Why Some Churches Don’t Grow

why some churches don't grow 2

It’s not a perfect science. Increasing the impact and influence of a church can be very difficult. We all agree that numerical growth does not necessarily mean spiritual growth. But it is vital that churches around the world reach more people for Jesus. The church is God’s “Plan A” to reach the lost – and we are surrounded by lost people.

Here are 10 simple reasons why churches don’t grow. The list is not complete and these reasons are not written in stone. This is not an attack on pastors who lead plateaued churches. I simply wish to provide some discussion for churches and church leaders who hope to grow.

No passion for growth. Some churches stay the same because there is no desire to reach more people. Possibly there is a lack of awareness or maybe there is a disconnect with the surrounding culture. Many churches seem to be okay with the status quo. It’s business as usual. The tendency is to rely on our abilities more than we rely on God’s miracles. Spiritual lethargy sets in and corrodes a church. Churches that do not want to grow won’t. A lack of intensity will ensure that we stay stuck. We must pray until we receive the fervor; it takes passion to get “unstuck.”

No strategy for growth. It is rare to hear a pastor say that he doesn’t want the church to grow. But without intentionality, a church is not likely to grow. Even when specific strategies are followed, there is no guarantee of increase. But no plan will quickly lead to stagnation. Rather than thriving, our goal becomes to maintain and survive. Have you outlined your blueprint to grow your church?

Unwillingness to change. Some churches know what to do in order to reach more people but they are unwilling to make the necessary adjustments in order to do so. We do the same things the same way – because of tradition. The past is more important than the future; our rearview mirror is bigger than our windshield. This kind of ministry atrophy is especially difficult to overcome. Lack of change will result in lack of growth. Lack of growth will result in extinction.

Lack of “know how.” Don’t believe the “experts” who tell you that church growth is a matter of taking “these 3 easy steps.” You can do certain things that will gather a crowd but true church growth is much more complex and spiritual than simply amassing warm bodies. Many pastors and leaders would gladly do whatever it takes to grow. Many times, church is a matter of doing the right thing the right way long enough that the results finally come. If you don’t know what to do, keep trying. And find out what to do! Leaders must approach the acquisition of this kind of expertise as a life-long ambition.

Intimidation about culture. The world is becoming a scary place for Bible-believing churches. There is now a level of resistance and animosity that many of us have never experienced. It can be easy to see the church as a fortress that serves as a safe place from the evil world. Jesus did not establish His church to be a hiding place. The church is to be a force in our culture. Only the ministries that are confident enough to engage our culture will impact it. Be bold! God has given you the courage you need to overcome.

Fear of increased responsibility. Some leaders dread the responsibility that comes with more people. Let’s face it – fewer people = fewer problems. However, God did not call us to an easy task. While a larger church equates to more pressure and stress, the rewards are that more people find Christ and experience the joy of being His disciples.

Desire to control. There are a few (or many) control freaks who must hold the reigns on everything that happens in their organization. Growth means shared responsibility and authority. Unless a leader is confident and competent enough to share control, new people will be a very limited commodity. A pastor who is in charge of everything won’t be in charge of much. Please don’t limit the size of your ministry to only a few.

Misidentifying relevance as compromise. This one is touchy. Some churches do not grow because they mistakenly think that if they connect with culture, they are somehow being less than true to the Gospel. This simply is not true. Jesus is always pertinent. The Gospel cannot be irrelevant. The church can, however, make the Bible irrelevant. Our job is to stay true to the Scriptures but to preach them in a way that makes sense to the people who hear it. That is not compromise, it is effectiveness. It’s what Jesus did and that seemed to work pretty well.

Ministry schizophrenia. This is where a church gets its identity from other churches. Whatever the next big ministry bandwagon is, they are jumping on! I am all for successful ministry models and I believe that there are principles that apply across the board. But God does not wish to duplicate in every church what works in well-known churches. Be true to yourself and to your calling. Know what will work in your neighborhood, and do it. Know who God called you to be and whom He called you to reach.

