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8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark

While social media and even traditional media are still preoccupied with mega churches and multi-site churches, the reality is that most churches in North America are quite small.

The Barna group pegs the average Protestant church size in America at 89 adults. 60% of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2% have over 1000 adults attending.

why churches don't grow

Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with being a small church. I just know that almost every small church leader I speak to wants his or her church to  grow.

I get that. That’s the mission of the church. Every single day, I want our church to become more effective in reaching one more person with the hope that’s in Christ.

So why is it that most churches never break the 200 attendance mark?

It’s not:

DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people.

A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer.

LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know.

Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places.

Let’s just assume you have a solid mission, theology and heart to reach people. 

You know why most churches still don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance?

You ready?

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

Think about it.

There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything, Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the Director of Marketing? He’s at the cash register.

Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow.

But you can’t run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There’s a produce manager, and people who only stock shelves. There’s a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more.

So what’s the translation to church world?

Here are 8 reasons churches who want to grow end up staying small:

1. The pastor is the primary caregiver. Honestly, if you just push past this one issue, you will have made a ton of progress. When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding, funeral and make regular house calls, he or she becomes incapable of doing other things. That model just doesn’t scale. If you’re good at it, you’ll grow the church to 200 people and then disappoint people when you can’t get to every event any more. Or you’ll just burn out. It creates false expectations and so many people get hurt in the process. Although it’s 20 years old, this is still the best book I know on the subject. The answer, by the way, is to teach people to care for each other in groups.

2. The leaders lacks a strategy. Many churches today are clear on mission and vision. What most lack is a widely shared and agreed-upon strategy. You vision and mission answers the why and what of your organization. Your strategy answers how. And how is critical. Spend time working through you strategy. Be clear on how you will accomplish your mission and don’t rest until the mission, vision and strategy reside in every single volunteer and leader.

3. True leaders aren’t leading. In every church, there are people who hold the position of leadership and then there are people who are truly leaders (who may not hold any position in your church). Release people who hold titles but aren’t advancing the mission and hand the job over to real leaders. Look for people who have a track record of handling responsibility in other areas of life and give them the job of leading the church into the future with you. If you actually have leaders leading, it will make a huge difference.

4. Volunteers are unempowered. Sure, small churches may not have the budget to hire other staff, but you have people. Once you have identified true leaders, and once you’re clear on your mission vision and strategy, you need to release people to accomplish it. Try to do it all yourself and you will burn out, leave or simply be ineffective.  Empower volunteers around an aligned strategy and you will likely begin to see progress.

5. The governance team micromanages. If you need permission every time you need to buy paper towels or repaint an office, you have a governance issue. Most boards who micromanage do so because that’s where most people simply default. You need a board who guards the mission and vision and empowers the team to accomplish it and then gets out of the way. This post on governance from Jeff Brodie is gold.

6. Too many meetings. I led a church with a grand total of 50 people in attendance. We had 16 elders. Overall, the church was in evening meetings 2-3 times a week. Why on earth would a church that small need to meet that often? I eventually repurposed most of those meetings to become meetings about vision and reorganization. We also cut the number of elders down. Now, although we have a much bigger church, I’m only out one or two nights a week (and then mostly for small group). If you’re going to meet, meet on purpose for the future.  Free up your time so you and your team can accomplish something significant.

7. Too many events and programs that lead nowhere. Activity does not equal accomplishment. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re being effective. If you check into most small churches (remember, I was there…I’m not judging, just being honest), there are a lot of programs that accomplish little and lead nowhere. Stop them. Yes people will be mad. Even have the courage to cut some good programs. Good is the enemy of great. Then go out and do a few great things.

8. The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody. Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature. Go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over the fear of disappointing people. Courageous leadership is like courageous parenting. Don’t do what your kids want you to do; do what you believe is best for them in the end. Eventually, many of them will thank you. And the rest? Honestly, they’ll probably go to another church that isn’t reaching many people either.

I realize the diagnosis can sound a little harsh, but we have a pretty deep problem on our hands. And radical problems demand radical solutions.

If you want more, listen in on the conversation I had with Jenni Catron who talks about the challenges and changes she helped make as Cross Point Church in Nashville grew from a few families to thousands of people today.

Jenni’s interview is just one of many conversations I have with top church leaders on my leadership podcast.

Get a fresh leadership podcast episode delivered to your devices every week by subscribing for free.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunesStitcher or Tune In Radio.

What have you seen that helps churches push past attendance barriers? Scroll down and leave a comment!

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  • Daniel John Dombek

    When I was in seminary, we were taught that, when your congregation reached 200, it was time to split into 2 churches to better serve the community. The professors’ idea was that 200+ churches become impersonal/program churches, unable to care closely for the needs of its parishioners; sort of the equivalent of the smaller classroom/teacher-student ratio idea. I thought it was a good idea.

