I have heard two statements recently that are connected to the topic of church growth. The difficulty is that the two statements seem to be directly opposed to each other.
Here are the two statements:
“Church growth doesn’t matter; all that matters is faithfulness.”
“Church that are small are small for a reason.”
Which one of these statements is correct? Well, in a sense, they both are. Certainly, faithfulness is of primary importance. There are plenty of examples of pastors who have served in small towns and in small churches with faithfulness. They have done what God has called them to do. They haven’t seen astronomical growth, but they have seen lives changed. And one day they will hear, “Well done, you have been my faithful servant.”
However, the second statement is equally true. Many times there are reasons why small churches remain small and fail to grow. To deny this is to ignore the elephant in the room, so to speak.
Why do so many small churches stay small and see no growth? Here are 6 reasons (in no particular order):
1- A failure to make difficult decisions
The reality is that difficult decisions must be made. As a result, not everyone is going to like every decision that is made. If leaders are unwilling to make those difficult decisions they will hinder their church’s growth.
2- An unwillingness to be okay with people leaving the church
Carey Nieuwhof addresses this in a similar post. He states that too many pastors are people-pleasers. As leaders make decisions that help align their ministry with the purpose God has given them, people will leave. While most of these are good and well-intentioned people, the reality is that them leaving is best for them and for the church.
Pastors must be okay with this. Don’t take it personal. Look at it as a part of the process of getting the church on the right track. This doesn’t mean that leaders intentionally run people off, but that if — when people leave; it’s okay.
3- Too many programs and activities
The reality is that many churches are simply doing too much. As a result, volunteers suffer from burnout. Visitors and new members are confused about where to get involved and what to do. Ministries suffer from a lack of volunteers because they are stretched too thin.
The weekly calendar must be trimmed back.
4- Being driven by something other than your purpose
To take the previous point a step further, the problem is not just that some churches have too much going on it, it can also be that a church has too much going on that is not helping to accomplish its purpose.
A church cannot be controlled by a plethora of activities that do nothing to further the church’s mission. This is a point that Carey Nieuwhof also addresses in the same post linked to above.
5- Poor leadership
Poor leadership in the church will lead to a lack of stable growth. Pastors do not have to be perfect leaders or even great leaders, but their leadership cannot do more harm than good.
6- Lack of stable leadership.
I once heard of a church who’s sounding pastor served for about 11 years. Over the next 34 years the average tenure of the pastors was just 2.8 years. As each pastor would leave it would understandably take the church 9-12 months to call its next pastor. As a result, during those 34 years, the church had no pastor for a total of 9 years.
A church will not see any lasting growth in this environment. There must be stable pastoral leadership.
I am sure that there are plenty of other reasons why churches do not grow. What reasons would you add to this list?