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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.
    Blessings,
    Dave

    • 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.

  • Good stuff. I especially resonate with empowering volunteers. If you don’t have volunteers who are empowered to lead, you have reached a lid of how many people you can reach, disciple, etc.

  • Alyssa Rockstar

    Hi Carey, thanks so much for this article. It’s bang on in a church I’ve attended for several years. We barely break the 50+ mark and many wonder why. I’ve worked at non-profits and served on committees and boards, and when I came to this church board, I was amazed and awe-struck.. not necessarily in a good way. I definitely agree with your first 4 points so much!
    Although I have been to various sized churches, it was hard to learn that apparently there are two types of churches (I was told), pastor-led churches and board/elder-led churches.
    It was a bit disheartening to learn over the years that no matter the suggestions or desires from the congregation and even the (volunteer) experience and leadership some had, they were not used or else it was too late (like 5 years later) for something to come forth from it. Or else the title of “worship leader” was slapped on because although this person was quite talented musically, they didn’t know *how* to be a leader and weren’t trained to be one. It’s one thing to be passionate about something, but I think it needs to run hand-in-hand with some sort of training or experience. BOTH are needed.
    I flip-flop between wanting to go to a church that is a smaller community both on Sunday and every other day of the week, to a large church that I can disappear in and not volunteer ever again.
    Perhaps even small churches, that don’t feel the need to grow, still have these problems? For #5, we had the opposite problem, which is why I felt the need to pull away.
    And as someone mentioned below, I definitely miss the salvation message being preached. Although small, do you think these churches still need it in some way? When I used to go to a mega/large church, every service had the (re)salvation message again (opportunity for new believer or if you want to come back to Jesus again). Not only is the “Who you are in Christ” message powerful, but maybe it’s just me, I like to be reminded why Jesus came for us and what He did for us, even if someone has never heard it before or it’s their 99th time.

    • Thanks for this Alyssa…I appreciate your perceptive and empathize with your frustration. As to the Gospel message. Yes. Yes. Yes. That might be a reason why the church isn’t growing actually.

  • I enjoyed your article. The you for sharing it. Carey, I think you and I would be in agreement that the root cause of this particular growth issue is lack of vision, strategy and/or a desire to grow. I would like to add, though, that some of this could be attributed to resource constraints, both financial, and lack of skills and knowledge.

    What if we turned this problem around and looked at it from a different angle? Could we shift this paradigm? I think a lot people who attend church want a small, intimate feel. Maybe 100, 150 or 200 is just right for their needs. Could we look at this in a different way? What if churches grew by adding many small congregations? Is that what the denominations are doing today? To understand this we would need to see data from the denominations to really know what is happening out.

    Also, what if growth from the inside was more important than growth on the outside? Are attendance numbers really the ultimate measure of success? Are spiritual needs being met? Are people growing in a relationship or in a religion? Does this change as more people fill the church building?

    • Jim…Thanks for this. I appreciate your heart and thoughtful response.

      My dilemma is simply this. Truly healthy things grow, and the thrust of the mission of the church is outward. As a result, growing past 200 should seem inevitable. It would be possible to reproduce at 100 or 200 into new churches, but the outward thrust and growth that is inevitable with the church’s true mission demands reproduction. That’s the part I can’t solve any other way. At least from where I sit. Hope that clarifies a bit. Thanks again!

      • I agree that reproduction should be an outcome but maybe we need to keep an open mind that a specific number in one congregation may not be the critical measure of success. We need to embrace other growth measures and not exclude individual growth. What are the members doing and how are the impacting lives of those around them? In this world of “bigger is better” we need to really examine ourselves, pray and ask for God’s direction and input. Is bigger really better in this situation?

        • MSP

          I agree. Demographics must also be a consideration. We live in a small town with a very high number of churches per capita. We strive to make a difference in the community, even if those people we serve do not ever attend our church.

  • Eric Chen

    Hi Carey,

    Great thoughts here, especially in terms of strategy and scaling. A healthy organism grows and a healthy church, in theory, should grow. But how do we measure growth in terms of discipleship, impact on the community, depth of relationships, and etc. I am convinced strong organizational leadership will lead to numerical growth, i.e. over 200, but I am wrestling over whether numerical growth due to strong organizational skills translates into discipleship growth. Willow Creek was very strong organizationally, hence.the numbers, and I am sure they implemented the principles listed but their self-report indicated a lack of depth in discipleship. Also, I do wonder why Jesus did not create an organization of weekly attendance in the Gospels although he did have organizing principles, i.e. focus on the 12, 3, 1 and sending of 72. I am honestly searching and asking hard questions, not trying to be negative or critical.

    • That’s a great question Eric, and I appreciate where you’re coming from. I think discipleship can be measured in different ways.

      I actually just blogged my thoughts on discipleship here, and you can click on the other links in the article to read more posts on discipleship I wrote: http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/01/5-signs-spiritual-maturity-actually-show-lack/.

      Bottom line, I think our understanding of discipleship is broken. The biggest question for me is whether people look more like Christ or less like Christ 3-5 years into their journey. If they look more like Christ (growing in faith, knowledge, love and wisdom) then your discipleship strategy is probably working. But don’t set perfection as your standard. The church in Corinth makes Willow look mature, and yet the church in Corinth was a church God loved, God used and God called to keep growing. Hope this helps!

  • John Boyd

    Carey, I have not read your book. I only hope that, unlike your article and 8 reasons, it has some references to the main reasons that churches reach a cap. As old fashioned as it may seem today, I believe that the issue is really a lack of kingdom-growth motivation. By that I mean there is no reason for a church that is sold-out to the Great Commission to ever suffer from plateau syndrome! We have the keys to the kingdom and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to witness to those around us and the whole world about the Lord Jesus and His salvation. If the pastor isn’t an unashamed soul-winner, you can’t expect his deacons, Sunday School staff, other leadership, or his members to be soul-winners. If the church doesn’t have as its first order of business the salvation of souls through personal and programmed evangelism, and the second order the discipleship of converts, then it IS NOT THE CHURCH of the Lord Jesus! Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Lost people produce lost people; Christians produce Christians…it’s that old universal truth that fig trees produce figs, etc!
    The true Church is the body of Christ which carries on the goal of Christ…to seek and to save that which was lost, namely the souls of men. If evangelism and discipleship (that produces witnesses) are not the first and second priorities which amount to over 75% of any fellowship’s activities, then it is not a church of Jesus Christ. A simple testament to the Christ-likeness of any church fellowship is: how many members does it take to produce one convert? Just check the baptisms/members ratio in the annual report. Pretty scary for most churches!

  • juarez

    What’s the use of having many members and all going to hell, not on fire for God (lukewarm). Its trash in God’s eyes..just so u can look good as a pastor competing with other churches..we will all be judged for our motives on judgement day!

    • Balaam

      What the heck is wrong with you? You need to repent.

  • juarez

    What’s the use of having many members, if they’re all going to hell and not truly on fire for God (lukewarm). its trash in God’s eyes, just so u can look good as a pastor

  • Josh

    No scriptures even mentioned. Is God’s way not good enough?

  • Jim

    Many of these observations are true in larger churches, too: I am the interim pastor of a church with 1,000, which is 500 less than it was ten years ago. I agree with many observations, but resist the notion of either/or. Many people here are involved with congregational care, yet I still believe it is important for some of my time to be available for pastoral counseling and homes and hospital visitation. It is one way I feel the spiritual pulse, and it grounds me when I have to make difficult or unpopular decisions. I am a Congregationalist and I believe the Holy Spirit is revealed through group process, and can be diminished by hierarchical structures of authority. I’ve worked in all sizes- – and I grew up in an 8,000 member church. They all have value; some lack intention.

    • Jim…thanks for the insights. You’re right, these are universal issues.

  • Mike

    Might I add the following: Marketing. This is assuming the church is rock solid, sermons are inspiring and Christ-centered. Assuming the church good, if the community doesn’t know it exists they will not know what they are missing and will never step foot in the door let-alone know their is a door! Our Church has a good budget and runs between $125-$200k safety buffer but is only allocating $1500 a year total to advertising/marketing. The congregation old old and dying off and I find this alarming. There is acknowledgement that the younger generations are passing us by yet the leaders will only allow a pittance ea. year to advertising/marketing. The result is a church that is dying not through lack of Christ, but through age and mortality.

    • Ntp

      I pay very little attention to marketing (possibly because I currently live check to check) how well does church marketing work?

      • In my view, great marketing helps a great idea or product spread, and it makes a bad product fail faster (David Ogilvy).

        • normanprather

          I cannot imagine any non-believer motivated to check out any of the churches I hear advertised on the radio. I suspect the only effective advertising for a church is word of mouth coupled with the community seeing the church working in the community.

          • freshaes

            I suspect advertising to the wider non-believer community would be more successful for events such as Christmas Carols, Easter or ministries like Alpha which help them more with questions they are asking rather then a church program

    • screwlucy

      It is alarming to me the lack of Christians who do not see money changing in the Temple. Marketing? Let’s market Jesus? When is someone going to wake up and realize we are treating the Church as a business, we’ve put the American stamp of approval on it, and we’re building it into a multi-billion dollar industry in which God is our Sovereign Wing-Man (as long as He doesn’t say or do anything that would offend the people contributing to our paychecks)? Evangelicalism has become idolatrous. God bless the smaller churches–you think they’re doing something wrong? Look at the mega churches! When did our ruler for success start to pattern the world? It’s idolatry. I started reading this article and God spoke Ezekiel chapter 8 to me–idolatry in the temple. Hear the Word of the Lord: it is not time for small churches or the church in general to aspire to the worldly success of mega churches with their pillow prophets–yearning for numbers, for what’s comfortable, popular, convenient. Evangelicalism has become idolatrous. The great commission is not God.

      “The pillow prophets are still with us! They talk about the Word of God,
      about prophecy, and they salt their soothing messages with a lot of
      Scripture. But there is a falseness in what they preach. They are not
      preaching the Cross or holiness and separation. They make no demands on
      their followers. They seldom speak of sin and judgment. They abhor
      the very mention of suffering and pain.” –David Wilkerson

      • We all have to guard against idolatry, but just because a church is big doesn’t mean it’s bad. By that notion, the early church would have had to be shut down. It grew by 3500 in a single day.

        • screwlucy

          That’s right–without a “strategy” that modeled a business structure. The Holy Spirit moved. The early church also had dysfunction stemming from any number of issues we still have today. The problem is, we can leave our small church or any church for that matter and go to a church that doesn’t require us to listen to a Paul who will tell us we need to get our act together and grow up in the faith. The small church is moving without a business plan and will rise up and smash the idols of well-meaning people who wanted to support the comfortable yet idolatrous “growth” of the American church. It is time to turn our eyes and hearts to God and trust Him to do the work even if it doesn’t look like success or what we intended Him to do.

          • I think you’ve made up your mind. Structure is all over the scriptures…Exodus 18, Acts 6..Paul’s ordering of the NT church and Jesus’ modelling of the 70, 12, 3 and 1. And if you study the universe, God is a God of math, order and meaning. Being smart or strategic does not mean you aren’t a Christian.

          • spw

            “Many are called but few are chosen.” Religion of the Gospel will always be the way of man, but Relationship is the way of the Father. Big churches loose site on the sheep and relationship. Big churches cannot disciple as God intended. Big churches are more about to the business affairs of the building and not the burdened affairs of the body. When God saved the multitude, it was to show His power to the community that He is God. It didn’t take long after that for mans church structure to take over with the Roman Empire and changed the direction of growth, “Spiritual Growth”, from that point on. Today things have not changed. Man still wants what he wants when it comes to the business in the man made temple called church that God does not dwell nor has any part in. Sin will have to come to a head before His return. It would be in our best interest to go to the streets to seek the lost, help them grow in the faith of our Savior and to be ready Spiritually at all times. This is better done without the interference of religion. We don’t need large church buildings with all the perks to achieve this. In fact spreading the gospel and discipling sheep will be better achieved without idolatrist mindsets. Its up to the faithful to GO and obey.