  • Chris Todd

    One of the dirty secrets of church growth I found in a footnote of a national church paper on growth. Churches tend to grow in communities that are growing and tend to shrink in communities that are shrinking! If you are leading a church in a small town that a lot of people (especially young people) are leaving, you can do everything right and still see your church get smaller.

    Another dirty secret is that churchgoers self-select for size. Some people want a small church and will leave if it gets larger. Some people want a medium-sized church and some want to go to a megachurch. Though few people will admit aloud to not wanting their church to grow, they might find their family-sized church comfortable and not really want it to change.

  • Jeff

    All of these things are relevant, but only for churches in a certain context and demographic area. A lot of churches never “break the 200 barrier” because there aren’t 200 un-churched people within a reasonable driving distance.

    Context is king.

  • Bridger54

    Yeah, I really like the part in scripture where the megachurch would gather in a house and really share the spirit and word.

  • This issue has been widely researched, using a variety of different instruments, for many years. (I recall that my alma mater once did such a study, only to discover that the vast majority of their alums pastored churches of 200 or less).

    What’s usually overlooked in all of these studies is the underlying realities of cognitive psychology called the “channel capacity” (look it up in Wiki). This term refers to the factg that our brains have limited capacity for certain kinds of information.

    When we examine channel capacity from the lens of social psychology we discover that when networks grow beyond our capacity to maintian social connections, we begin to feel estranged. We feel that our contributions are no longer valued and so our “conversation” stops. In other words – there is a human limit to how large our social networks, including our churches, can become.

    The magic number seems to be about 150 people in our network. Malcolm Gladwell writes about this at length as “the Rule of 150” in his book, Tipping Point.

    Now, in response to this blog post – which is quite good – I would add that the FIRST and PRIMARY reason why churches top out at 150 (or less than 200) is that the pastor fails to understand this fundamental feature of human cognitive and social psychology and adapt to it.

    But, that’s the subject of another book!

  • Number 2 is gold. Strategy doesn’t have to be perfect, but it gives you the framework to know what’s broken. As always, keep writing!

  • Brian

    Carey – great stuff and the podcast is amazing. Recently you and Brian Wangler mentioned a Reggie Joiner sermon using shopping carts. Anyway you can link me up to this? I can’t find it anywhere.

    • Thanks Brian. Bad news. It’s off line now. Not available anymore. It was at Willow c.2005.

  • I was glad to see Reasons #1 and #4 on the list because I’m dedicated to empowering members to attract/retain newcomers/members through the way they communicate and form bonds, and that takes a huge burden off leadership. Super significant and SO OVERLOOKED as a solution to membership issues! –Carol

  • Pastor Joe Bell

    The Brodie page is down. Is there another source for that article?

  • I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a church that’s went from about 85 in attendance in our first year, to over 700 in our tenth year. All in a small town of about 2,200 people. I have to say the suggestions Carey makes are exactly right, if you want to see your church grow you have to be willing to make some changes. I’ve written about our experience at http://travisstephens.me/smalltown-church-growth-1/ if you want to read more.

  • Kent Murawski

    Carey, I just heard you speak at the Activate Conference and really enjoyed it. Can you break down the strategy piece a little? What is your strategy? Have you written some posts on it? I know you use Deep and Wide, but can you give an example of some of your strategy? I pastor a church in academia, near to Harvard called Journey Church. We are clear on our mission and vision and somewhat clear on strategy but this is the piece I could use the most help on.

  • Kenny Tsatsunon Tsikata

    Thank you Carey. I’m a young preacher from Ghana; and your write ups inspires and sharpens me a lot. Thank you for always sharing.

  • DGP

    Smaller churches are better. If the church grows, the original member goes.

  • David Roth

    Carey, I’m writing a book I’m calling The World, The Flesh and The Church. You just covered chapter of my book for me. I’m looking at the difference between the first century church, which I label the GO church or the Great Commission Church to the 21st century church, which I have labeled the Field of Dreams church. We’ve forgotten the first command our Lord gave us – GO – Baptize – Teach! Great Essay. Thanks.

  • capdee71

    Thanks Carey , this has been really helpful.

  • What is most interesting and telling, is this compulsion to bring other people into your delusional fantasy world. Many of these “sheep” are vulnerable because of mental or emotional problems and are willing to drink the cool-aid despite the bitter taste of cyanide. Rather then learning to overcome the loneliness and isolation that life often throws at us these “harvested” souls become dependent on the emotional security the comes with being part of a group and just like any addicted person, they alter their perception of reality rather then face the fact their group is freakier then nerds playing dungeons and dragons every waking moment. The nerd will actually admit that although playing make believe games is his greatest pleasure he knows that his level ten wizard spells won’t really have any effect. The poor deluded Christians never stop trying to effect change with their incantations…er, I mean prayers.

