Right now there are a lot of people making a lot of money telling churches how they can grow. Along the same lines, there are a lot of church boards and pastors wasting a lot of time discussing church growth strategy.
An observation. Have you noticed that churches that want to grow (100 to 1000 people) flock to churches that grew 10, 20, or 30 years ago but have since plateaued? It’s like asking Bill Gates, “How do you start a software company?” Bill wouldn’t have a clue! When he wants to start a software company he buys one! In the same way, asking a church of 10,000 how to grow is a waste of time because they knew how to do it in their town 10, 20, or 30 years ago but haven’t a clue how to do it today in your town!
So let me save your church some time and money. Here are 3 guaranteed ways NOT to grow a church. There must be 20 conferences, 50 books, and 100 consultants based on these three lies.
#1 You have to have a great ____ ministry. This lie has been out there forever. A church with a great van ministry that’s really reaching people will one day go, “Hey… let’s start teaching people how to start a van ministry so they can copy us!” Same thing with student ministry, kids ministry, music ministry, puppet ministry, after school ministry, seniors ministry, etc. None of these programs will grow your church! It’s just a marketing lie to think that you can grow a church by having a great program. Having great programs is vitally important to the mission of any church (reaching and discipling people) but there isn’t a program out there that will grow a church from 300 to 1000 people! If you see a conference, book, or consultant who tells you “If you just have ____ you’ll see the growth you are looking for” just know that you’re being sold an idea that worked in one location and won’t work in yours. The best consultants will look deeply into your organization before recommending anything!
#2 If You Build it They Will Come Building stuff and remodeling stuff is highly addictive. But buildings and environments don’t grow churches. I’ve been to some real dumps that were exploding in growth. And I’ve been to some beautiful buildings that were empty. Have you ever been to Europe? There you can visit some of the best looking church buildings in the world, they are mostly empty on Sunday mornings. As a 16 year old I toured the Cathedral in Strasbourg France. Completed in 1439 the cathedral is amazing in its beauty. It was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874. Talk about a city on a hill! Want to know how many people go there now? None.
A ministry will endure when it focuses on its task at hand way more than its location. Location means squat. (Just ask the Chinese!)
If someone is telling you that a new building or a new _____ will grow your church, they are either deceived or trying to sell you something. Take a tour of some of the fastest growing churches in the United States and you won’t be overly impressed with architecture, ornate decoration, or interior design. What’s on fire in those places is not the building!
#3 “You have to be more focused on reaching people than keeping people.” This is just ignorant marketing! It’s even worse pastoring.
The best thing you can do to grow a church is to lead, grow, and love the people in your church. If they are growing, being lead to deeper expressions of their faith, and feeling loved by the people of the church, they will tell their friends. That makes sense along every front a church looking to grow. Marketing, strategy, leadership.
The only church growth advice that I’ve ever heard that is truly a guarantee is “All healthy organisms grow.” That is dead on. If only the folks looking to grow their churches would focus on getting the church they have today healthy, it would grow. But to take an unhealthy church and try to grow it with a new building or a new program or a new focus is just silly.
Q for Church leaders: What do you think? Do you think I’ve captured 3 lies in church growth? Or do you think those experts out there really have something that can help you grow your church?