A lack of missionality. Churches that exist for their own good are doomed to fail. Inwardly focused ministry is a major turnoff for people who do not go to church. Jesus came, not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28); the church must give itself to God and to the needs of the people He loves. We are on a mission from God; if we fulfill it, our churches will grow.

Here is the truth about church growth: churches that don’t grow will shrink and eventually die. In our post-Christian culture, church growth is getting more and more complicated. We need to pray and work like never before. It is possible that you can pray and work hard and your church may still not grow. But we do NOT want to be the reason our church doesn’t grow!

Let’s get on with the responsibility of reaching the world for Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20).

People-Growing (for church leaders)

People GrowingGod has called us into the most wonderful work in the world! Much of what we do can be compared to what a farmer does. He grows crops; we grow people. He reaps a harvest of grain or vegetables; we reap a crop of souls.

Like farmers, pastors must know the purpose of their work and we must be willing to do whatever it takes to produce disciples. Fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is not an option for today’s church leader!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be intentional. Discipleship and spiritual growth among your church members does not “just happen”. If there is not a specific plan, our church will not grow. Conducting church services is not enough. We must engage the people in an intentional and consistent plan of personal spiritual growth. There are many simple plans available; develop one or find one and get your church involved. What is your plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be willing to measure our success. Numbers aren’t everything but they do measure our progress. Attendance = real lives. If we are not reaching more people now than we were a few years ago, it is time for an adjustment. Refusal to deal with the bottom line (disciples being made) will lead to failure in the ministry. Go ahead and answer the question, “what do our numbers say about our discipleship process?” Are adjustments necessary? If so, what adjustments?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be skilled. The Bible instructs us to study to make ourselves approved unto God ((II Timothy 2:15). If we expect the people we lead to grow, we must also grow. I recommend that each of us read various authors on the topic of spiritual growth. We need to feed ourselves outside of the church services we lead. We must worship and pray and fast. It may also be beneficial to learn from others – consider a coach or mentor who can help to develop you as a leader. If we grow as leaders, those we lead will also grow.  What is your personal growth plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be diligent. James 5:7 says, “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” We cannot be in a hurry to grow people. It talks a lot of plowing and planting and watering and fertilizing. There are no shortcuts! But we cannot be satisfied if we have had no harvest for years. God works through seasons – when is our season to harvest people? It must be soon!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be aware of our accountability. We should be accountable to one another. We should be in cooperative relationships with those in our faith family. But we WILL give an account to the Lord for our productivity or lack thereof in the field of souls. The field belongs to God. The people are His. The Ministry is His. We don’t want to stand before Him empty handed. We certainly desire to stand before Him one day and hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant”! (Matthew 25:21).

apparently, it’s not harvest time

I heard a country song the other day by Luke Bryan called Harvest Time. The theme of the song is the hard work that farmers do this time of year. Everything else stops while these guys and gals work like crazy to gather whatever is in the field. The top priority is getting all the crops in. The bridge of the song says: At a quarter ’til 2 I kick off my boots in the laundry room. We’ll start it all over tomorrow at noon ’til it’s all done, until we’re all done.

Can you image a farmer who, at harvest time says, “who cares?”

My whole life, I have heard people in the church talk about harvest time – as a spiritual metaphor. The crops are the people who need Christ and we are supposed to be the “farmers” that bring them to Him. The idea comes from what Jesus said, “…wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” John 4:35 (NLT)

We sing the songs, hear the sermons and even name some of our churches something connected with the idea of “Harvest”.

Well, I’m not buying it. We don’t believe it. Most Christians I know do not believe that this is harvest time. We do not believe that our time to work for God is short or that there are a lot of people who need Jesus. In fact, it appears that there is very little urgency by most American Christians to gather any crops (souls) for God’s kingdom. If we believe it is harvest time, we would adopt Luke Bryan’s approach and work hard until the job is done. We would do whatever it takes to get the job done. As it is, we may as well be saying, “who cares?”.

I guess that’s why Jesus said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Luke 10:2 NLT) I am praying for laborers, but I want to do more laboring in the field.