      • spw

        Amen!! What we see in churches today that have gone the way of the world with their ministries and church growth movement ploys, I believe is the great falling away from the gospel and faith in Christ to lead His church. God is in the business of reaching His people and leading His people home by His Spirit, not seeing how many come to a church building. God is way bigger than mans ideas to do anything of material substance. This is where the Focus is lost.

  • danith

    Thank you for this article.
    I read the book you recommended about breaking the two hundred barrier back when I was a youth pastor anticipating moving to the lead pastor role. Now that I have just begun as a senior pastor I am re reading this article and I am convinced you hit the nail on the head. Thank you again.

    • Danith…awesome! Excited for your new role, and that continues to be a FANTASTIC book. I wish every church leader read it!

      • caio

        What book?

        • How to Break Church Growth Barriers by Carl George and Warren Bird.

          • P.J. Murray

            A great book and one to keep on your shelf and close at hand! Carey, I didn’t even check the link to see that was what you were referencing. Great article by the way

          • Thanks P.J. 🙂

  • Jim

    Maybe the goal should be to follow the heart of the Father, not being so very concerned with how many people there are or aren’t. Let God take care of the growth, our churches have enough to do learning how to love people as God loves them.

    • Love the sentiment behind this Jim, but even the early church had to reorganize to respond to growth (Acts 6). So did Moses (Exodus 18), and clearly Jesus was concerned with organization and impact, dividing his many disciples into groups of 70, 12, 3 and 1. It’s actually a very biblical subject.

    • screwlucy

      Be bold with that truth, Jim. The church had to reorganize to respond to growth in Acts 6 and in Acts 5 Peter had just gotten out of jail for preaching the Gospel and in the following chapters you’ll read about the persecution of the early church. When Jesus started preaching a hard Gospel to swallow many of his disciples deserted him. If we based the picture of the healthy church on Christ’s ministry then we would have thousands listening to our message then our closest disciples deserting us at the end of our ministry. THE CHURCH IS NOT A BUSINESS. What you’re really doing here is picking out the growth of the church in Acts and then neglecting the hardship and the absolute dedication to worship in every form of the early church. I am so sick of hearing about strategies, programs and anointed worship leaders. Where is the worship of God? It is sickening to me that the church cannot feel God’s presence without a laser light show and a rock band in church. I should be able to step into a liturgical church reading the Book of Common Prayer and seek God’s presence because I am seeking God’s presence in every day life.

  • An absolutely fantastic post, Carey. #7 is our greatest struggle at this time. I’ve really pushed our team to consider the next steps after the event before planning the event itself. If we don’t have a tangible next step which either aids in assimilating the unchurched with our community or activates our members to further ministry then we scratch the event off of the calendar or restrategize. Focusing on less to be more effective is a tough conversation in an established and overly-programmed church… but we’re making headway. Thanks for speaking so much truth into my life and leadership.

  • Eduardo

    Thank you so much – but please help me a little more. You say: 2. The leaders lacks a strategy but what must I do to form a strategy? I think I have the other parts clear – but – please help me to form a strategy! Thanks

    • I would suggest reading Deep and Wide and the 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley. Also, this blog is full of strategy tips. Hope this helps!

      • danith

        thank you for adding this comment to Eduardo. I was feeling the need to read Deep and Wide for EXACTLY the reasons he mentioned. I appreciate this article greatly.

  • David Snead

    Great post! 😀

  • Brenda North

    Just discovered your great blog! Thanks! Having just lead a congregation well past the 200 barrier this year I agree with what you listed as possible barriers. However, in my experience sometimes DESIRE and PRAYER as very really barriers too. We never would have made it without increasing our desire…because it was easier to think “if people want to come, they can! we are fine as we are without changing” rather than fully embracing the call of God that insists good news is for the sharing. And we would not have been as successful but fortunately God brought us new members from other towns and congregations who were bold enough to say in love, you all aren’t praying enough and helped lead that very thing.

    • Brenda thanks for this…it’s so exciting to see growth! I agree that prayer is essential. It’s foundational. I write about other factors because I think it’s more than prayer. There are a lot of dying churches in which people are faithfully praying. But you are right, God’s grace and favour is amazing and is foundational.

  • Pastor Zhonzell L. Watson Sr.

    I belive that you’re right about leading as many people as you can for Christ. You made a great point in a comment you made saying, a healthy church grows. Ask a farmer, does a damaged plant grow, or do only healthy plants grow? Anything that is damaged can only grow if it’s fixed, restored, and healthy again, otherwise it becomes dead. That’s what is happening in a lot of our churches today. Some churches are just simply healthy, fine, and well because they obey God and are well rooted in . Others are damaged, injured, and ruined because they disobey God and arent well rooted Him.
    Simply put, we have to obey God if we desire to grow and be healthy.

  • Chris

    Carey – I very rarely comment on blog articles, but this was powerful. Great stuff, and very true. I’m dealing with a similar situation in my church, but never could find the words for it. This was really on point, thanks for sharing.

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  • Colbey

    Carey, I am going to email these points for reference later. Thanks for your courage in publishing.

  • Troy

    Numerical growth is not a tell tale sign of success. I constantly hear “Healthy Things Grow” one day I took that statement to God and I heard Him say “Tumors Grow too” and tumors are not healthy. John 6:66 If healthy things grow and Jesus our ultimate leader saw many disciples desert/leave His ministry (opposite of growth) because He preached the truth. Sometimes superficial growth come by itching ear preaching. If I feed your flesh physical bread you gain crowds but when you take it to another level and teach eat the Spiritual Bread of commitment and Lordship you lose crowds John 6:50-66

    • It’s true that growth is not the automatic sign that a church is healthy and successful. I agree with you completely there! But neither does being a small church make it holy and spiritually successful. So we should avoid giving an excuse for being small by saying “it’s because we preach the truth.” Peter preached the truth on Pentecost and thousands were saved that day!!! It’s not about a small church or a big church. It’s about a healthy and effective church that is fulfilling the call of God to make disciples of all people (which leads to growth). Sometimes that calling is hampered by practical things such as poor leadership, thinking and habits that hinder growth, some of the points listed above by Carey, and more. But you are right that growth by itself does not suggest that a church is spiritually healthy!

      • Carey Nieuwhof

        Derek…you said what a lot of people are thinking. Small is not an excuse for ineffective. Appreciate that!

  • Norman Prather

    This, largely, describes nearly all the churches I served over 19 years as a OD (other denomination) pastor in an UMC conference. Granted many of those are in rural areas with declining populations.

    Currently I am a chaplain and do not serve in a church. I have no desire to attend a large church, the very thought gives me shudders. How can anyone be comfortable in much less worship in such a setting? My point is we need churches of all sizes because each of us is different. I have no trouble speaking before large (or very large groups) however I am very uncomfortable “in” large or very large groups.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Norman…thanks for all your years of serving in the church. Sorry you don’t enjoy large churches. I know many people do, but I’m glad you have some churches in which you feel comfortable.

  • Roger Haber

    We need to emphasize church health. Healthy things grow. Some faster, some slower, but they grow. We need to see churches that are inwardly strong and outwardly focused; not inwardly focused and outwardly weak. Some say, well we’re faithful. But the parable of the talents teaches that we must be faithful and fruitful. “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Thanks Roger!

  • Richard Cranum

    Hi all, I’m a staff Communications Director at a small church (150 avg) in the midwest. Yes, it’s an uncommon title in most churches but created so that our two staff Pastors didn’t have to do everything. I handle printed materials, electronic methods of spreading the message, internal information, and outside promotion. I think some miss the point of this article. It’s not that being a small church is bad. There are places where a small church with a tight knit community is exactly what God wants. Small towns and rural churches may have a lower number count, but it might still be a high percentage of the area population. Numbers is not the true gauge of a church’s value, leading people to salvation is.

    However, if you are running a church that is indeed leading people to salvation, if you are indeed prioritizing the ministry and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ… then your goal should be to reach as many people with that message as you possibly can. Every individual is important to God. Every single one. I have told our Elder Board that my personal goal in external promotion of our church is to make us world famous. What God wants to allow us to do after that is up to Him and I will accept that. My fear is that in becoming satisfied with a small congregation we are also becoming complacent, we are becoming luke warm in terms of the Grand Commission. My greatest fear is that becoming satisfied with our small community we may become an anchor to God’s work and intention. He wants to work through us, He does not want us to hold Him back.

    Let me ask a question, if you are leading people to Christ who do you not want to lead to Him? How many people do you hate so much that you’re willing to let them spend an eternity in purgatory? I’m hoping that number is zero. So then, if you are leading people to Christ why would you not want millions in your congregation?

    Granted, this is unrealistic in a functional sense… or is it? Scale it down, thousands then. What if you had the potential to lead even thousands to Christ? Would you take that opportunity? This isn’t about people in seats, it’s about numbers of souls saved and every single soul matters.

    “Oh, but then we can’t take care of the individuals and will loose that sense of community!” See the authors points 1, 3, and 4. As the congregation builds, build your team. Develop leaders! Develop spiritual care givers!

    All that said, I’d like to add my points 9 & 10.

    9) Does your congregation act like Jesus to new people? Are people with tattoos welcome in your church? Are people in biker leathers welcome in your church? How about people with purple hair, black lipstick, every skin color in God’s creation (Humans are a Calico Race), single parents, the poor, the homeless, the broken, the lost…. the people that Jesus ran to? Are they welcome, truly welcome and made to feel welcome in your church? If you answered no any of those, if you can answer no to any human being… you need to rethink your point of view.

    10) Communications guy speaking here… advertise! There was a time when the “build it and they will come” ideology worked just fine. We used to be able to fish with a net. Today we have to fish with a pole and bait. Part of the bait is Biblically sound teaching, part of it is engaging worship music, part of it is childrens programs, but none of that works if people don’t know your church is there in the first place. Matthew 5:15 “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”

    There are a thousand more interesting things competing with a persons time in church, and many churches to pick from even if people are looking for a church. I think we can all agree that many churches are not leading people to Christ. If yours is, make sure people know you even exist!! The small city I live in has around 200 churches. Some are very good, some not so much… in terms of teaching the Bible and leading people to Christ. If people don’t know about your church, if they can’t find you… how can you lead them to Christ? Allocate budget to advertising. This is where the business model comes in. Advertising is an investment, just like the building you meet in, not an “expense”. Unfortunately, what I often see is the Biblicaly sound churches that lead people to Salvation not letting the community know they are there and thus leading only a small number of people to Christ. On the flip side, and my own city has this, I see “fluff churches” that make people feel good, teach very little of the Bible, and don’t lead people to Salvation… spending a lot of money on advertising and growing to an attendance of thousands and leading them no where. The one I think of in my city is up to 7 services a week with three extra churches where people watch a satellite feed from the main “campus”. Their building methods are not necessarily bad but their teaching is empty. Great entertainment though.

    So, do churches have to grow to be successful. Of course not. There is no doubt in my mind that God wants some churches to remain smaller to do the work He wants done at the particular place. However, it should still be the goal of every Christian to see absolutely every human being have an opportunity to spend and eternity in Heaven! Why would we want to hold God back from doing that? If your one of those people who thinks your church should not grow, that it should not be a goal, please stop and ask yourself: Is that God’s will speaking to your heart or your own? Are you doing exactly what the Lord wants you to do or are you being lazy?

    Mr, Nieuwhof… very good article with good things to think about. Thank you.

    • Richard…thank you. You make some great points. You really do. And I appreciate you clarifying (once again in this comment thread) that I am NOT against small churches. It’s just that effective churches grow. And that leaders who want to introduce more people to Jesus do need to plan to become a larger church. Thank you Richard!

  • Jeff Shoup

    Maybe smaller churches where the pastors and elders know everyone is, I don’t know, healthier and more biblical than large churches where subsets form and pastors don’t shepherd (as the word “pastor” implies) their flock, they just preach and deal with the all-stars. Big and small churches alike will have problems, so describing those of small churches doesn’t discredit their existence or make their “failure” to become a large church really that much of a problem.

