One of the primary concerns for pastors is the growth of their church. This is particularly true when the attendance at Sunday worship services is smaller than usual. It is highly likely that well-meaning members will bring this issue to the pastor’s attention. A conscientious pastor is usually already aware of the situation and genuinely concerned, especially if the problem has persisted for several weeks or months.
The pastor will often encounter a variety of explanations and justifications for the lack of membership. Many of these reasons will be commonly shared among the congregation. In order to assist pastors in identifying the root cause of church growth issues, we have compiled a list of myths, the truth behind them, and the actual reasons for growth in the ministry.
More Ministries Directly Affects Church Growth
This myth has two parts. First, there is a misconception that having multiple churches within the same area will uniformly impact the growth of all ministries. However, this is far from the truth. The proximity of other congregations is often not a significant concern for dedicated congregation members.
The Reality of Chruch Growth
In my personal experience, I have come across churchgoers who are willing to travel considerable distances, even up to an hour, to attend services they truly love. When people recognize the value your church offers, they are willing to make an effort to come. This is true regardless of the distance or location. What truly matters is the impact and fulfillment they experience.
The second aspect of this myth relates to population. It is a common occurrence, particularly in regions like the Bible Belt in America, to find two or three churches in every county. Small towns and cities often have ministries scattered throughout. When newcomers settle in a community, they choose between the congregations available to them.
What to Remember
They may engage with different churches for various events and support, but ultimately they select one congregation to become a member of. Unfortunately, that ministry may not be yours. This is not necessarily negative; it simply means that the individual or individuals may not be the right fit for your congregation. It does not imply that you are doing anything wrong as a church.
If congregants confront you with claims that the ministry is scaring off new members, it is important to politely remind them that reaching out to the local population does not guarantee their immediate membership. Rather, it aims to build a connection that may inspire them to join a church eventually. As the Bible tells us, bringing people to God is the ultimate goal — even if they seek him elsewhere.
Most People Have Been in Church for a While
Approximately one-third of worshipers have joined a ministry within the last five years. In rapidly growing churches, this number rises to one-half. In our small town of Midway, North Carolina, with a population of 4,000, we have witnessed the establishment of three new ministries in the past year. Remarkably, all of these ministries have experienced immediate growth, primarily driven by a younger generation assuming leadership roles.
This indicates that individuals have attended these churches for less than a year. In reality, it is pretty common for ministries to undergo a cycle of changing memberships on an annual basis. Some older members may have passed away, while new individuals step up to contribute. Others may have departed, while fresh faces join or return. The truth is that over time, changes occur naturally. People come and go.
When confronted with such concerns, it is crucial to remind your church of the statistical evidence that contradicts these worries. Emphasize that fluctuating memberships are to be expected and are perfectly normal.
Most New Members Are New to Faith
In the first five years, a majority of new attendees in a congregation (57%) have actually switched churches within the same denomination. Only a small percentage (7%) are newcomers to the faith, while 18% are returnees and another 18% are switchers from different denominations.
Some individuals establish connections to the faith through events or meeting others who share the message. Others learn about the faith as non-believers from a distance. It is rare to find someone completely new to the faith in most churches.
When faced with these facts, it is important to remind congregants that statistics show changing memberships is common and that the strength of newcomers’ faith is not the primary focus.
Most New Visitors Have Never Been to Church
This misconception is closely related to a myth we’ve discussed above. As mentioned earlier, the majority of first-time visitors are often individuals who have transferred from another church. Moreover, in today’s technological era, it is highly likely that you have an online presence. Your sermons and mission statement can be found online.
When someone walks through your doors, it is probable that they discovered you online and have likely been engaging with your content for at least a week, if not longer. In addition, the proliferation of podcasts has made it convenient for people to explore different church environments long before they ever plan to physically attend.
Even traditionally oriented ministries are embracing the online platform. When confronted with this argument, remind your congregation that many individuals actively seek out ministries, regardless of whether or not they have prior experience attending church.
Something Is Wrong if You’re Not Growing
It is essential to remember that the prophets faithfully followed God’s commands in the Old Testament, even though they rarely witnessed significant growth in the church. They often faced persecution for their claims and proclamations. Perhaps this could be a time for rest instead of focusing on growth.
Even houses of worship require periods to regroup, recharge, and plan for the next steps in their mission field. It is possible that God is urging you to take a moment to evaluate your mission and ministry. Do they align? You could also consider whether your congregation has the capacity to accommodate further growth.
If not, it may be the right time to explore ways to prepare for future growth rather than forcing it to happen.
Church Growth Always Means Health
Large, stadium-sized churches may appear impressive in their ability to raise funds and carry out missions. This give the impression that they have mastered Christianity. However, the book of Revelation and the New Testament teaches us that numerical size is not an indicator of spirituality, just as wealth does not guarantee wisdom.