  • christoph

    Right on. not too long ago I came across an acrostic on the word “Strategy”. Obviously in some small communities there are churches under 200.

    • normanprather

      Most churches, of which I am aware, are well below 200 attendance.

  • GenXr

    Three years ago I probably would have considered myself an “8” out of “10” on the engagement scale. I was very involved in many activities and in leadership roles at our church. In the past two years I have witnessed much of what you recommend in this article executed at our church. I now consider myself more like a “3” and sincerely disenfranchised. I acknowledge that some of this shift in my own personal faith journey has been based on my being re-judged on my “leadership” qualities (your point #3). Some of this shift also has to do with my perception of your general approach, which I suspect has been utilized nearly point-for-point at our church. This formula can be seen as very cynical and corporate-like numbers crunching. I work in a corporate setting and it is a real turn-off to experience the politics, picking of favorites, subjective judging of peoples’ capabilities, back-channel deal-making, chasing the dollars, and viewing people as numbers at my church! Not all of the disenfranchised will have other options, even at “lamer” churches that aren’t growing. Furthermore, some may become disenfranchised not just with their current church, but with organized religion as a whole, which is where I feel I am now. I’m sure It is very comforting for you to believe that those that leave will simply move to another church and not give up on the whole thing. Deal with the fallout of your “radical solutions” and understand that this fallout may be contributing to the overall problem of people giving up on organized religion altogether. Also bear in mind that some of the “3”s were “8”s or “9”s, and some of the 8s and 9s may be 3s or 2s next week. And those numbers represent real people on a journey together, and who experience ups and downs. Growth initiatives don’t have to be so cynical. Just one perspective.

    • Whoa! First, that’s a sad story. And second, I don’t really understand how you imposed such a cynical agenda on my advice. I actually lives through these principles and led a church through change. Many stayed with it throughout. Many more people are in a relationship with Jesus because of it. This is not a cynical ploy to manipulate people. It’s energizing dying churches.

      • Credo1970

        Sorry, but in the haste to defend an article centered around MBA types of ideals, you’ve neglected to listen to GenXr’s more spiritual concerns and support your ideas about how to create and manage ‘church growth’ with scripture.

        Great…you’ve become good at attracting a crowd and teaching organizations to examine leadership models and adapt a few of them. The article makes plenty of GOOD POINTS, and I personally appreciated the article very much from a ‘humanistic/business/organization’ frame of mind.

        GenXr seems like the type of Christan who realizes the benefits of a well organized ‘machine’. That’s not good enough for him though. He wants some solid scripture to back it up. There are a few red flags in this article for those of us who have grown up in small towns, full of THRIVING small churches.

        A 200 member church, among dozens of other 200 member churches in a community of less than 4,000 is NOT a dying church.

        The article sounds more like someone from Hollywood trying to make his MBA degree look good than someone from a religious seminary. Not one single aspect of the article was Biblically based (or even supported).

        If you’re going to tell people how to run churches…it’d be a good idea to prop that advice with scripture.

        If the general idea is that a church below the magic number of 200 is dying, that’s a pretty messed up idea. I may well be wrong…but please show us the scripture proving that America has been doing its rural and suburban churches wrong all these years.

        Every time churches listen to this non-Bibically based nonsense, they celebrate their 14 new big screen TVs while another food and medicine distribution program bites the dust. Then these same high and mighty ‘church reformers’ invite the POLITICIANS in to convince us to vote out the secular attempts to do Christ’s work as well.

        The whole idea of trying to quantify saved souls based on ‘service attendance’, or even ‘number of members’ in a church is absurd.

        Many communities have very ecumenical relationships among the ‘pastors’, and these ‘dying churches’ as you put it…ARE acting as well tuned
        mission clusters.

        Small towns across the country are losing many of their most important missions, that reach and effect 4 times the number of souls as any ‘worship service’ or ‘Christian production’….because young ministers are being encouraged to ‘shut that mess’ down in favor of more ‘profitable and quantifiable’ missions.

        So many communities are suffering because a new wave of young ministers are isolating themselves from these ecumenical groups and trying to duplicate or compete with programs that already exist in the small community (20 churches fighting over members in a town with only 3,000 people in it). They’ve decided that ‘our leaders are not the right kind….so lets push them out of the way’.

        What they fail to realize, is the 200 member church across the street has ‘the leaders’ he ‘thinks’ he wants….and the leaders he wants to ‘get rid of’ had a very valuable and important set of skills and programs going to serve a different set of community needs.