    It’s just weird that this post is devoid of Scripture or even a meaningful discussion of early church history. That is, I have no reason to think any of it is a product of Godly realizations.

    Even if you have other posts that do so, you ought to revise this to include those verses. This reads like a product of human yearning, not a product of Biblical church sustaining.

    • Jeff, Thanks for sharing your view point. A couple of things. I don’t always include scripture because I assume most of my audience is Christian. And I don’t want to get into ‘verse wars’ with people. I would hope and pray that each of my posts is grounded in scripture and rooted in healthy, historic Christianity. Second, healthy things grow. There is no merit in being small or large. There is no vice in being small or large. I just think there is merit in being Christ-centered, healthy and effective in your mission, regardless of size.

    • screwlucy

      Thank you, I agree. Don’t start telling me about how the early church was big in numbers until you start writing a book that also pushes how the early church got there. The early church spoke in tongues, laid hands on sick strangers who were healed, and risked death for worship. If you want to read a book, read the Bible. Healthy things grow, as a mantra, is such a deception. We have to stop catering to man and start glorifying God. This nation needs to repent of being like the world with their love of convenience and superficiality.

  • Kyle Smith

    I am a Deacon at my church of about 200 attendees in So CA. Our church has been a “revolving Door” in recent years. Our advantage is we have a prime location. We have first time visitors every week. However our new members numbers don’t grow at the rate we would like, because we have a poor children’s ministry. That is a completely different conversation as to why that is, but my take is if a church has a poor Children’s Ministry, the church is not going to grow. You also mentioned its what the church wants to do in the end. Our church holds a “quality ministry” versus a “quantity ministry”

  • Chris Swafford

    Sorry, but this is the usual human rationale aimed at a spiritual matter. NEVER works. I could go on and on but the problem is at the foundation. So called preachers are usually too worldly to make a real difference. You can’t hold hands with Yahshua and the devil.

  • Guy Rock

    No. No. No. No. No. While I don’t necessarily dispute the fact that pastors try to do it all and don’t empower others to lead and all that jazz, the simple truth of church growth can be boiled down to one issue: People aren’t getting saved in those churches. We can all talk until we are blue in the face about missional living, engaging culture and being relevant, but unless people come to know Jesus, a church will NEVER grow. I know a lot of pastors, church planters and the like. I don’t go to nor recommend others to their churches because I don’t trust that their churches are places where the lost will be found. Sure, they might be fine communities for fellowship and relationship, but nobody is going to bring their unsaved friend or family member and watch their world get wrecked. Churches like that will never gain any momentum. They will just be placeholders for the body of believers to attend until they find something that is truly making an impact. It might be a hard pill to swallow, but that’s the truth.

    • Guy. I agree. People need to come to know Jesus. 100% agree. It’s just many churches in which leaders have a heart to have people know Jesus still struggle with these issues. It’s all about helping people connect with Christ.

      • Guy Rock

        Forgive me for being so passionate about this topic, it’s just that I’ve grown weary of the modern pastor and their boatload of excuses. This is coming from someone who has spent the last decade as both a church attender/volunteer and then as a church leader. In reading your post, I honestly don’t find you to be complaining or weary-I truly believe you have a desire to see pastors be better and thrive. However, most pastors simply read and share blogs like this simply to make you the sounding board for their internal frustrations. So in essence, your words allow them to be whiny or passive aggressive. The fact is we are in an interesting season in the Church. Over the past decade, thousands of Christians have moved away from their “home” church where they got “saved” and grew in their walk with Christ. So when they relocate they seek to find a community that resembles that which they once knew. So now, churches are being filled not with new converts, but with transplants who are in search of something a bit more unintangible. But I keep just hearing such a complaining spirit from pastors who are not able to retain these Christians. Because that is what they feel defines their church health-attenders. They start preaching for the found and not the lost and fill their sermons with so many cliches you need a decoder ring to decipher it.
        All that to say, if the grass weren’t dry, the sheep wouldn’t be seeking greener pastures. But instead, the shepherds always complain about the sheep-as if it’s their fault. In no other vocation do I see leaders attribute their level of success on those they are supposed to serve.

    • Robert

      I was saved in a church of 40 after attending a church of 400. Your implication is not founded in truth, but rather an opinion. Sure, I may be the oddball out, but I know that a small church is probably more in tune with the needs of the individuals than a larger one simply by the dynamics.

    • cjb

      Sorry. That is not “truth”. That is your opinion, and the opinion seems to be based on a pre-conceived notion. How can you know what’s going on in churches you have never attended.

      • Carey Nieuwhof

        It’s true. I haven’t visited all these churches, but I have visited many and connected with many leaders and done some reading. Its amazing how human behaviour has common characteristics and I’ve been trying to isolate those. That’s what this post is about. If it misses your story, I’m sorry. I think it catches many.

  • Gordon Taras

    I agree with the premise, but offer alternatives to some of your 8 points. I have a blog post that addresses 1,3,4, & 5 from a different point of view: http://gordontaras.blogspot.com/2009/01/leadership-and-management-are-just-tip.html.

    It is not only that mom & pop run everything, they also empathize with everyone. @200 people in an organization, the top leaders not only know everyone, they know everything about everyone. To grow to 1000, the leader must give up knowing everything about everyone. They must know everything about their associate leaders, and they must train and trust their associate leaders to know everything about everyone else. The skills the leader must develop are no longer solely on leading people, they must learn to lead culture.

    The comments address the concept of grow-or-die. I believe that is a fundamental reality about humanity and its tribal nature. However, there are multiple models for growth. A church founded on congregational principles will resist growing to 1000 because in order to grow to 1000, the church must establish a hierarchy. An alternative is to treat your congregation as a family and recognize you will have rebellious teenagers. Train them well then let them go free. Encourage a division of the church to plant another church. With an amicable split you will then retain the ability to cooperate on missions. You achieve the objective of growth without having to resort to the tactic of trying to organize 1000.

  • Guest

    ***

  • Carol Gammon

    This article is so encouraging. My husband and I are pastors and we re-arranged our Sunday service to allow a faithful minister to have time before each message to share thoughts and sing a few old-time praise songs. This was initially suppose to be short and sweet, but somehow turned to an actual second service with the person opening the bible and preaching their own message. We then would proceed to deliver the message the Lord laid on our hearts. After a couple years of this we had to put it to an end. It made the service too long and gave us much frustration. I should have listened to the Lord when he told us in the beginning not to allow this, but we were trying not to hurt their feelings. Well needless to say they left the church and took others with them. But we are so liberated and free to do what God has called us to do.

  • Carol Gammon

    Carol Gammon • 6 minutes ago
    This article is so encouraging. My husband and I are pastors and we re-arranged our Sunday service to allow a faithful minister to have time before each message to share thoughts and sing a few old-time praise songs. This was initially suppose to be short and sweet, but somehow turned to an actual second service with the person opening the bible and preaching their own message. We then would proceed to deliver the message the Lord laid on our hearts. After a couple years of this we had to put it to an end. It made the service too long and gave us much frustration. I should have listened to the Lord when he told us in the beginning not to allow this, but we were trying not to hurt the feelings of this person (a faithful family member). Well needless to say they left the church and took others with them. But we are so liberated and free to do what God has called us to do.

  • Carol Gammon

    This article is so encouraging. My husband and I are pastors and we re-arranged our Sunday service not trying to grow the church but felt bound and constricted. Before the message was brought forth, we allowed a faithful minister to have time before each message to share thoughts and sing a few old-time praise songs. This was initially suppose to be short and sweet, but somehow turned to an actual second service with the person opening the bible and preaching their own message. After a couple years of this we had to put it to an end. It made the service too long and gave us much frustration. I should have listened to the Lord when he told us in the beginning not to allow this, but we were trying not to hurt the feelings of this person (a faithful family member). Well needless to say they left the church and took others with them. But we are so liberated and free to do what God has called us to do.

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  • Scott Aly

    Just one last comment from me.. After I am saved then what??? Do I stay at home or go to church?? If I go to church will that not cause some church to grow??? So if I am going to cause a church to grow, which seems to be a bad thing, then maybe I shouldnt get saved and go to church?? Isnt this kinda like the Sin and Grace abounding conundrum???.

  • Scott Aly

    I was actually at a church that the Pastor and Assoc. Pastor were both asked to leave because they were bringing in too many “outsiders”. New converts and people being brought back into their race..

    • Robert

      I was a preacher at a congregation that had that same issue happen…they asked me to resign because I was visiting too many non-members. Sadness!

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  • Spencer

    I used this article to help with a music theory final and how the demographic of my home town lead to the formation of 17 small churches and the social psychology lead to the formation of one large church. I then compared in person the music at each church using Alan Merriam’s tri-partite method. I then attempted to explain how the dynamics of the small churches coupled with the denomination was an explanatory variable to the texture and timbre of the music… that is what you get when you are an accounting major that takes a music theory class. Anyways thanks for the article! (yes I did cite this source)

    • normanprather

      ??????
      what did you conclude?

  • Pastor Hicks

    I would like to know who won this argument, and could sum all this up. But then again, I guess we’d start all over again. Come on guys, God is not the author of confusion. Who is convincing who of what? My head is spinning. Love all you guys!

    • Thanks for your kind, moderating words. —
      Sent from Mailbox

  • Wow! This is an incredible and challenging article. Thank you for taking the time to distill and write for others of us to grow and lead. Blessings!

    • Thank you so much Ben!

      *Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor *
      *Connexus Church*
      *546 Bryne Drive, Unit E Barrie Ontario L4N 9P6* *connexuscommunity.com * *careynieuwhof.com *
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      *Sent from my personal email account. **If adding others, please use cnieuwhof@gmail.com to include me in the conversation. Thank you!*

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  • JDGraham

    It amazes me that you take the time out to answer each of your critics… I love your blogs and just recently came across them. I think you articulate the things that many of us pastors think but just have never systematically written down! It comes down to leadership- there are leaders and then there are followers. The word pastor means shepherd or leader and it’s not for everybody- not everybody can or should do it. But if you are a pastor you should always be working on becoming the best shepherd/leader you can be through God’s grace- that is why I find your blogs so refreshing! Please keep it up as this shepherd constantly needs to grow in my leadership/organizational abilities

  • PeaceBang

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. Leaving the fruitless argument about growth aside, it’s a good article about having a healthy church — and who doesn’t want that, even if they feel that numerical growth is not a realistic goal?

  • Michael Pollard

    Numbers matter. Numbers have names, and names have souls.

  • Ken Noble

    Hi Carey, thanks for sharing your thoughts. But even Cancer grows! Here’s my thoughts on a general note. Apparently, you have good intentions, but you seem to erroneously equate church growth with numbers the way political economics talk about job numbers. By so, you advance carnal methods and undermine the place of sanctification and the leading of the Holy Spirit even in small churches. While I do not believe it is your intention, you subtly undermine small churches as somewhat failing churches (You have denied that. But it’s what your post clearly suggests). I notice you don’t do scriptures that much (it looks intentional), but while Acts 2:47 actually supports your inclination to numbers, it also questions your goal. The goal from that scripture is: “…those who were being saved”. Your goal seems to place emphases on the number part as an evidence of the salvation part. Have you not thought how wrong your hypothesis possibly is? God doesn’t do numbers or leadership like we do as business people. Lastly, while growth can be an evidence of soul winning, the caveat is that, with the increasing taste for worldly desires these days, and if 2 timothy 4:3 is anything to go by, such growth can also be a product of world friendly messages and strategy. Even your incessant use of the word “strategy” is a bit unsettling by the way.

    • I appreciate your correction, but Christ died and rose again to draw people to himself. If, overall, the church doesn’t grow, we cease to embrace the mission to which Christ called us.

      You’re right, I don’t cite scripture much because I assume a biblical worldview and I don’t want to get into ‘quoting wars’ with people. But I hope and pray every post has a deep and real scriptural and orthodox rooting. And so, I hope, will the ‘strategies’ I share. That’s my prayer. That’s my hope. That’s my goal.