Even though the churches in Revelation and the New Testament were numerous and growing, they were chastised for not adhering to biblical teachings. This serves as a constant reminder that what truly matters is not earthly possessions or achievements, but the state of one’s heart.
As Revelation 3:15-16 warns, being lukewarm invites rejection: “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.”
Just Having an Open Door Is Enough
I have observed this pattern in numerous churches. They open their doors on Sundays for a sermon and Sunday School, perhaps organizing a meal on special occasions, but then remain inactive the rest of the time. Even if they engage in a ministry project, it often happens within the confines of their pews, through monetary donations or placing offerings in a box as they enter the service.
While generosity and giving are commendable, merely opening the doors once or twice a week will not foster church growth. What are you doing to serve and nourish the community? What sets you apart and inspires others to seek the knowledge you possess? After all, have you ever witnessed a business succeed solely by having its doors open?
Ministries operate in a similar manner. People need to be aware of your existence. They need to see your vitality and feel your genuine care and availability.
Modernism Will Lead to Church Growth
Indeed, we currently reside in the age of technology, where sermons are broadcasted on television and, more recently, available online. The advent of technology has sparked a war between traditional and modern churches. We witness ministries incorporating coffee times, breakfast meals, in-church cafes, electronic Bibles, and more. But does this truly make a difference?
Not really. Modernism doesn’t inherently improve congregations; it simply makes ministry activities more convenient. What truly enhances the church is the people within it. Regardless of the latest music, skilled bands, and online donations, if the hearts of your members aren’t focused on God, love, and honesty — the truth will be evident, and memberships will fluctuate like an empty gas tank.
People may initially attend, but they won’t stay. Those seeking authentic worship aren’t solely drawn to modernistic embellishments; they are an added bonus to the worship service. Some of the most profound worship experiences have occurred in plain, unadorned rooms with a circle of friends and a guitar.
Assuming Certain Things Won’t Work at Your Church
Smaller churches often face a common challenge: a lack of youth or children. Some may not have any children at all. In response, they might cancel children’s services, Sunday school, and children’s events, focusing primarily on the existing congregants instead of reaching out to those outside the ministry.
When they observe another growing ministry with specialized services for children or Sunday night youth programs, they may dismiss those ideas, thinking they wouldn’t work without a youth group. However, the key message here, similar to the points mentioned earlier, is not about what you lack but how you utilize what you have.
Rather than viewing other churches as carbon copies of your own, seek inspiration from them while adapting their ideas to suit your ministry’s context. Don’t have a youth group? Consider hosting a pizza party for the local youth sports team or sponsoring learning camps for young people in the community.
Look to other churches for inspiration, but craft your own unique blueprint by harnessing their ideas and tailoring them to fit the needs and capabilities of your congregation.
Having a Dedicated Building Is Essential
While having a place to worship is undeniably important for a congregation, it’s crucial to remember the timeless saying, “The church is the people.” This statement holds true, and statistical evidence supports the notion that congregations starting out in schools or shopping centers are more likely to experience growth than those in traditional settings with sanctuaries and steeples.
Churches can thrive in various locations. These include homes, apartments, college conference rooms, barns, and schoolyards. We’ve even seen them in repurposed convenience stores and old apartment buildings! The holiness of a congregation is not determined by the physical building. Rather, it’s the hearts and faith of its people that are important. It doesn’t matter whether a church has a steeple. What truly matters is the presence of a dedicated community gathering to worship and serve together.
Church Growth Leads to Disciple Making
While new members are undoubtedly valuable to a congregation, they do not solely define the essence of the ministry. The essence lies in disciple-making, ensuring that each disciple is effectively educated and motivated to carry out the mission of the church. The focus should not be on the quantity of disciples being taught, but rather on the quality of their education and the level of inspiration they receive to become true disciples.
Even if you teach and inspire just one person to become a disciple, you have fulfilled the mission of God. Therefore, it is more crucial to prioritize the quality of your teachings rather than solely focusing on the number of individuals you teach. By investing in the depth and impact of your teachings, you can have a profound and lasting influence on the lives of those who come under your guidance.
Here’s the Truth About Church Growth…
Similar to any organization, there are numerous misconceptions surrounding church growth. The truth is, growth in the ministry is not always the most immediate need for your congregation. Instead, it is vital to remind your dedicated members that being small is perfectly acceptable. Encourage them to remain focused on ministry and the task of making disciples. It’s worth noting that many influential leaders in the Bible did not experience rapid growth. This was true despite their adherence to the proper principles.
If church growth remains a priority for you, consider the period of stagnation or low growth as an opportunity to assess your ministry’s mission and its alignment with the community. Seek ways to strengthen the connection between your congregation and the local community. Emphasize the essential elements of ministry, such as biblical teaching, service, and discipleship. By staying true to these core values, your church can have a lasting impact, regardless of its size.