        If your goal is to be a ‘small church KILLER’, and have the largest and most ‘monopolistic church’ in small town America….then your proposed model just might work….that is, if you’re good enough to pry people away from all the ‘other churches’ and gradually ‘squeeze them out’.

        If your goal is to work with all the other ministers in the area, lead your church in a direction that fits the leadership and resources of the congregation that you DO HAVE, while propagating the gospel, and serving the public AT LARGE with programs that assist in the healing of bodies, and providing sanctuary for salvation and health of Christian souls, then the number of people that come to ‘worship services’ shouldn’t be quite so high on the list of ‘priorities’.

        In all of my Bible studies…I don’t recall any description of Jesus asking anyone to count attendees for him, and quantify the popularity of the message (or lack thereof). In fact, we see him do quite the opposite as he constantly asks the Rabi as a young man in temple why they place more value in counting/recording attendance and accounting for alms than they do visiting and teaching. I do recall Christ teaching the early disciples of his church how to witness, share, and spread the news (the news to be spread is pretty well covered in the New Testament).

        • Tricia N

          Your reply is well-thought out and I enjoyed reading it. You make some very good points, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll suggest that Carey’s advice is to help churches be proactive and is directed to those churches which are stagnating because of practices which hinder them from potentially reaching new people. If a church is 200 and healthy, it probably can’t help but grow. But if their 200 because they’re bogged down with programs that keep people preoccupied with themselves or even stunt them, then Carey is providing suggestions to evaluate and take action so we can run the race well as the church should naturally desire. Again, I think Carey’s advice is directed to those small churches that are small because they are bogged down and wish to cast off that which is slowing the purpose of reaching new people and to help existing members be participating disciples. The advice is for churches that do have a problem or soon will, and they know it. It’s not for the healthy ones. Even though Carey doesn’t quote scripture, his advice is actually biblical (minus the arbitrary 200 number 🙂

          • Credo1970

            I agree with the thesis of the article itself, and I think Carey only has the best intentions with the article. As I read the article itself for the first time I couldn’t help but whisper Amen to a number of the points.

            In hindsight however, I realized most of my Amens were more about practical, business, and political matters than spiritual and theological ones. My Amens were mostly wishful thinking that humans and their communities would be easier to manage into my personal world view.

            What drew my tangent is the way those with questions or warnings for organizational experts are handled.

            Well…if someone misinterprets, or finds a hole…plug it with solid scripture! If you can’t find the scripture right away, acknowledge that you’ll take it to prayer in order to strengthen the case, or repent before ‘the Lord’ and change direction as soon as possible.

            While I personally didn’t get a bad vibe the first time I read Carey’s article…I began to realize how ‘some’ people…particularly someone who may have just gone through a difficult church experience might see it, and ‘later’ I found a few red flags:

            Fault finders in and outside of a church do have a purpose. It’s not enough to simply replace them or push them out of the way. Keep teaching this to new generations of ministers, and we’ll soon see our Christian churches morph from healing, service minded, spiritual organizations…into little more than money changers and political machines all too happy to play ‘musical chairs’ with their membership roles. Again, I don’t think Carey meant for people to take his words in this way…but if you’d just been through a painful divisive situation in a church, the ideas can easily pop out from the context of the article’s words.

            In ’empathy mode’, I sensed a kind of strong ‘good riddance’ tone between two Christians. Well, congratulations…because there’s at least 4 generations out there with a TON OF QUESTIONS on all of this ‘reorganizing’ of churches, and all of the ‘change’ into ‘highly efficient one size fits all political machines’ who have replaced the Bible on the alter with collection plates.

            That form of comment fielding (deflecting back to the commenter and taking a self defense stance) made me re-read the article a number of times, searching for what ever it was that seemed to bothering GenXer. That, along with the quick self defense plea, is when I started to see (or imagine) some other messages in the ‘re-organizational’ model agenda.

            It wasn’t until Carey’s reply that my mind became twisted:
            “If someone disagrees….get rid of them!”
            If someone disagrees, “They are sad and cynical.”

            OK….if you’re going to discount or get rid of the people ‘holding back progress’….then you’re going to need strong scripture to back up this practice.

            I do understand that pastors do not have the time and stamina to dig through their Bible and convince every single nay-sayer in person. There just are NOT enough hours in a lifetime to address every single question; however, he can make some notes that will lead to more air tight articles in the future, and stick to more encouraging sorts of responses such as, “Thank you for the concern, you’ve made a number of points I will take to my chambers in prayer.” This way, the pastor will be able to collect theological grounding over time for the issues he is clearly ‘correct’ about, and address these sorts of questions better in the future. He might also learn over time that scripture actually steers him in a different direction than he’d initially envisioned. The Pastor doesn’t need to repent to his congregation…but he DOES need to keep a constant attitude of being able to repent before the Lord in private prayer.