      • Ken Noble

        Thanks for your characteristically respectful response. Of course, that’s why Christ died and rose. And of course, the church should grow. I’m just saying, God doesn’t do numbers as we do. A church may be small for reasons outside strategic failings of the pastor(s). It may just be that it’s in a small town. It may even be that its in a big city that is characteristically hardened against Christianity, and so even their 90-100 genuinely saved members is a huge achievement. But more importantly, just as (your quotes here): “Activity does not equal accomplishment”, and “being busy doesn’t mean being effective”, so also being large doesn’t mean being productive in soul winning. They may be related, but they are not necessarily correlative. That’s my point. We just cannot correlate a small church with not drawing enough men to God, simply for being a small church; while also acknowledging that, that could be the case (I admit). Even a so-called large church may be full of unsaved people who are attracted to e.g., the music, the glitters, the connections, the fame, etc; while I must again admit it may also be a product of healthy growth. We just can’t say, “if this, then that”. But I understand where you are coming from.

        • Ken, thanks for the nuance here. It’s hard to catch the back story in a comment thread. I think we largely agree. There are larger unhealthy churches and for sure, smaller healthy ones.

          I picked 200 as the number because it’s a barrier most churches can’t break through even when they have the potential and desire to do it.

          I’m into seeing churches thrive and I would love to see that happening in every context. On that, I’m sure we agree.

        • tommy

          Its always people who dont pastors a church that know everything lol

        • screwlucy

          This comment is even more brilliant.

      • Mike

        Carey, I posted earlier but wanted you to know that I appreciate your work and engaging us in these very relevant topics. Great thinking comes from a great challenges. Be blessed

        • Thanks Mike. Appreciate that. Love being in this together.

    • screwlucy

      This comment is brilliant.

  • Guest

    Hi Carey, thanks for sharing your thoughts. But even Cancer grows! Here’s my thoughts. I admire your calm responses. However, on a general note, you have good intentions, but you seem to erroneously equate church growth with numbers the way political economics talk about job numbers. By so, you advance carnal methods and undermine the place of sanctification and the leading of the Holy Spirit even in small churches. While I do not believe it is your intention, you subtly undermine small churches as somewhat failing churches (You have denied that. But it’s what your post clearly suggests). I notice you don’t do scriptures that much (it looks intentional), but while Acts 2:47 actually supports your inclination to numbers, it also questions your goal. The goal from that scripture is: “…those who were being saved”. Your goal seems to place emphases on the number part as an evidence of the salvation part. Have you not thought how wrong your hypothesis possibly is? God doesn’t do numbers or leadership like we do as business people. Lastly, while growth can be an evidence of soul winning, the caveat is that, with the increasing taste for worldly desires these days, and if 2 timothy 4:3 is anything to go by, such growth can also be a product of world friendly messages and strategy. Even your incessant use of the word “strategy” is a bit unsettling by the way.

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  • Darian G. Burns

    Here are some reasons –
    Perhaps God in His sovereignty desires that some churches remain under 200. Perhaps He does for reasons beyond our understanding.
    Perhaps He measures success differently than us and numbers are not as big of a deal to him.
    Perhaps a pastor who is the primary caregiver is exactly what that church needs in that place and and time.
    Perhaps small country churches far from mega “success” need quality teaching and preaching and that measure the quality but the content rather than the delivery.

    Many of your points are solid and good; however, the assumption that if a church is not growing numerically, over 200 and financially well off it is not fulfilling its purpose and bringing glory to God, is at best asserting a modern American success cultural bias that comes more from business than the Bible.

    • Thanks Darian. I don’t think that all churches should be over 200. But I do think many have the potential to and that God, in his sovereignty, desires that the church should grow. Scripture makes the clear. I just hear far too many church leaders stumped at why their church isn’t growing. Hence the post.

      And again, business principles are not 100% incompatible with God. In fact, many business leaders have discovered godly principles that church leaders have forgotten. The business/church dichotomy is not always as stark as some church leaders make it out to be. We do not have a monopoly on virtue in the church.

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  • Nolan Galido

    Would you recommend any other books or articles that deal with building structures and systems for growth?

    • The best is the Carl George and Warren Bird I reference in the article. Other books to read. Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren (old but classic).

  • Unashamed Overcomer

    Im not pastoring a church (I used to, a small one that didnt crack 200) but I oversee a network of believer groups in an organization based on individual membership. When I read this my dam broke. Its what I KNEW but perhaps didnt want to face. I was hoping I was wrong but on closer observation, these are some of the key areas that inhibit our growth management and development. Reading it forced me say to myself, its time. Time to make some hard decisions but if you want the work of the Lord to grow strong, you have to do it. So thank you (as inadequate as it sounds) for this uncracked mirror. I see myself and us and we can be much better in our future than we are now.

  • Diane K.

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but
    this man’s post grieved me. Maybe I am misunderstanding, but how
    could you compare advancing the kingdom of God to the same strategy
    that a supermarket would use? Do we fight against flesh and blood or
    against powers of darkness? I am so burdened that we would advise
    marketing and consumer driven tactics to increase attendance without
    mentioning the Spirit of God. How can this be? Why the fascination
    with attendance anyway? Would Christ prefer large attendance or true
    spirituality. I find it concerning that he says lack of prayer is not
    the problem. How can you assume that to be when some polls give very
    sad averages of how much time pastors spend in prayer? Supermarkets
    succeed because they offer the lowest prices, etc. But are we filling
    our churches based on having the lowest prices on carrots this week?
    How can that ever stand against persecution or hardships? I am sorry,
    but I don’t think you would hear this kind of language from pastors
    in any other country than ours (or one as consumer driven as ours
    is). In fact, I do not think this was the language of Christ either.
    If this guy’s advice is sound, shouldn’t our pastors be sent to get
    their business degrees instead of bothering with theology and matters
    of the spirit? I in no way believe myself to be greater than the
    pastors sharing and agreeing with this post, so please correct me if
    you see flaws in my reasoning. But I think I am speaking the truth.

    • Hi Diane…I appreciate you sharing your views. Just to clarify, I did not mean to suggest the mission of the church is like bananas on sale.

      The point is organizational structure, something that both supermarkets and Jesus have in common. Among all the things the early church was, it was organizationally thought through and responsive to massive growth. That’s all. We need to be prepared to accommodate and serve the people God sends our way.

    • screwlucy

      Don’t apologize. You are spot on.

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  • Anthony

    Thank you for your very thought-provoking post! I love hearing from other leaders on how they approach the obstacles that present themselves in building and growing the church. However, I’m a little embarrassed at the amount of backlash from other readers. I don’t believe this was written as a “one size fits all” formula or to demean small churches, which is clarified throughout the post. Rather than attack these thoughts, why don’t we consider if any of them might help our situation and, if not, move on?

    • Thanks Anthony. This hit a hot spot for sure! I still stand by what I wrote, despite all the reaction.

  • FLMom

    The experiences I have seen are “elders” in the church overly empower themselves. The issue is these elders/governors want things their way and not to the overall benefit of the church. It seems a generational issue of what is desired in a church. It is unfortunate as all of us Christians should have the same goal of saving souls and that requires adjusting to the times we live in without giving up standards. It is certainly not easy to achieve that balance.

    • That’s an unfortunate formula for sure. I get that. I’m very grateful for the government we have in our church.

    • Barry1234

      My experience is – and Carey hit on it above- that many “elders” are ill equipped to serve. They are willing, but may not have the abilities to serve in some positions. I’ve seen “elders” in a church try to act like the supervisor/manager in various church issues- but in their private life they have no supervisor/management experience in anything. To me that’s a recipe for a problem. That’s not to say you only search out elders that are supervisors in the private sector. But at the same time, you don’t necessarily put someone that has no experience with budgets or finances to oversee the budget committee at church either.

      • Barry…wow. That’s a tough point. But a good one. Thank you. Wish it wasn’t true, but too often it is.

  • Paul

    You just perfectly descibed the church I work at in every way. They deal with all 8 (and I’m sure more) of these reasons and they have been stuck at or below 185 for many years. Unfortunately, they have no desire to change these things and a leader who is unwilling to see them. I’m quitting because the lack of leadership and support has led to personal health issues. I pray that other pastors who work in this type of church see it soon enough to change.

    • That’s a hard story Paul on both fronts. I hope and pray both you and the church find a new beginning.

  • Mike

    I appreciate your insights Carey. I enjoy reading your blog. I am
    a pastor of a church of about 80-90 and am also passionate about Jesus and the great commission. I understand—I get it. But I believe that your opening
    premise of what our goal should be is off. Our goal is not to grow, but
    to bring glory to God by being faithful to obey the great commission the best
    way we can, using what we have. Our resp is to communicate the purpose, mission, and vision of the church and then lead people to accomplish it with us. Glory is our part growth is God’s part. (Romans15:5-7; Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 3:7)

    • Appreciate your heart on this Mike. But I do think a by-product of obedience to the Great Commission is growth. And this is a strategy piece on how to navigate that in our culture. That’s where I’m coming from on this.

      • Mike

        And God knows we need help with strategy:) Growth is a byproduct…but not always in the way we think. That’s why that part is up to God. And I do think your suggestions are very good. Obviously they are working for you. But in the average one pastor church the challenge of “growth” is much more real and much more difficult. Our focus must be God’s glory and faithfulness and obedience to Him. That’s where I am coming from. Then max “growth” for that particular church will occur. We will then be able to do our best with what we have where we are. Thanks again for sharing.

        • Alpharetto Jonez

          Mike, I am going to be really honest with you right now. This is not a personal attack against you in any way, but your vision may be too small. What is “max growth”? Do we not serve a God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine? Yes, I understand we want God’s glory to be seen throughout the lives of our congregation, but wouldn’t that be attractive? Wouldn’t people like to know the reason for our joy? And what is our best? Our best is certainly not God’s best because His ways our not like our ways. Mike, it is my prayer that God would shake you and your church to the core so He can build His perfect bride from the ashes.

          • Mike

            Thank you for the challenge and for your prayers. Love Eph 3:20 too. We
            are having revival services in a couple of weeks. I would love for God
            to shake us to the chore and see real growing healthy disciples of
            Christ
            worshipping, serving, and sharing the Gospel with others so
            more will be reached and know the one true God!!! And so our church
            would grow more!
            To answer your question…Max growth is making more
            disciples of Christ the best way possible in your context and culture,
            using the resources God has given you.. It’s using what you have to see
            more people become growing healthy disciples of Christ and fully
            engaged members of the local church. Keep praying for God to shake us
            that may be exactly what He needs to do. And I pray God’s blessing and
            growth in
            your rel with Jesus and your church as well!

  • Another
    sad story about failing Churches. One of the main reasons that Churches
    do not grow is because statistically a Church will only grow to 85% of
    their total space. It might float up and down but it stays right around
    the 85% mark. Also, these are the last of the last days. The last days
    began at Pentecost. The Bible specifically speaks of the falling away.
    It’s a shame so many Pastors are influenced by how some critic will say
    they failed when in fact, they did everything God told them to do.
    Again, our job is to spread the Gospel not to save or to acquire Church
    members. God said, I will build my church” and when people start
    thinking that the Church is built by them, you get a Joel Osteen type of
    Church. I have never counted the amount of people in our Church. I have
    counted children because we were limited to the amount for an event but
    just to count heads as they do in many Churches, to me is a sin. David
    counted heads and it got him in trouble.

    A
    Pastor who teaches and disciples and has a ongoing outreach program
    does not need to know how to sing, dance or “Bring them In”. It is not
    his job. the Bible says not to judge another man’s servant and so any
    enthusiastic, loving Pastor who is obeying God is doing His will.

    Today,
    in the States we should teach what we have. Let them learn about loving
    their neighbor and about missions giving and supporting the Saints.
    This is never spoken about but it is a much needed topic. Too many
    missionaries do not mention how low their finances on because they think
    it is a failure on their part. Even Paul realized it was a failure of
    the Church.

