One of the most common concerns of Pastors is church-goers is church growth If a Sunday worship service is smaller than usual. Most likely the pastor will hear about it from well-meaning members. A typical pastor will already be aware and be concerned, at least if the problem has been consistent for several weeks or months. Typically, the pastor will hear a slew of reasons and excuses for why the membership is lacking. Many of them will be common among the memberships. To help Pastor recognize the fundamental cause of church growth, we’ve included a list of myths, the truth behind them and the real reasons for church growth.
CONGREGATION GROWTH IN CHURCH AREAS
This is a two-part myth. The first being that having multiple churches in the same radius affects church growth across the board equally. This is most certainly not true. Location is often not an issue for committed church members. Personally, I have known church members willing to drive half an hour to an hour to a church that they absolutely love. If people recognize your church moving, they will be willing to come. The distance and the location do not matter, what you are achieving is more significant.
The second part of the myth includes the population. It is a given, especially in the Bible Belt of America, that every county will have two-three churches at most. It’s standard in small towns and small cities to see churches on every corner. So what happens when new people join a community? They choose one of the churches. They might attend other church events and support each other, but the people will effectively choose one church to become a member of and that church might not be yours. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may just mean the person or people aren’t a good connection for your congregation. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong in a church.
When you’re faced with these types of comments from your church members, politely remind them that ministering to your local population is not a guarantee that they will join your church, only that you will build a connection that may inspire them to join a church and that, in the end, is the goal.
MOST PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ATTENDING CHURCH FOR YEARS.
One-third of worshipers are new in the last five years; in fast-growing churches one-half are new. The small town of 4,000 people, Midway, North Carolina has seen three new churches established in our community in the past year and all have experienced instant growth in the past year with a younger generation taking the lead. This means people have been attending these churches for less than a year.
In fact, it is relatively standard to recognize churches undergo a period of changing memberships every year. Perhaps some older members have passed away, and new faces are helping out. Perhaps older members have left, and new members are coming in or coming back. The fact is that time changes. Faces come and go.
When faced with these comments, remind your church of the statistics that prove otherwise. Remind them that revolving memberships are expected and okay.
MOST NEW PEOPLE ARE NEW TO FAITH.
Most new people attending their congregation for five years or less have changed congregations within the same denomination (transfers: 57%). Only 7% are new first-timers to faith. A few (18%) are returnees who used to attend worship but recently have not been involved, and 18% are switchers who changed denominations.
Some are those who have had connections to the faith through being ministered to by attending an event or meeting someone who has shared the message. Some have studied the faith at a distance as a non-believer. The truth is, having someone who is completely, one hundred percent new to the faith is rare in most churches.
Again, when faced with the facts it’s okay to remind church members of statistics and that the strength of new member’s faith is not what’s most important.
MOST NEW VISITORS HAVE NEVER BEEN TO CHURCH.
This one correlates with myth number 2. As stated above, most first time visitors are typically transferring from another church. Not to mention we now live in the age of technology. The chances are that you are online. Your sermons are online and your mission statement is online. If someone is stepping through your doors, it is most likely because they have found you online and you can bet they have been interacting with your content for at least a week, perhaps even more.
Now, with the world of podcasts ever-growing, it makes it easy to experience other church environments long before you ever intend reaching them. Even typically traditional churches are finding their place online. When faced with this argument, remind your church that many people are seeking out churches regardless of whether or not they have ever been to church before.
IF YOU’RE NOT GROWING, SOMETHING’S WRONG
Remember that in the old testament, the prophets followed the commands of God. They rarely saw a growth in the church and often faced persecution due to their claims and proclamations. Perhaps, instead, this is a time of rest. Even churches need periods to regroup, relax, plan for the next steps of the mission field. Perhaps God is asking you to sit down and evaluate your mission and ministry-do the two align? Or maybe ask whether or not your congregation can hold more growth? If not, maybe this is the time to seek ways to prepare for new growth instead of creating it.
THE MORE YOU GROW, THE HEALTHIER YOU ARE.
It’s so easy to see the massive, stadium-sized churches that always seem to be able to raise enough money, complete enough missions and think “Wow! They’ve really got this Christian thing down.” However, if the book of Revelation and the entire New Testament tells us anything, it is large numbers are no more an indicator of spiritualism than wealth is an indicator of wisdom. You can still be wealthy and be a fool.