        • femiosunjaye

          Personally I don’t think Pastor Carey meant to ignore some of the valid points you raised but just a kind of additional knowledge to help ones efficiency in the kingdom.

        • Jeff

          Good words. Sound advice.

  • freshaes

    Hey Carey, as a lay person volunteering at a church, why do you think there is so much push back against being strategic or changing structure (based on comments on this post)? – Raj

    • James

      Hello Carey,
      My question is a little different.
      When dealing with volunteers and paid worker in the church, is it a good idea to give them equal treatments?
      We are in the process of ordaining some faithful volunteers and someone brings a suggestion that one of the paid workers should also be ordained. My stand on the issue is that this may discourage the faithful volunteers, seeing that some are being paid and more so they are coded differently under the Fair Labor Act.
      what is your opinion on this? Thanks

    • Credo1970

      Ground your ‘strategies’ in scripture.

      That’s usually a good start.

      Young pastors often come into churches full of people with twice their education and ten times their ‘worldly experience’. Many people in these churches ALSO have an MBA or higher…and have run businesses and organizations since long before the minister was born.

      What ‘they’ don’t have that you do is knowledge of scripture, and the time to meet with people and LISTEN. That is where the pastor is supposed to have the upper hand when it comes to organizational strategy and leadership.

      Don’t try to tell people who are twice your age how to run an organization! It makes you look foolish and naive. Even if you have great ideas, the way you communicate with elders, or other ‘esteemed’ individuals of status in a community has EVERYTHING to do with them adopting the strategies and policies you believe in.

      What you should do…is LISTEN to their discussions, and uphold the ideas that you can back with SCRIPTURE. Shoot down the ideas that are specifically forbidden or warned against in SCRIPTURE.

      • RWilliams

        How long would you propose to go through this process?

        I have been a full time pastor at two different churches over the past ten years. The first church I was at had an organizational structure much like you just described. The pastors were subject to a board and most any new ideas were placed on the table for discussion, and then simply tabled for months, sometimes years on end. Some would say that this was wisdom (the elder board was made up of men with more degrees than California in the summer, and most of them were at least 55 or older.) We got very little accomplished and saw very few come to Christ because the status quo remained as such and the young pastors with less education and less wordly experience as you called it were told to simply wait.

        The problem I have with your assertion is that it completely flies in the face of the New Testament church that I see in scripture. The disciples were young men who had been called by Jesus to be a part of his mission. They were (mostly) uneducated men who went out with the Spirit of God and started a movement with the Gospel that would change the world.

        “Time and time again, we often do not see the seeds a pastor planted in a church start to sprout until years, or sometimes even generations later.” – How much of that is because most churches are unwilling to change for years or generations later? How many more could have heard the Gospel if action was taken quicker and the young pastors weren’t stifled?

        • Credo1970

          What sort of things are you putting on the ‘table’?
          How exactly are you ‘measuring’ how many ‘come to Christ’?
          Again, luring 50 people from a different church over to yours isn’t really ‘reaching out’ and bringing new souls to Christ.

          If your yard stick is based on how many people come to ‘worship services’, then the number is skewed. Luring people from other churches because you have a better choir or bus service isn’t the same as reaching out and doing long term missions.

          To get a better idea of how to help you promote positive ‘change’ in a church, we’d need more specific examples of the kinds of ‘changes’ you’re trying to push through.
          If you’ve programs in mind that simply get existing Christians to move their letters around from one church to another…..think twice about it. Especially if you’re speaking of small towns or rural communities where 90% or more of a small population are christened into the faith as infants.

          If your goal is to reach out to that 10% who are not born into the faith, then there are a ton of things you can start working on right away that do not require any board approval!

          1. Learn the languages of those remaining 10%, and get to know their community leaders…PERSONALLY. Chances are, they’re not going to be English speaking.
          So…are you multilingual? If not….get started learning right away! Get out and meet Christians who speak the language and will assist you in ministering to them.

          2. There’s a high chance that the few people in such areas that are not already members of a church will clash culturally and linguistically with the congregation in your church. Are you equipped and prepared to deal with this?
          Again, simply changing the dynamics of a church’s membership roster is not always synonymous with ‘growth’.
          There is always the chance that bringing one group in, might cause another group to ‘flee’.
          Christ’s early church dealt with all this by having many early Church leaders, who spoke different languages and understood different cultures. They each set out into the world to minister to these different cultures in very unique ways.

          3. Get to know as many pastors in your area as you can! If it’s really about bringing people to ‘Christ’, then it’s important to get an idea about what church can best serve a person’s spiritual needs! Communicate with your area ministers on a regular basis, and serve your community as a strategic group front.