    People
    need to become PART of the Church. They need to be involved with every
    part of it and then you will have a successful Church no matter how
    small or large someone may think, it is the perfect size that Christ
    built.

  • Doug

    You are right on target! Thank you.

  • David

    Every church should desire to grow. The 125 and 200 barriers are the hardest of all in my opinion. There are enough lost and un-churched people out there that we could all be mega churches. Small thinking equals small churches.

    • Small thinking is a huge problem for many of us. Thanks David.

      • Barb

        Carey,you have a lot of good thoughts. We can probably all learn some things from it. If we are wise we will take what we can use and leave the rest for others. Thank you!

        • Thanks for the encouragement Barb! I’m learning too.

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  • Nat Marin

    This post contradicts itself, you don’t have to grow YOUR own church just to reach more people. “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.” – But is that right? Of course they *want* that, it makes them look good and creates more revenue. But is that what the early church was like, all about “growing” a big centralized group of people in one giant building? Nope, they were about dinners and small groups and meeting together and traveling to reach others. And there’s another reason churches should stay at 150-200 max – it’s called Dunbar’s Number – look it up!

    • That makes sense until you realize the early church would often reach thousands on a single days, and hundreds of thousands over the course of a life time. And Dunbar’s number assumes everyone needs to know everyone. I don’t agree. Everyone needs to know someone, but not everyone.

      • Michelle

        It occurs to me that when Peter was preaching it was during a feast in Jerusalem. Many people were saved that weren’t from that area, so how exactly was that organized?

        • When you reach 3000 people on a single day, that’s amazing. But they did organize it after. Read Acts 6 for more. 🙂

  • Great post Carey! I agree, Churches can thrive, they just need the proper tools and resources to do it.

  • Ann

    How do Catholic churches have hundreds, if not thousands, of weekly Mass-goers? My parish has 5 Masses a weekend with a total of about 2,000 attendees, in a town of about 10,000 people.

    • That is because the world appears more delicious than the Church that belongs to Christ.

  • Michael Odum

    This is awesome the strategies given will not only grow you as a leader but also the flock/ministry. God has given you an assignment with this short plan and I pray God sees it through. Bless you my friend.

  • sam

    I guess I see the truth in it all but just frustrated after trying all of this, working on our structure/systems, training leaders, relaunching our church with state of the art technology, and practically trying to overcome the pitfalls mentioned above. We’ve been at this for about 13 years. Relaunched the last 2 years to try and shift the culture for growth. A shift of culture happened but not real growth after having a 276 launch day with about 60 that have stuck basically the number that we had before. At this point, I’m not sure how all of the above actually happens when you’ve been coached, been to conferences, had consultants come in, spent $75,000 to relaunch. We put everything into this and some. I’ve just had to become content and stop looking for those to come from outside and raise and disciple the one’s that are there. And build on the systems that we have to become better and trust God and see what happens and be content and trust that the vision will be fully realized line by line, precept by precept as we continue to make ourselves known in the community. At this point, I’m not sure what shall happen but just obeying God and loving and serving those that we are pastoring in hopes that growth will happen as we continue to grow as leaders.

    • Sam…wow. That’s a really tough story. I’m sorry to hear that. I think the attitude you describe at the end of the comment will get your far. Thanks Sam.

    • Nat Marin

      You can’t “shift the culture for growth”, that’s the absolutely backwards goal and mission of a church that will actually thrive. Look outward.

    • As Pastors, we all want Church growth. However, after all your money and time thrown at it you realized that it is God who builds the Church . Just keep loving them and God will add as HE sees fit.

    • Fred Lane

      Been there, done that. My guess is there is some problem in the heart of the church, most likely leadership or general passion for God. As Craig Groschel says, churches that have “It” grow. I’d make sure that the leaders of the church are really on-board AND love God and people. If there are internal conflicts, fix them. Get as healthy at the core as you can.

  • Pastor Scott

    What strategy did you use to go from 50 members to 75,100,125, 150,200 ect. If you take over a church of 50 and work full time outside the church and have a family, and volunteers have full scheduled lives and problems as well. What suggestions do you give for Pastors with limited time and resources? Thanks for the article.

    • Just do what God called you to do and enjoy. BTW, you don’t have limited resources, you have God and that is not a cliche’. You need to think in terms of letting Him build His Church and you just doing what He will tell you.

  • ty

    The growth of a church is no guarantee that God is involved. . . it could be that that is just the way the “business” is set up. Furthermore, the church is NOT a business or organization. The church is a body of believers who operate Through the Spirit of God and by the Faith of the Lord Jesus. . . This website means well, but yea, it won’t do. It’s not the answer.

    • Maurice

      You sound silly. Carey just gave SOUND ADVICE!! Wisdom that Solomon said most of us need. Stop being religious and critical. Receive the simplicity of his wisdom.

      • I don’t think people are being critical. I think they have discernment.You need to ask yourself, Do you listen to everything that “sounds” good?

    • matt

      Actually a church is an organization. A non profit more specifically. The goal of a church is to be involved in its community as well as be a place of worship. The church is a business but our product is free.

    • Amen Ty, although you missed on one point. It is a business. It’s the “Father’s business” too many people think they are running it! 🙂

  • Mike

    I agree with what is said here mostly. I think it’s a little sad that this has to be said. I think it a bit obvious, but then obviously not. But I do want to add a bit of math to this whole thing. E.g., in my city there are 4-6 churches on every block and corner in large portions of the city. Even if everyone became a member of a church, we couldn’t fill all those buildings. I understand that this article is about churches that want to grow. But I think the splintering of churches is an issue. Most churches here are formed by disgruntled leaders and members of other churches. In short, I guess my point is even if you follow these eight steps, when you run out of bodies, you run out of bodies.

  • Tommy Brown

    Many churches just recycle Christians. They only get new members who were disgruntled at their previous churches. All corporate gatherings and even small groups should have a evangelism element to them, otherwise evening services just become another service where we (the body of Christ) come together and pat each other on the back for being another “good Christian” …not great. Be intentional about inviting lost people, co-workers, neighbors, and even go to the homeless shelter with one of the church vans and fill it up with people who would genuinely appreciate and evening in a non-hostile, non threatening very peaceful environment with prayer and worship. Go to the inner city or a battered women’s shelter, adopt a High school football or basketball team they are actually quasi leaders in their little circles of influence and homes. Invite them and when they come love on them as much as you can.

  • Pastor Willie

    Pastor WC the problem is the Men do not want to men. The problems is we have done this before, the problem is I do not have the energy to work for God, the problem one member has a large family and the rest of them appears to be afraid of him.

    williescott47@yahoo.com

  • Ed Beck

    The
    Days of Commercial Fishing are Over With

    Some years back the Holy Spirit whispered to me
    that “The days of commercial fishing are over with.” I was reading this excerpt of Scripture when
    God spoke that to me:

    “It will come about that every living creature
    which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be
    very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. AND IT WILL COME ABOUT THAT FISHERMEN WILL STAND BESIDE IT; FROM ENGEDI TO ENEGLAIM THERE WILL BE A PLACE FOR THE SPREADING OF NETS. Their fish will be according to their
    kinds, like the fish of the Great
    Sea, very many” (Ezekiel 47:9-10, emphasis mine,
    NASB).

    I believe the water which flows out from beneath the
    threshold of the entrance to the temple which faced east represents the Holy
    Spirit in varied depths of coverage upon this earth culminating in these end
    times of ours when, as Habakkuk said, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the
    waters cover the sea” (2:14). And here
    at the end of the end of time, salt marshes are being made as the Holy Spirit
    moves on, and also the days of big tent meeting and theatre hall are beginning
    to dry up. To flow between Engedi and
    Eneglaim, is to flow between one well and two wells; there the lone or twain
    fisherman spreads his nets and fishes for his kind (gathers in his family. TODAY IS ABOUT GATHERING IN THE REMAING ONES
    OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL FAMILY. It is
    nearly the end of the harvest even as we speak; this poem I wrote not long back
    is apropos:

    A-TRIBUTARY

    We, desiring an uninhibited flow

    of form both liquid and solid

    in matter and matters beyond

    our capabilities seeking and probing

    unexplored topics and topography

    everywhere our heads dictating our feet

    where we move unabashed and bashing

    every party and funeral visiting

    those gone and going inside

    scurrying about like insects

    squashing and treading wrath

    grapes of our wine and whines

    fueling the hollows of our thought patterns

    breaking and static waving riding

    to the shores and store windows

    shopping and peeping through glasses

    beyond mannequins into a sea

    where the living swelling and cresting

    souls’ content is near finishing

    populating the earth.

    I
    also wrote this about 2-4 years ago:

    I believe, that like a sunspot
    eruption, a sudden flash of brilliance has just shown forth as a clarion call
    to our generation; this brilliant explosion of light is the emanation of the
    golden crown upon our Lord’s head and is a sure sign that He is about to
    execute His authority and punish any subject that is not really a subject, e. g., those that feign subjection but are not
    genuinely subject to Him from the heart.
    He has arisen from off His throne and is about to either hold the
    scepter up or down in favor or disfavor, mercy or judgment, concerning this
    generation.

    I also believe that that brilliant
    flash of God’s Glory has just reflected off His shiny and sharp sickle blade,
    that end time sickle that the Angel of the Lord will, with one fell swoop, harvest
    the entire earth.

    THE END IS IMMINENT; are you ready?

  • chris fields

    I’m looking to plant a church soon. I’m a Assemblies of God minister and my state presbyter posted this on our facebook page. Love this! Great ideas! Thank u

    • Thanks for the encouragement Chris and best wishes on the plant. Way to go.

      • sam

        Carey Niewwhof, do you think personality styles also contributes to growth. Pastor is passive aggressive and not always interactive with the team in providing forward vision, keeping people accountable, as well as meeting with team weekly to keep momentum. Additionally, how do you let go when you micromanage when you use volunteers instead of paid staff? I know that a mouthful but would love to hear your response. Also, I am sam the one who posted earlier about our relaunch.

        • I would like to chime in. Just hearing the words “micro manage” “paid staff” meeting with the team” and it seems as if you are throwing in that your Pastor doesn’t know what he is doing. Do you know a good Pastor is led by the Lord and certainly not by the body? Perhaaps you need to go give him a pat on the back and say –here I am use me.

          • Barry1234

            A good Pastor is led by the Lord. But a good Pastor led by the Lord may not be the best equipped at some tasks within a church – – and yes I agree – part of the problem is there aren’t enough church members willing to say “use me as you will”

          • I agree Barry, I don’t know how to fix the Pa but one of my guys does. My wife has a great handle on the kids. A good Pastor led by the Lord will put those to work at the gifts they were given.

  • essie johnson

    The Church can’t not grow if the pastor have the meism! he has to let the members be a part of the church, and work in the church with out his interference, because the church belong to them and not him.” When a pastor think that he owns the church then the church will not progress. and people will leave the church because of that.

    • My understanding Essie is that the church doesn’t belong to the people. It belongs to Christ. When a pastor and people are yielded to that reality, things become much healthier.

    • I don’t want to sound belligerent but I am so glad you are not in my Church.Just looking at how nice and polished you both are suggests an entire Church of busy bodies trying to tell the man who God called to the church, what to do. I have seen that too many times. VERY SAD!

  • Aaron Heilman

    I would rather see another church plant with new leaders than try to grow the same church bigger and bigger. Church is a gathering, a community. Once a community becomes too large it operates more on a superficial level by necessity. The solution is not bigger churches but more churches!

    • Thanks for your comment Aaron. I hear that argument a lot and I’m not sure I agree. Large does not equal superficial and small does not equal deep or effective.

      • Flavien

        Carey
        I am so glad that you provide tools to help Pastors to increase their membership capacity, and their effectiveness. Many of Pastors are desiring to break those barriers but they don’t know what to do. May God continue to empower you with his grace and wisdom as you are impacting knowledge to the body of christ . At the end of the day, one of symptomatic signs that God is on something is growth, this growth can be numerical, spiritual, physical or intellectual but it’s growth

      • You are right Brother. It should be the Church that God built and just the right size.

