Three Things That Won’t Help Your Church Grow

One of the questions I get asked regularly is whether a change in location or venue will help a church grow.

I understand why I get asked the question. In less than two decades, our church has met in a century old building, an elementary school, and a brand new facility.  Since we started Connexus in 2007, we’ve met in movie theaters and are now searching for a permanent facility.

By the grace of God (and the longer I’m in ministry, the more those words resonate), in each of these settings, we’ve grown. So have a lot of other churches that are on the move.

A few weeks ago I got an email from a pastor who wanted me to come talk to church leaders in his area about the need to abandon their hundred year old facility and move to rented space in a school or theater so they could start growing. I told him I couldn’t give that talk because I don’t believe a change in venue will help churches like that at all.

Here’s why.

Growing churches usually keep growing regardless of the venue.

Declining churches usually keep declining regardless of the venue.

While it isn’t all that polite to say it, it needs to be said: a new venue only amplifies your ineffectiveness if you’re ineffective. What’s worse, is it probably just got more expensive to be ineffective as well.

Changing venues so that you will grow is a bit like the couple with relational difficulties who decides that getting married will make their problems go away.

I saw the same logic at work a decade ago when we became one of the first chuches in our area to make extensive use of video and media in our services. People said “if we get a projector, more people will come.”  I just don’t believe that. Media can make a compelling message clearer, but it can’t make an ineffective message effective.

Think of it this way.  As a rule:

A change in venue won’t help a dying  church grow.
Better media won’t help a dying church grow.
Adding new campuses won’t help a dying church grow.

Why? As David Ogilvy is famous for saying, great marketing just makes a bad product fail faster. It’s not that the church is a bad product at all.  It is the greatest force in human history because it’s Jesus’ church. But often our expression of the local church leaves much to be desired. We fail to take what is timeless and give it an effective cultural expression.

So what makes a church grow?

Becoming effective at accomplishing your mission makes you grow. For us, that started with prayer, scripture and a burning desire to reach people who were far from God. Then we figured out a strategy to help us accomplish that.

When you become effective at accomplishing your mission, then:

A change in venue can help you become more effective.
Better media can make a solid message better.
New campuses can help you reach more people who can’t get to a church they really want to get to.

I’m not saying any church feels ‘completely effective’ at accomplishing their mission (I don’t), but you see the difference, right?

You can grow a church in a centuries’ old building.  And you can kill a church in a multi-million dollar facility.  You can grow a church with zero media.  And you can waste a million dollars on lights, gear and cameras. You can grow a church in a single site. And you can go bankrupt adding venues no one wants to attend.

These truths are hard truths but they’re so helpful because they make us look in the mirror and get on our knees. They help us realize where the issue really is and make us do the homework and the heartwork we need to do.

What do you think? And what other things do you think people look to (inaccurately) as ways to grow their church?

  • Mary Lea Craig

    Good morning Carey – good to hear from you after so long. I think that you are “bang” on here. I used to think that dumping our old building would solve our problems, but now realize that the problems would have just relocated with us. I have learned that God can totally break us just to get our attention to bring our focus and energy back to Him – even His Church. Wow – what a revelation that was. Kind regards

  • http://www.ChristianEditingServices.org Doris Schuster

    Absolutely! The location or type of building we call church has nothing to do with our willingness and efforts to invite unchurched people to join us on Sundays.

  • AJ

    The thing I find funny is when people hear about Connexus looking at a permanent facility, they comment that it is a shift in the vision of the church.

    “But meeting in the movie theatre was the vision of Connexus. Do you think the people will follow you to a ‘church’?”

    If someone has never visited Connexus, never connected with the leadership team, never heard the mission and vision, they assume the location or venue is what makes it attractive to unchurched people.

    Thanks for the post. I hope it sheds some light on to what makes Connexus different.

  • Carey

    AJ I’m so glad you raised that. I argue against that all the time. The movie theater didn’t make us grow. God’s grace and commitment to a mission, vision and strategy fuel growth. Ironically, when we were planting Connexus I was told by numerous people that theater church wouldn’t work because they had just closed one down in Barrie that had failed after a year. I researched it and realized that was true, but the logic was faulty. Theaters don’t make churches grow or die. You can grow a church in a theater, or kill a church there. If buildings grew ministry, then every church in a building would be growing, and the newer the building, the faster the growth.

  • Carey

    Mary Lea….great to hear from you! I love the phrase “the problems would have just relocated with us.” So true!

  • Joel

    Great read, it challenged me in the fact I believe we have a great church that is slowly growing out of our building and have the opportunity to move in to a school/theatre!