          I.E. If you find a Hispanic family that needs a Christian ministry….do you send them to a church that is equipped to help them, or do you try to equip your own church?
          If there are no churches in the area that can minister in Spanish, then it makes rock solid sense to push your own to start building programs for them. You can start with YOURSELF, long before taking anything to a ‘board’ for approval. Set the example, show some success, gradually introduce the new culture to your old church and THEN start asking for more support.

          If there are already 3 churches in your county that are well equipped to minister in Spanish, then it makes the most sense to call one of those pastors and send the family to him. Eventually you’ll establish relationships with like minded ministers, and you’ll constantly be sending each other individuals and families. In short….you do NOT need the board’s permission to start building your own networks for ministry.

          Really….my whole point is something that church Elders often do not communicate as well as they should.
          Bringing people to Christ is not about ‘numbers’. It’s not about how many people pack an arena to hear ‘preaching’ and ‘sing songs’.

          Growth in the Christian faith is very difficult if not impossible to ‘quantify’. There are many different sizes and types of Church models for a reason. Each one serves a purpose in an ever changing fabric of humanity. God wants it that way.
          If every church looked and functioned exactly the same, then frankly, we wouldn’t have very many Christians on the planet today.

          Churches do change every single day as the balance and makeup of the population shifts. Change is not something that has to be ‘forced’. My home church is quite different today than it was 20 years ago (even though it’s pretty much the same people).

          Stop asking old churches full of members who have already raised their kids to try to act like what they are NOT…a church full of 30 somethings raising kids.
          It’s not always their ‘fault’ that the demographics of their neighborhoods have made it difficult or impossible to maintain a better ‘balance’ of membership among the generations. Being angry at some old folks because of demographics that they can’t control doesn’t fix anything.

          Understand your community, and use its currents to your advantage. Fight them too hard, and you just end up ‘church bouncing’ until you hopefully find one that ‘fits’ what you ‘think’ a church is supposed to look and act like.
          The sad truth is that the older people controlling out of balance churches (generational balance) eventually will pass on, and their homes will be sold to a younger generation (and in many cases even a radically different CULTURE). At that point….it’s almost like starting over to build a new congregation, but do not underestimate or be too quick to dismantle the ‘foundation’ that they leave behind for you. Take your time…because it took generations for them to build it all….yet it only takes a couple of years to knock it all to the ground and loose EVERYTHING.

          Instead of over-fighting it…look at the tools they have for very different, but equally important types of missions. You can drive yourself crazy trying to fight the Cycles of God….or you can learn from them, and use the currents to get things done for Christ. Not every church is geared to be an evangelical power hose, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a very valid and super important church with much to contribute to the fabric of Christianity.

          • RWilliams

            “As long as it takes…
            It might even take multiple ministers and a new generation. That’s life….always has been, always will be.”

            – Yikes…. sounds like stagnancy to me.

            I’m having a hard time responding to much of what you assert here, mainly because it sounds like you have only been a part of or seen churches that do one of two things:

            1. Nothing – status quo isn’t challenged and people simply get comfortable and stagnant.

            2. Grow by simple attrition of other church members shifting membership to your place.

            You seem to be arguing for #1 (for reasons that quite simply I disagree with vehemently) and saying that the only other option is #2.

            Our church is multi-generational and we have seen over two hundred people go from having nothing to do with God or church to responding to the Gospel and trusting in Christ for salvation and new life over the past 6 years (For His glory, not ours). Most of these people are now serving in the church and are being challenged to continue to reach out to their friends/neighbors/coworkers… who are far from God with the Good News.

            Why is this happening? Because our leadership made the decision to stop catering to comfort and challenge our people to get on board with the mission of the Church. Sadly, we lost quite a few people. I don’t mourn over that because the people we lost will walk out the door and find a new church home… but people who are far from God now walk in our doors and hear about salvation in Christ.

            We changed everything about our methods, processes, practices, to make sure that we don’t forget the mission. We are called to go and make disciples. I should also let you know that when we made this shift, we lost familes from multiple generations, so this isn’t about simply age.

            You said at the end that not every church is geared to be an evangelical power house….. Again, not certain what you mean. Every church should foundationally be about the Gospel and making that Gospel known to as many as possible in their community.

            Just to play out an extreme: If every person in that community is reached (which i would venture to say happens extremely rarely), then begin brainstorming other ways to reach even farther (small church plant etc…), but never get off the boat of our mission.

            Last thing:

            “Understand your community, and use its currents to your advantage. Fight them too hard, and you just end up ‘church bouncing’ until you hopefully find one that ‘fits’ what you ‘think’ a church is supposed to look and act like.”

