff.
Our staff gave me immense joy and to be honest the occasional heartache. When you have a staff, it is vital to know how to get the best out of your church staff. When your team works well, you will grow a healthy church.
11. Boost your Small Groups
Small groups are essential in growing a healthy church.
People build strong connections in these groups, and it is a major way to close the back door of your church.
Discipleship ramps up to another level in your small groups as people pray for each other, discuss Scripture together and care for one another.
One of the best ways to amplify personal development and discipleship in a small group is to give everyone a task or role.
If I were running a small group I would have greeters at the door, car park attendants, hospitality folks, and pastoral carers.
I would ensure everyone had a role and a part to play. This increases ownership of the group and bolsters commitment and attendance.
Churches need rows and circles.
Effective small groups are built through hard work, focus and ongoing attention. There are surefire ways to prevent failing small groups and one key is to ensure they are front and centre for the pastor.
Although pastors can delegate the logistics of small groups, they cannot delegate the vision casting of small groups.
Healthy pastors weave small group stories into their sermons, social media posts, and conversations.
Unhealthy pastors neglect to feature their small groups in their day-to-day connections with members.
Looking for more ideas? Even Rick Warren would be impressed with these church small group ideas.
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12. A Serving Church is a Healthy Church
A central element of church health and discipleship is serving.
When people serve, they build stronger relationships in the community of faith and within those relationships, they can grow in Christ.
Serving demands sacrifice and this aids discipleship as people use their gifts to serve Christ and His body.
Every church should have a clear pathway to service. It is vital to know how to recruit volunteers in your church.
It is important to develop a volunteer onboarding process that helps people slot into their place of service with ease. This process empowers new servers and enhances team unity.
Successful support leaders add strength to a church and help develop a leadership pipeline.
Your leadership pipeline is boosted by working with emerging leaders.
During my decades of pastoring, I built a simple yet powerful method to develop emerging leaders. This straightforward approach helped me to grow leaders. It is replicable and scalable.
Building a united and committed staff is essential when you want to grow a healthy church.
This requires upskilling in supervision and coaching of staff including the ability to delegate and handle awkward conversations.
Pastors didn’t answer the call to the ministry to run staff meetings. However, they soon discover effective staff make an immense difference to a church. Pastors realize they need to get the best out of their staff.
This requires upskilling in your people management.
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13. A Successful Succession Builds Your Legacy
Pastoral succession is a topic often avoided by churches because of the complex challenges it presents.
These challenges can be even more substantial when a long-term pastor leaves a church.
Evasion and inaction are too often the order of the day as organizations grapple with this often-thorny issue.
However, any church which faces the necessity of succession with proactive steps and appropriate attitudes will ultimately enjoy the benefits of their diligence.
A key initial step in achieving an effective succession is the development of a comprehensive and purposeful plan.
Remarkably, many churches possess no such plan, relying on a combination of bravado and wishful thinking in journeying to and through succession.
A church can move confidently through the main issues once a lucid plan is in place.
A succession plan will consist of four key phases.
The first phase is situation assessment which focuses on succession timing, the criteria for a successor and a preliminary list of candidates.
Engagement with the church’s key stakeholders including the board, outside vested interests, and senior staff is the second phase.
Searching for and selecting a successor is the third phase.
The fourth and final phase is the transition period when the succession is implemented.
Key players in the transition are the incoming and outgoing pastors. The outgoing pastor’s primary aim should be to leave the church in better shape than in what he found it.
I have written extensively on our succession process here.
14. What Gets Measured Gets Managed
Numbers are not the sum of church health, however, they do play an important role in ascertaining health and vitality.
There are pastors who fixate on the numbers and ride the roller coaster of numbers as they inevitably go up and down.
Other pastors avoid all numbers preferring to focus on the qualitative data. They don’t pay attention to key data points and there are simple things unhealthy churches never measure.
I think the middle path between these two options is the healthier one. Let us consider some key metrics in a church.
Sunday service attendance ratios of adults, high school youth, and children can help assess the health of a church.
Small Group Involvement
Churches larger than 100 should aim to have over 50 % of their adults connected to a small group.
In small churches, the percentage of adults involved in serving should be over 80%.
The aim should be over 65% in medium size churches.
Due to several factors, this ratio will drop in larger churches.
Coming to Faith
There 3 distinct ways to measure the decisions of people coming to faith:
- First-time – first step in their journey
- Rededication – return to faith
- Refresh – seeking assurance
It is vital to know and measure the appropriate number of people being baptized each year.
A dearth of visitors is a clear sign of a declining church.
It is helpful to measure regular giving per household and secondary giving programs such as building, missions and special projects. Churches can increase their income substantially with targeted, secondary giving programs.
I outline the normative ranges of metrics for healthy churches in my detailed post How Do You Measure The Health Of A Church?
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Church Leadership is Complex
These 14 key elements may seem overwhelming. Church leadership is challenging and complex today. However, if you focus on these best practices you will grow a healthy church.
May Jesus empower you with grace and His Spirit to build His church.