  • Markjmccord

    So, 80% of the Church is wrong?

    • Tom Salagaj

      Not wrong, just DEAD! Anything that is not growing and producing fruit is dead. Just ask Jesus about that fig tree he cursed one day.

      • Jon

        Growth is not always measured by number of bodies in teh pews.

        • Tom Salagaj

          Ha! A typical answer when growth has stopped or is reversing. Perhaps the fig tree farmer should have pointed out to Jesus that figs missing meant nothing. Just look, Lord, at the nice green leaves! Notice how healthy the bark is! And what nice shade is provided! Jesus would have smiled at the gardner while He continued to curse the fig tree. Growth means more of course than just additional bodies in the pew. But bodies in the pew is the first and most important EVIDENCE of growth.

          • Jon

            “Ha!”? Let’s play nice.

            There will be times when those in the pews and in leadership have to be growing before God will allow more people. I am all for more numbers but if that is the only measure you use then you run the risk of being nothing but fluff. My church is struggling with some of the 8 points he mentions. This is probably not the best time for 25 new people to show up. Let our growth be from within right now. We will be strong again and then we will be ready for those Christ wants to bring in our doors.

            I have also been at a church where the numbers mattered most. I even got in trouble for fixing a spread sheet with formula errors because the result was a decrease in recorded numbers. Mind you, the count was more accurate but it looked bad so I had to track the correct number and submit another number. Don’t tell me numbers is the “most important EVIDENCE of growth.”

          • Hey Jon…thanks for this. I’ve seen cases where church leaders rig the numbers to make themselves feel better. That’s not what this is about at all. Healthy things grow. And you’re right to an extent: attracting healthy new people to a dysfunctional group is not a wise strategy. Health attracts health, and over time healthy things do grow. I wish you well in your leadership challenges.

          • Yes, healthy things grow. Remember the 60’s song hair. “It stops by itself” Everything on this planet has growth limits. People, animals…

          • Hey Tom,
            If Christ said He will build the Church, what part of that don’t you get? There are plenty of Pastors who do all that God tells them. Who are you to tell them how big their Church should be. BTW, How big is the Church You Pastor?

      • The fig tree was a disappointment to Jesus. He saw all the leaves (people) but no fruit. It’s not a matter of a growing Church. It’s a matter of a fruitful Church.

    • It’s not about right or wrong. I wrote the article to address churches that want to grow but can’t figure out why it’s not happening.

      • Maurice

        Great article Carey! Clear and concise insight for church growth.

  • omimexico

    Well I think this books covers the strategy issue: http://www.amazon.com/Foundations-Success-Evangelism-Workbook-Growing/dp/1492791245 There is another book that will come out in the spring of 2014 that weill deal with the leadership issue.

    • Books will only give you someone Else’s thoughts. I found the KJV to be the best book for this.

  • Macklin

    I attend a small deaf church and even though some of these points is a reality in our church it certainly makes it harder when the deaf population is a minority among society.

    • Don’t worry, if God wants you bigger He can make the entire town deaf.

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  • michelle thomas

    I just truly believe that the pastor was not meant to stand alone. Jesus left the model of Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, etc. and the Western Church isn’t following that model for the most part, maybe because we don’t understand those other functions. But we must strive to learn about them or the church will die standing. People are not satisfied with the ‘tried and true’ evangelical model of doing things.

    • Do we have Apostles today? No. The rule was they needed to see God. Paul was the last. The Bible clearly puts the Pastor in Charge. There is no question. It is when people who wanna be, try to force the Pastor to do their will when all will fail. Remember Korah?

  • David Ripley

    How do we get permission to reprint this article? Would like to share it with pastors in my training seminars.

    • Just email me through cnieuwhof at gmail.com and my assistant Sarah will see if we can work it out.

  • joshuamtaylor

    Would you say that most of these same principals would apply to a youth setting?

    • Joshua…great question. I think yes (I haven’t led student ministry in a while). Especially #1. The biggest problem in student world is when a leader wants to pastor all the kids. Group leaders need to be engaged and involved.

  • Thanx for this. It’s one of those posts I need to read again. How big is my church? Yep, 200.

    • Love what you and your team are doing in Kincardine Marilyn! Keep going. 🙂

  • Doug Halcomb

    The growth barrier we are facing is 500. We desire to grow larger and are making sure we are addressing facility growth-limiting factors, and making sure that we are doing all we can to reach the lost and unconnected. What are some of the issues to address to break the 500 barrier? I would love to see a post on this, or even better, have a conversation about this.

    • Doug I’m sorry I missed this comment. If you buy the book I recommend on breaking church growth barriers, it will detail it. But I think it’s governance, leadership and delegation. Smaller, leaner government with more oversight than control. A leader who delegates and focuses on their areas of strength and getting leaders to lead, not do.

      • Doug Halcomb

        Thanks Carey. Which book are you referring to? I appreciate the insights and I very much appreciate how your insights have helped transform our church with regards to families and the next generation.

    • Tom Salagaj

      I would also say that God is looking for churches to send some of His most needy people. But, they must be churches that will take good care of those people. In this scenario, God can be the most enthusiastic church builder your church will ever have. He will send them if you will take care of them. Will you do it His way? If not, He’ll send them elsewhere. So would we if we were looking for someone or some church to care for OUR children.

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  • Deo Mpiima Mwanje

    You have blessed my heart and challenged me

  • Deo Mpiima Mwanje

    You

  • Dean Neal

    Carey, I appreciate your intro by saying that often churches don’t NOT grow for lack of prayer, etc. I have known too many fine clergy who were burdened with guilt over their lack of spirituality as a block to their churches desired growth. I have also know a goodly number of clergy who thought that revving up the spiritual fervor of a congregation would lead to growth. Meanwhile their church system was built to keep the church small in the ways you have described.

    One of the hallmarks of small church thinking is: small church pastors (and their leadership teams) try things, large church pastors build success into their programs. That is, they plan not just for the event but for the second and third phases after that.

    One example from my ministry was when we introduced the Alpha program. We first led the congregation to hold small group gatherings of meals and low level conversations (not “sharing”). We allowed friends to gather with friends. We did this for three months, allowed each group to take of a week of each month. Then, when introduced the Alpha Course, we said, “Oh,it’s just like our Wednesday Dinner Fellowships, except there’s a video, and we all meet at the church.”

    The other bit of planning was that we agreed to put on five Alpha Courses. As long as we had one table of non-churched folks, we would continue with a next one. We know that most churches did Alpha as a Christian education program and would host only one or two, by which time everyone in the church who would go to things like that would have done so. We knew we needed to get outside the network of our church. We saw our average Sunday attendance increase from 202 to over 275 in the course of three years.

    • Dean…this is great advice and an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it. Great strategy and wonderful results.

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  • Tim Walker

    Excellent article. As a pioneering pastor, planting my second church, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. After reading the comments though, I may add…small churches often don’t grow because many pastors and leaders fail to properly value the significance of growth. If it is true that every healthy organism grows, then healthy congregations will increase regardless of the size of the community they are in. Some people get hung-up when milestones such as “200, 400, 700, etc.” are used; but they are just simple markers to measure progress. Obviously, if one is in a small community, or an unreached region, the milestones are different. While it’s not about numbers in the sense that attendance measures significance, numbers represent people…people who should be becoming fully engaged followers of Jesus, sharing their faith and living out the life of God in the community. When that occurs, the local church will grow automatically unless we are doing things that sabotage it! What I found in your article is a potent list of things churches often do to sabotage growth! Thanks again and I truly enjoy your insight!

  • Dusty DeSoto

    You fellows are wearing me out! But must admit, I’ve learned more from the comments than I did from the article. And this, by the way, is coming from a former ministry coordinator of church with over 25,000 members.

  • diak0n0s

    “8. The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody. ”

    Strangely, this has always been one of the main signs of mega-churches, preaching a one sided people pleasing message.

    There’s an old saying. . “you can’t fill the big tent with a message of conviction and repentance”.

    Hence the Osteen’s and the Willow Creeks, etc.

  • Ken Crawford

    Carey – I’ve seen and committed these 8 behaviors more than I care to admit. I agree the issue is not whether small or large are better, but whether our habits fit our goals and God’s calling. I’ve written a brief riff on your post:

    http://kengcrawford.com/2013/10/11/breaking-bad-habits-that-keep-your-organization-from-growing/

  • Carey – Thank you for this article. I have seen and committed these 8 behaviors more times than I care to admit. It is so difficult to shift our personal and organizational momentum and change the habits that keep us in place. I’ve done a riff on this post that you might find interesting. http://kengcrawford.com/2013/10/11/breaking-bad-habits-that-keep-your-organization-from-growing/

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  • Brad

    There are several spelling mistakes in this article, which prevented me from forwarding it on to others. But certainly some great thoughts. I can see many of these instances in my own church

  • Having run a church for many years, these 8 are on point. The other factor is that they do not know how to develop a program and a series of services that would attract a broader audience than the “clique” they are used to.

    • Thanks Edwin. Agreed. Doing the same thing over and over again produces the same results.

      • Tom Salagaj

        I would like to add that IF the senior pastor is dedicated to building the specific church God’s way; and if he will do everything God says to do, the church will grow and not be able to contain the growth. But how many pastors have the courage to listen to God and not men? Get rid of the board of deacons and do things the Kingdom way and not the corporate way. Our church is continually growing and bursting out walls. We do not answer to mortal men, we answer to God’s vision and call that must be obtained on a daily basis. 35 years ago we had 16 senior citizens and a 17 yr old pastor. Now we have more than 4,000, are continually adding more space and buildings to contain the people GOD is sending. This has been a proven method of church growth for us. And we’re debt free! Oh, and we still have the same pastor! 64 volunteer ordained pastors, scads of elders and packed overflow rooms! I might also add that we are on the border of inner city neighborhoods in Chicago. God’s way never fails.

  • Rod Block

    There really is no such thing as a church under 200. There is only one church and it numbers in the multi millions. We must be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Anything else is just boasting in man. Let’s boast in The Lord who is building His Church and adding to its number daily. Someone saved/added in your home/building/field is someone saved in my building, because it’s all His building. Amen

  • Rev. Lloyd McDougall

    Church Growth is the Life of the Church, “he that wins souls is wise”, and all the points raised could be said to be good or even great, but, nowhere in the life of Jesus or Elijah do we see groups of people greater than 200 in size except twice in 3.5 years (the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000,) and in Elijah’s case, the challenge of the false prophets at Mt. Carmel. Could it be that we are seeking imitate the World and the Prosperity Gospel Churches when we seek bigger local churches. Could it be we are like small children desiring to show that we can ADD, when a mature church, like an older child, should have a vision and a strategy to MULTIPLY. I have lived to see a small church in Toronto, Canada, MULTIPLY into seven small churches in the Greater Toronto Area. Jesus only shared a limited amount of His wisdom on Organizational Skills, which was to tell His disciples to gather the 4,000 and the 5,000 into groups of 50 (men, not including women and children). So the wisdom of the Lord seems to be that 50 men, plus women and children, (ie) 200 or so is the proper size at which to be growing by multiples of the same. Now, after four years in the Mission Field of Africa (Malawi) I have seen the local Prison Ministry grow from two Open Fellowship Groups (of 30 to 40 each) in the two largest Prisons to six such “Congregations or Churches” in three Prison Farms and three other urban Prisons (including the original two) with a vision for growing in yet other parts of the nation and beyond. I guess what I’m saying is the “Missions” is the necessary component for growth, yet Missions, by its nature is MULTIPLICATION, not simple ADDITION

    • Lloyd, thank you for your comments. With all due respect, I think Jesus often had crowds. Often they were so large people couldn’t get near him. Similarly, the early church was a rapidly growing movement where often hundreds or even thousands gathered or gave their lives to Christ. I do think multiplication is wonderful. But I think the church is stronger when we have both multiplication and addition, which seems to parallel scripture.