            What do you think a church is supposed to look and act like? Because I believe a church is a community of people tied together in the Gospel on mission to make that Gospel known to any and everyone. Make changes necessary to be a part of that mission. A dying church is simply that: dying.

          • Credo1970

            Interesting….you know that these 200 people ‘had nothing to do with god’ until your ‘benevolent change in leadership’….how?

            They are being charged to reach out to friends, neighbors, and coworkers…….

            How is that a radical change that requires board approval and strong arming changes in congregational leadership? Are you honestly trying to tell me that the churches you were involved in had people that needed to ‘go’ because they STOPPED you from encouraging this?

            Are you telling me that young ministers need to wrest the power of a church’s purse, and push people they do not ‘like’ or agree with out out of leadership roles in small churches in order to encourage people to witness? NONSENSE….

            Are you saying that a ‘change in leadership’ will magically shift the economy and demographics of an area chock full of small ‘dieing’ churches (under 200)?

            I still maintain that just because a church has fewer than 200 does NOT mean it is dieing. I know of quite a few that have NEVER had more than 100 memebers, but have been going strong for nearly 200 years. I can think of a pocket of about 12 of them in Texas that have put air bus hospitals in every international disaster zone (with missionaries) since 1984. Built dozens of home for people in need. FOUNDED community hospitals or health clinics and keep them well maintained, etc. They simply do a different kind of outreach and mission……

            Some of us are NOT cut out to witness face to face, and do far more damage than good when sharing our walks with Christ with others. Some of us are much better equipped to play supporting roles. Some of us are better at quietly providing Bibles, homes, and refuges for worship.

            Consolidating everything Christian into fewer mega-churches is not really the same thing as ‘growth in the faith’.

          • RWilliams

            Very long deflection and refusal to own a simple problem. You’re still missing my point. The change in leadership isn’t a change in style but a change in missional focus. Too many churches have stepped away from THE mission of THE Church. I simply refuse to agree with you that a church should sit and get stagnant. This will be my last response as it seems you have dug your feet pretty deep into your defense and it is not a good use of my time to continue the conversation.

            P.S. Every Christian is called to be a minister and an evangelist…. Not sure why you disagree with that either.

          • Credo1970

            First, I’m not ‘deflecting’, but rather hoping to get the point across that ‘how many members a church has’ is NOT a clear indicator of a church ‘dying’
            Just because a church is ‘small’ does not mean it needs to be ‘changed and reorganized’ by challenging and strong-arming the elders.

            I didn’t take the time to post all this to be written off as ‘deflecting’. I spoke of VALID Christian missions that many small churches are involved with (and have been for centuries).

            I never disagreed to your PS. I just happen to believe that there are many missions and styles that contribute to that purpose. Quite a few of them have missions that would cost more time and money to ‘quantify’ possible results than it takes to just ‘do it’.

            Gideons pass out Bibles at no charge…there is no form to sign to get one, no requirement to show up any specific ‘church’ and there is no way of knowing (other than finite math…probabilities) for sure or quantifying if a single soul gets saved by that mission. A youth group 4 from a 50 member church can pass out 4,000 Bibles in Guatemala and not grow a single member back home.

            Some churches have big programs to help the elderly and infirmed, as well as the incarcerated. These programs are not likely to lead to ‘church growth’ in terms of number of members either. Since such programs don’t fill pews on Sunday, or make the collection plates overflow…does that mean they should go?

            I agree that all Christians are called to minister and share the gospel, but I can’t find the scripture so far that says anything about all Christians counting heads, making lists, and ‘taking credit’, nor do I see any scripture that says there is only one style or method.

            The goal is to foster and create opportunities for people to know about the Word of God and come to know Christ.
            That mission is not an ‘instant one’ that can easily be ‘quantified’. Pushing a church to grow past 200 is not really superior to doing ecumenical missions that have a very high probability of helping 400 different churches grow by 2.

  • davebaldwin

    What I have thought over the years is a lack of strategic planning when it comes to hiring the next person. I believe it needs to be a generalist. Someone who can work in several areas at once. Back in the day the second position would be a youth pastor. The church would grow by another 75 people, but not enough to add a third staff member and continue to grow. It couls be just that simple as well.
    Yours are all noteworthy and true Carey. Just throwing in another factor in my opinion.

    • Great point. So appreciate it…and you…Dave!

    • Credo1970

      Great question. I think it often has to do with the entire community the church serves. What are the demographics of the area? What missions might be duplicative of what other churches/organizations are already doing well, and where are there serious shortages?

      I.E. Some parts of the country have really large numbers of retirees, and fewer young families.

      I.E. Some communities might have college campuses and need more services for young adults and ‘intellectuals’.

      I.E. Some areas might be terribly undeserved in every respect, and any direction you go can lead to growth.