In fact, the churches of Revelation and the New Testament were growing, and large in number, but they were scolded daily because they did not follow the teachings of Biblical instructions. This tells us our constant reminder: it isn’t what you have, or how much you have on Earth, but what is in your heart that matters most. Revelation 3:15-16 says “ I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
IF YOU OPEN THE DOOR, PEOPLE WILL COME.
I have seen this with a multitude of churches. They open the doors on Sunday long enough to host a sermon and Sunday School. Maybe a meal on a special occasion. Then nothing else. If they do a ministry project, it’s from the safety of their pew, donating money or throwing donations in a box as they enter the service.
While this is fantastic and giving is recommended, you will not grow your church by having the doors open once or twice a week and nothing else. What are you doing that feeds the community? What do others see in you that inspire them to seek what you know? Have you ever seen a business that succeeded just from having its doors open? Churches operate the same way. People need to know you exist. People need to know you are alive. You care and you are available to them.
MODERNISM WILL SAVE YOUR CHURCH.
Of course, we live in the age of technology. Sermons are on television, and more recently, online. We can access modern worship music and Biblical lectures via the internet. On top of this, the war between traditional churches and modern churches has been raging since technology entered our lives. We are now seeing churches who incorporate coffee times, breakfast meals,in-church cafes, electronic Bibles and more into the church. Does this make a difference?
Not really. Modernism doesn’t make the church better, it simply makes church easier. The people make the church better. The church can have the latest and greatest music, the best band and online donations, but if the heart of the people isn’t focused on God, on love, and on honesty, people will recognize the truth and memberships will bounce like a gas tank hand on empty. People may come, but they will not stay. People who are seeking honest worship don’t need the modernistic touches in church. They are simply an added bonus to the worship service.
Some of the best worship services have been in a bland, empty room with a group of friends and a guitar.
WHAT WORKS THERE WON’T WORK HERE.
There’s a common problem among smaller churches: many don’t have large youth or children. In fact, I’ve seen churches that don’t have any children at all. What do they do? They cancel children’s services, Sunday school, and children’s events. They focus more on the people who are IN the church rather than reaching the people outside of the church.
They look at another church that’s growing and see things like special services for children. Sunday night youth services and think “Well we don’t have a youth, so that wouldn’t work.” The point here is one similar to many mentioned above, it isn’t what you don’t have. It’s how you use what you do have. Don’t look at other churches as a carbon copy of yours. Don’t have youth? Why not throw a pizza party for the local youth sports team? Sponsor local learning camps for youth outside of the church.
Look at other churches for inspiration, but don’t rely on them for blueprints. Find out how to take what they are doing and make them useful to your church.
HAVING A CHURCH BUILDING IS IMPORTANT.
Sure, having somewhere to worship is very important to a church. But remember the old saying “The church is the people”? This isn’t a lie. In fact, it’s statistically proven that most churches starting out in schools or shopping centers are likely to see growth than churches with traditional settings of a sanctuary and steeple.
Churches are also held in homes, apartments and conference rooms at colleges. The building does not determine the Holiness of a congregation, the heart and faith of people determine what and where a church exists. Barns, schoolyards, convenient stores, and old apartment buildings are made for churches, just as much as a building with a steeple bell.
CHURCH GROWTH IS THE DISCIPLE MAKING.
New members are great. Seeing an intake of new believers eager to learn about God is fantastic, but isn’t the church. The disciple making isn’t about the number of disciples you’re teaching, it’s about making sure each disciple is properly educated and motivated to continue the mission of the church. If you teach one person and inspire them to become a disciple, you will complete the mission of God. It would be more imperative to focus on the quality of your teachings, rather than the number of people you teach.
THE TRUTH ABOUT CHURCH GROWTH.
Just like with any organization, there is a lot of false doctrines when it comes to church growth. The truth is, church growth isn’t always what’s best for your church at the time or the most important factor of mission work. Instead, make sure to remind your committed church members that being small is okay. Remind them instead, to always stay focused on the ministry and making disciples. After all, some of the biggest church leaders of the Bible rarely saw church growth when they were doing things the right away.
If church growth is that important to you, take the break or lull between new members to evaluate your church's mission and how connected the church is to that mission and find ways to re-establish the connection among the community. Make sure you emphasize the things that are important to ministry-Biblical teaching, ministry, and discipleship.