      • Jesus preached to crowds, but he discipled few of those people. We’re to make disciples of the nations not necessarily (or only) large congregations.

        • Tom Salagaj

          Correctly discipled people grow churches. They must…! They will!

  • itsnotaboutme

    “There’s nothing wrong with being a small church”…IF the church is young (or in a low-population area). But healthy churches tend to grow. If a church neglects the Great Commission, it’s not a healthy church. So witnessing & making disciples ought to have been addressed in the article.

    • Tom Salagaj

      Yes but these issues are all handled properly when pastors will do exactly what God tells them to do for each particular church body. God cannot fail and He will always help men to do right things right. Jesus said, “I will BUILD MY CHURCH and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”. So, pastors, find out the specific vision and plan for your church body and DO IT without fail. God will guarantee your success and provide a crown worthy of your effort.

  • Duncan Ojwang

    Mr Catright, your excuse for not supporting the article are tired arguments, following the usual mistake of generalizing. so what should churches do if they are not persecuted like biblical times here in the U.S. Put themselves in the arms way? Persecution was not a biblical strategy for evangelism, it catalyzed it as a necessary evil and God using everything. Mr Catwright, I am tempted to conclude your generalization and strategy for church growths bashing is a personal problem, otherwise you could not have said they do not exist in scripture while sinners come and churches grow.

  • LCMer

    Here’s the problem with empowerment that my church faced/faces. What advice? Staff is actually really good at “getting out of the way” when members initiate. However, when there’s no staff in sight, church members don’t participate. My theory is that when a member starts a ministry and the pastors don’t participate or promote, members don’t see it as empowerment but as abandonment (at best) or silent disapproval (at worst). How do you change the culture so that members recognize member-led ministries as “legit.”?

    • I wonder if the challenge you’re facing is one of alignment. When you have different people within the same organization pursuing different purposes or strategies, you get what you describe. I think if the leadership sets a clear course and follows through, alignment becomes easier. We only do a few things as a church (do a few things and do them well), and many of our members follow their other passions and ideas outside the framework of the church. I think that makes everyone stronger. Connexus just does a few things (Sundays, groups and next generation) and we try to do them well.

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  • Deborah Hall

    Sorry pastors, it is about numbers! More congregants can equate into more giving allowing members to grow in the faith and create amazing programs that further the mission of the church. Anything else and you are just kidding yourselves. I’m one of those congregants that want you to ask me to do something meaningful!

    • laketree

      Hi Deborah: Speaking just for myself, I prefer not to attend a church with over 200 members. They lack interaction, freethinking, and innovation. Leaders start well intentioned but soon they unintentionally become dictators. In our church the pastor does not do everything. In fact she is only employed half time, but we are growing. and hope for full time in the future. 2 of the services are given by lay people. One of these by the director of children development (a paid part time position). We have coffee and snacks after church (different volunteers provide); a discussion group every Sunday before church on non religious topics; Direct help assisting immigrants with legal, social problems in cooperation with other area churches; Several social circle groups; choir practice; Music concerts by local and featured musicians (admission charge and targeted to the local community; Special speakers on topics like environment, final life planning or battle of Gettysburg – suggested admission not required geared local community welcome; garden on church grounds; sessions for potential members and more. One Sunday this summer, the choir was down to 4. people. They song was so great I could hear each voice and each voice sang a different vocal part. One person responsible for his/her share of the final song. We are informal, kids attend the first 15 minutes with everyone else, including a 5 minute interactive lesson from the minister or teacher. The children’s’ comments during this lessons, are their contribution to that Sunday’s spiritual message. I get to know the children as people contributing to the diversity of our church community. This would probably not happen in a large church.

  • Deborah Hall

    Wow! I thought your article was right on! As a life-long Christian of the Presbyterian kind, I have seen many of the churches you are profiling. As a lay member of the Committee on Ministry of the San Francisco Presbytery, I saw this over and over again. Small churches where the pastor does everything including run the Sunday bulletin and create the agenda for the Session. Some of the small churches I worked with are further declining in membership and either closing or joining with other Presbyterian churches nearby because of these 8 mistakes. Also in the Bay Area, many churches allow politics to interfere. Another destroyer of small churches is when a member leaves a bucket load of money–the members stop giving. This money should never be used to buy light bulbs, as it were, but instead placed into a foundation whereby the church can use the interest to fund special projects or new ministries. It should never be part of the general funding of the church.
    I also feel that the protestant seminaries are preparing pastors for churches that no longer exist! Keep up the good work, Carey. PS-The church where I now attend is a growing church that has stopped doing the 8 mistakes. We have a terrific pastor who gets it.

    • Deborah…I think you encouraged a lot of leaders. Thank you!

  • Ruthie

    Right now I attend a megachurch (first time doing so). I usually like a mid-sized church, but I think a very small church would not be attractive to me mainly because I am single and 40 and I think I would have a hard time finding community. I wonder if other people wander into a small church on a Sunday, feel out of place and don’t come back and so the church does not grow. Also, to add to Father Steve’s comment, some people are leaving those “seeker” churches with the rock music and the arena feel for a more traditional approach. For them, it feels as fresh as a megachurch would feel to someone raised in a traditional church.

  • Kelly Keith Dunn

    My challenge is this: Big numbers does not equal good if the vast majority are nominal “Christians” . What my goal would be healthy, self reprodicing Disciples!

    • And small numbers do not equal good. The argument cuts both ways. I completely agree that healthy, self-reproducing disciples would be the goal. Thanks.

      • Kelly Keith Dunn

        It appears you missed my point. I did not say large numbers are not good. I said large numbers are not good IF they were in numbers only. The same is said of small churches. I have served in small churches where the congregants were nominal and not Christ following Disciples. Though not serving as a pastor now (I serve in a Rescue Mission now) I have been tasked by my pastor to establish a Doscipleship Ministry within our congregation – which, God’s grace I am doing.

        • Thanks for the clarification Kelly. You are so right. It’s by God’s grace we can do this.

  • Michael J Landreth

    I agree with some of the other post growth is not numbers it is out reach and prayer and being a committed part of the body of Christ. Numbers mean nothing people must be reached and given the true word of God that is growth and if the come to my church that is great but any bible believing church is all that matters.

  • TerryReed

    Carey: Your points are great and by reading the comments it is clear you have given a lot of thought to what you said. I would like to point out as a rural small church pastor most of my life, that the solutions to these problems are not always as clear cut as you suggest. For example, sometimes the best leaders in your church are not on the same page and it takes a lot of work to get them there. You also overlook the fact that many many many small churches have been through pastor after pastor and if they bought into every new vision–as good as they might be–the church would be changing directions so often that it would keep things in chaos. That is one of the main reasons these congregations get stuck.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

    • Hey Terry. I can empathize with your situation. When I began ministry it was in a rural setting. One of the three churches I served had an average attendance of 6. All three combined had an attendance of 50. We saw incredible growth (more than 10 fold) despite being in a very rural area. I think what made a big difference is that people wanted to grow and reach their neighbours.

      • TerryReed

        I too have been blessed to see growth in most of the rural churches I have served. But not before waiting a considerable amount of time which let the folks know I was going to be around for awhile. Check out the first chapter of my book about small church ministry which deals with the need for patience as a leader.
        Terry Reed
        Small Church Tools

        • Glad to hear that Terry. And congrats on getting your book out there.

  • Carey, I agree that every church should be growing…and in more than just nickels and noses!

    The church in jerusalem exploded with growth initially. The first church was a mega-church. But there developed some real inner hindrances to reaching the masses. They had to restructure their management so as to better pastor the crowds. Yet there was this growing ethno-centrism and legalism that both infiltrated the church and stood on the outside opposing the church. Soon afterward the church-gathered became the church- scattered… like seeds…through persecution. Antioch was born and here we are…

    The setting and demographics of each church largely definitely affect the approach: Village congregations need village pastors who know the village people and ways.

    City congregations, where larger numbers of people exist, definitely may need a different gift set in their leaders. At least a willingness to embrace organizational methods more conducive to continued growth.

    And the DNA make-up of the leader affects this too. Pure pastors will have a different paradigm and burden than evangelists and apostles.

    And depending on the gift of the primary leaders, the congregation will usually take on that flavor. We all look at the world and the mission through the lens of our own gifting and calling. A pure pastor will never agree to a lot of what the apostle is doing. Barnabas is not willing to leave John Mark behind. Paul had to. Neither was wrong. But their callings were NOT identical. And it affected not only their paradigm but their methods…and because they couldn’t recognize their God-ordained differences they apparently had unresolved conflict.

    Without Barnabas we may have never know Paul. The no-named elder who preached in the small chapel on the snowy night that Spurgeon was saved is pretty important to church history…I think we’d all agree. But his little church stayed small. Just sayin’… Noah reached seven people in 125 years. But that was significant in his setting and time.

    So this debate will never go away! And regardless of our assignments or gifting, whether 1, 2, or 5 talents, let each of us just to get to business and grow within our spheres!. Even if the growth is not fairly comparable. Let us NOT be like the person who hid his one talent…and made excuses for no growth, lest God will take our few sheep and give them to the 5 talent guy who is faithful in his sphere. Just sayin’….

    • I hear what you’re saying, but the purpose of being given even one talent was to produce two. Or at least not bury it in the ground.

  • Richard P Celley

    In my decades of pastoral experience I have seen very few churches of over 200 that were in reality over 200. Most churches of more than 300 seem very quickly to become several distinct subgroups, the “traditional worship service”, the “seekers”, the “mission folks”, or what have you. Outside their own factions the members have little sense of belonging to the congregation as a whole. Perhaps this is “big business” organizing, and it certainly enables the financial means to hire a pastor full-time but it really seems that it might just be a “mall” filled with small stores rather than a “big business”. Having offered that observation, I agree with every point you made here as entirely valid for churches of any size. I just don’t particularly agree that the goal of efficient organization is numerical growth. I’d be quite happy with growth in the number of members engaged in doing ministry, and growth in their spiritual maturity (yes, I mean giving money for the right reasons). After all, as has been pointed out in many discussions of church growth, more small churches rather than merely larger churches is still growth, offer more points of entry for more people, and can be kept at a size in which every member can know most others and be known by them. That never happens in a church of a 1000.

    • Richard. I wonder if even small churches have subgroups. That’s why we organize for groups and align them with the mission. You can have 1000 (or 10,000) aligned people who also meet in small groups and who still act like a group on a common mission. So I think if you organize for it, things can turn out very positively.

      • Dan_Cartwright

        Carey, what s the ‘mission’ of which you speak? If it’s bringing lost souls into the Kingdom, why are the numbers ‘inside’ our doors even an issue?

        • Dan. I suspect we are simply on different pages. Maybe not fundamentally (we are both Christians), but I’m not sure how we are all going to be better off for continuing this particular thread of the discussion much further. Thanks for your contribution but I think there’s no point in continuing this ongoing dialogue. Sorry.

  • Father Thomas Allen

    What about size of your church building? How does that impact growth?

    • Thanks for the question! I think growth can happen anywhere any time with the right leadership. Buildings can get changed later. I get a lot of questions about whether a facility move will spur growth. It almost never does. It can help a growing congregation grow more. But buildings can’t help flat or dying churches grow. Leadership makes all the difference.