      I.E. Some areas might be very culturally segregated by race, economic class, etc. Is your intent to go with the flow, or do something different and less segregated?

      I.E. Some areas have few if any services for immigrants or anyone that’s speaking English as a ‘second’ language.

      I could go on hours with things to consider. The point is…take a step back, talk to other pastors in an area and consider moving in directions where you’re not trying to duplicate or out-right ‘compete’ with other programs that may be light years ahead of anything you could put together in the short term.

      When you realize the challenges and opportunities of the entire community, it can shine a light on the type of ministers and pastors to seek out and hire.

  • Dean

    Here is the paradox I find myself in: I have read and applied so many leadership principles that seem to work in the word, and so often work in churches, and I also read and study my Bible, and it seems that the answer to God working and moving powerfully among us is his people’s holiness. Now I don’t mean perfection, nor do I mean law vs. gospel. What I mean is his people repenting of their sin, humbling themselves before him, and having him raise them up. It is grace from top to bottom.

    However, whenever God’s people become complacent, indifferent, follow the gods of the age, or drift off into blatant sin, he begins to withdraw his blessing and increase his discipline. We see this throughout Exodus, Judges, the Kings, the prophets, 1Corinthians, Revelation 2&3, etc. And when his people humble themselves, repent and seek the Lord, he blesses. Isaiah 58 is a great example of what I am talking about. In the first part Israel is described as “seeking him daily,” “delighting in his ways,” “asking for righteous judgment,” and “delight to draw near to God.” (v.2). And yet, God tells them why he does not answer them, hear them, or acknowledge what they are doing. He says in v.3-7 that they seek their own pleasure, oppress their workers, quarrel and fight, they don’t give freedom, they don’t share their bread with the hungry, they don’t bring the homeless into their home, and they don’t cloth the naked. But if they would repent of these things, this is what he promised he would do for them in v.8-12, “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ … then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched place and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

    Now that is what the church needs! And that is what would cause the church to explode in America. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t say all this to disagree with the need for the things you spoke of, I only say this because I think the true need for the church today is for God to show up. And once he does, we will have to apply all this stuff just to minister to the multitudes who are being transformed by his grace!

    • Dean…you are so right. The basis for all true growth in the Kingdom is reliance on God. Without it, you’re not building a church. You’re building an organization. With it, you have the foundation on which to apply the skill that often makes our effectiveness greater. Thank you!

  • MSP

    In item #1, you say that the pastor should not be the only one making all the hospital/home visits, which makes sense. However, you also state that he/she should not have to do all of the weddings and funerals. These are functions for which an ordained pastor has professional training, and in the case of weddings he/she must be officially recognized in order for the licence to be legal. I’m unclear as to what you think the alternative should be.

    • Larry

      Ephesians 4:11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

      We should be raising up other pastors to help with the work of the Lord. One main thing we should be doing is discipling, to many think the church is a one man show, the body is made up of many parts and each has its purpose. So the alternative is to raise up other pastors to help with the ministry.

      • MSP

        But in a church where there is only one pastor, and that’s all the budget will allow, that person must be the one to handle things like weddings and funerals which require an actual officiant. Laypersons can be trained to do many other jobs, but there are limits. If these small churches raise up other pastors, which often they do, then these new pastors are called to serve other congregations, fulfilling the Great Commission.

    • Jeff

      The requirements for doing funerals vary widely from state to state. In some states, literally anybody can officiate a wedding. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

  • Gary Banks

    You said, “this is the best book I’ve read on the subject”. The link did not work. What is the book?

  • Jeff

    How would prayer not fix all these things? “Quality Christians means quantity Christians” no?

    • Jeff

      Maybe this is a false observation but if I wanted to build a mega church, I’d go somewhere where it’s really rough. Violence in the streets rough. “Personal” sins people tend to justify as not hurting others but when they see killing in the streets, it puts a person in a pray or be preyed on mode. Or maybe in a country where your biggest problem isn’t if you can have a bible verse on a poster at work but if you can even read it in your spare time at home. If that were true, I could probably, by faith, have Lamentations and Numbers memorized!

      • Jeff

        A lot of people want to be a servant to the Most High God. What they don’t expect is when God gives you a job…He actually gives you a job. I get the feeling a lot of the time Paul and the other Apostles looked like fools to their followers. Always having to take the low road and look weak. I never thought before I became a Christian that credibility with the world was earned with a flogging stick or actual chains. Not fuzzy diamond lined bracelets but actual chains. Ouch!

        • Jeff

          When I said “their followers,” I should have said the followers of Christ that they were in charge of or their brothers and sisters in-Christ but anything but “their followers.” Maybe the human side of me got loose again.