  • Rick DeBruyne

    Good points for the church that is bumping up against the 200 barrier and find themselves falling back when they would like to get past it. Organically small churches should operate with familial organization. BTW, Lyle Schaller wrote about this in the
    The Small Church Is Different! by Lyle E. Schaller (Oct 1982)
    Looking in the Mirror: Self-Appraisal in the Local Church by Lyle E. Schaller and Edward Lee Tucker (Feb 1, 1984)

  • Scott Kivimaki

    Thanks for sharing Carey. I’ve read many of the reply comments and pretty much agree with everyone’s thoughts and church challenges.
    Thought I would shout out a saying or prayer, if you will that I’ve held near and dear throughout my 50 years of life:
    Life is full of adversity trials and tribulation…
    The quality of life is determined by ones own re-actions and emotions, during those trying times…
    1) Stay positive…
    2) Focus on what really matters…
    3) & Most of all…”Keep The Faith”…
    God’s Peace & Calm Out To All!
    Sincerely,
    Scott
    Scott Kivimaki
    2013 Evangelism Council Chair
    Martin Luther Church – ELCA Milwaukee, WI
    http://www.martinlutherchurch.net

  • Linda Luke-Hutchison

    You forgot another important reason. A LOT of preachers want to run everything. They just can’t let go of the authority and the idea that “this is my church”. They even refer to it as “their church”. That is sad. I haven’t seen any of them dying for it. I don’t mean to sound negative or harsh but I’ve been a Christian my entire life, seen many preachers, and even been married to one, (now deceased) and so many preachers are terrified of letting go and letting others do. And they do fear the congregations if they don’t visit everybody that’s sick…. and the church members do get mad at them when they don’t. When I’m sick, I always tell the preacher not to come see me. Go see someone who is going to get mad because you don’t. haha…..Just my thoughts. We must remember “there is noting new under the sun”. Ecclesiastes. I am assuming this means these problems will always exist and have always existed. Can’t wait to get to heaven where the perfect church will exist. 🙂

    • I agree. That could easily be added to the list. The growth of a leader and a congregation is often related to a willingness to release control. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I’m a recovering control freak so you’re speaking my language. Thanks!

      • Linda Luke-Hutchison

        That’s ok…You will be fine in your recovery. You will have a support group meeting at least every Sunday where you can practice on letting go. haha

  • Old Timer

    Yes, by all means, let’s make sure everybody has a megachurch with TV screens and loud rock bands on stage. Get rid of those stupid hymnals and replace it with karaoke on the TV. There’s a lot more money in entertainment than a humble and intimate religious experience based on tradition.

    • Father Steve

      As a recently retired Episcopal pastor, I’ve been able to get around to different churches on Sunday morning since now I only help out with preaching and doing Masses as needed in different venues. I’ve been to a variety of megachurches. I will not ‘fulminate’ against them and while I enjoyed most of the messages from the preachers, the amphitheater/huge screens style devoid of religious symbol (not even a cross) more or less didn’t leave me cold so much as wondering how/why this genre would be attractive? I felt the same as when I go to a concert at our symphony hall: comfortable seats, performance, listen, watch, applaud. Everything was professional and not ‘cheesy’ right down to parking lot attendants helping people and mini-vans to help transport the disabled/handicapped; that was impressive. Music from a ‘soft-rock’ band with synthesizers didn’t scream at me, but ‘praise choruses’ replaced hymns. Some were ‘ok’ but I couldn’t take a steady diet of them. I prefer hymns which speak theology in poetry and song.
      But here’s another dimesion: I went to a Roman Catholic Church (intentionally without a collar but in suit/tie) known for its Latin Mass restoration since the previous Pope permitted it. I was stunned: the huge Gothic sanctuary was packed and not with older white/gray hairs like myself: young families, children, cops, firefighters, teens.
      I stopped counting at about 700. A choir sang the Latin responses, the people sang some hymns which made me chuckle: the same hymns found in Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist & Presby. hymn books! Those were in English, of course. I spoke to the pastor afterwards: very affable man. They had four services on Sunday all the others totally the English Catholic Mass; however, the 16th century “Tridentine” so-called Mass had the biggest attendance. Why? I think it was the transcendent, mystical/contemplative beauty of the worship experience, hearing the Latin etherial Gregorian chants and the atmosphere of “worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” as Ps.96 says. I was awe-struck. So many of these younger folks were raised without tradition or ‘roots’ said the pastor. So the beauty of the ancient ritual, all God and Christ-focused/centered is making this inner city urban parish, which had been ‘on the skids’ 15 years ago, turn around dramatically. So you’ve got the megachurches on one hand very contemporary, and I think an equally significant recovery of “tradition” in some respects on the other as exampled by this Catholic parish. I pass no judgment; only my observations.

      • I think its wonderful that a variety of forms of worship are reaching people. If you can get past the method and get onto the mission…you really make progress fast.

  • Carolina Krawarik-Graham

    I’d like to add: (apologies if this is a repost)

    #9: Leaders, particularly paid staff, are under the assumption that their position of authority is equivalent to actually “knowing more” than those who do NOT hold positions of authority… (aka “I’m right because I’m in charge”)

    #10: Leaders (mired in Paternalism) who are unwilling/unable to recognize and/or admit their faults and mistakes – mostly because of #9 – and sometimes just because of personal Ego (fueled by the delusion of Power)…

    #11: Insufficient interpersonal/inter-relational communication skills training for leadership and laity alike. (I could do a whole manifesto on this aspect alone!)

    #12: Inability/Unwillingness to listen and/or respond to those who are being “served”… often because of #9 and #11, usually leading to #10…

    #13: Avoidance of change, conflict, Truth, being uncomfortable, relinquishing control, reality in general…

    #14: Ignorance around issues of Privilege (this is primarily directed at White churches) – resulting in being more internally (personally/individually) focused – usually on personal comfort, enjoyment, and “feeling good”, than “externally focused” (collectivistic) on serving the wider community (this ties closely in with your #7).
    This also manifests as serving the wider community in ways that maintain personal comfort, but have little significant impact – and sometimes even doing more harm than “good”.

    (and this is my biggest BigFatPersonalGripe – and where I disagree with some of your language, although I get the point and agree that delegating authority is a good tactic for growth)
    #15: Treating ministry as if it were “business” to begin with.
    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a clue about money and accountability and roles and laws and taxes and all that – churches DO exist in the real world and the leadership should be well informed about things like properly accounting for things – and legal consequences of xyz…
    … but the “CEO model” of modern day (growth-oriented) churches is what, imho, is the #1 factor contributing to their (eventual) failure.

    And /honestly/, if you’re gonna go that route, then hire an /actual/ executive as the CEO, one that has some skills doing THAT – and ministers to do the ministry part… that is, if you haven’t forgotten that the “business” is MINISTRY…

    • Carolina Krawarik-Graham

      it was a repost. Again, I apologize! – please feel free to delete.

  • Carolina Krawarik-Graham

    I’d like to add:

    #9: Leaders, particularly paid staff, are under the assumption that their position of authority is equivalent to actually “knowing more” than those who do NOT hold positions of authority… (aka “I’m right because I’m in charge”)

    #10: Leaders (mired in Paternalism) who are unwilling/unable to recognize and/or admit their faults and mistakes – mostly because of #9 – and sometimes just because of personal Ego (fueled by the delusion of Power)…

    #11: Insufficient interpersonal/inter-relational communication skills training for leadership and laity alike. (I could do a whole manifesto on this aspect alone!)

    #12: Inability/Unwillingness to listen and/or respond to those who are being “served”… often because of #9 and #11, usually leading to #10…

    #13: Avoidance of change, conflict, Truth, being uncomfortable, relinquishing control, reality in general…

    #14: Ignorance around issues of Privilege (this is primarily directed at White churches) – resulting in being more internally (personally/individually) focused – usually on personal comfort, enjoyment, and “feeling good”, than “externally focused” (collectivistic) on serving the wider community (this ties closely in with your #7).
    This also manifests as serving the wider community in ways that maintain personal comfort, but have little significant impact – and sometimes even doing more harm than “good”.

    (and this is my biggest BigFatPersonalGripe – and where I disagree with some of your language, although I get the point and agree that delegating authority is a good tactic for growth)
    #15: Treating ministry as if it were “business” to begin with.
    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a clue about money and accountability and roles and laws and taxes and all that – churches DO exist in the real world and the leadership should be well informed about things like properly accounting for things – and legal consequences of xyz…
    … but the “CEO model” of modern day (growth-oriented) churches is what, imho, is the #1 factor contributing to their (eventual) failure.

    And /honestly/, if you’re gonna go that route, then hire an /actual/ executive as the CEO, one that has some skills doing THAT – and ministers to do the ministry part… that is, if you haven’t forgotten that the “business” is MINISTRY…

  • Liz

    I attend a Church that is small (100-120 on average). my pastor says anyone can lead or be in a group. But what one has to do first is pray and determine if this is that person’s passion. When it is no longer your passion, then it is time to step away.

  • Pastor Lin

    Hi Carey! Thanks for the GREAT article! I just can’t believe many of the negative comments on here and some of the arguements they’re using for not growing! It baffles me and makes me think this is the reason so many churches aren’t growing! Even pastors aren’t seeing the vision that God wants to grow our churches!!! Every person matters greatly to God! Not for a moment did I think you were putting down small churches in anyway! Our heart is to beat as one with God’s heart – “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:12-14 NLT)
    Keep on sharing the wisdom God has given you! It ruly is appreciated!

    • Thanks. I appreciate your heart for reaching people. I share it.

    • Karl Vaters

      Hi Pastor Lin. I know you and Carey are surprised by some of the blowback this post is getting. But it’s not because people are offering excuses for not growing – I know I’m not. It’s because phrases like “200 barrier” imply (unintentionally, I believe) that being under that number is some kind of problem.

      We’re aware that church growth is good. In fact it’s not just good, it’s an essential element to the Great Commission. But the growth of the church doesn’t necessarily mean numerical growth for every healthy congregation. And it certainly doesn’t mean that a church is deficient if it hasn’t “broken through” to the new management style needed when a church gets above 200 people.

      Sometimes, like all over Latin America right now, church growth means more and more Small Churches are popping up everywhere. In some places a bigger church is needed. In other places, a lot more smaller churches are needed. Most places would be blessed by having more of both.

      The body of Christ needs healthy churches of all sizes and styles. But the phrase “200 barrier” implies (unintentionally, I believe) that bigger is better. 200 isn’t a barrier, it’s just a number. Some churches serve God better over it, many serve him better under it.

      • Pastor Lin

        Karl,
        It would be easy to attach the word ‘implies’ to just about anything. 🙂 Carey began the article by trying to make sure that anything he said did not ‘imply’ that there’s anything wrong with small churches.
        I have been a church planter and senior pastor for 13 years, and a pastor and church leader for over 20 years, so I have personally experienced lots of barriers along the way. I fully appreciate articles like this to help pastors think outside the box about what may be causing churches to get ‘stuck.’ “I personally” am never going to be content with a church that is not growing and not continually striving to reach one more lost person for Christ! The only reason our church exists is to reach lost people for Christ, not to be a club for the already saved. 🙂
        If the people in my local church aren’t learning to be an active part of the Great Commission and reaching out to their family, friends, neighbors, etc., creating some kind of growth – even if it’s slow – then it would be time for me to either change or step down and let someone else Shepherd the church – that’s how passionate I am about church growth!
        I just don’t get all the excuses and defensiveness here from pastors! We need articles like this and should all be careful not to assume something is implied. 🙂 (Said with a loving smiling face!) Peace in Christ!
        http://www.ChurchAtMovies.com
        http://www.ChurchRochesterNY.org
        www.

        • Karl Vaters

          I completely agree. I, too “am never going to be content with a church that is not growing and not continually striving to reach one more lost person for Christ! The only reason our church exists is to reach lost people for Christ, not to be a club for the already saved.” Yes, yes and yes!

          But there are many churches doing that who will never have more than 200 in the congregation, no matter how healthy and outreaching it is. I know because I’ve been in them and I know their circumstances.

          I heard a quote at a church planters conference this week from Bob Buford. He said “my fruit grows on other people’s trees.” That’s the way it is with a lot of Small Churches. They do the planting or watering, but God gives the increase, sometimes on other people’s trees.

          That’s the way it is with my church. We reach out, minister, train and send people out all the time. But a lot of that fruit grows on other people’s trees because so many of the the people we are discipling are college students or in other life-transition situations. Our church has a huge turnover because of those demographics. So we minister to them, train them and send them off. We also help damaged people rediscover their faith again, many of whom go back to their home church after we help them – with our blessing.

          Settling is sinful. Kingdom growth is essential. But many churches contribute to kingdom growth without having the so-called inevitable numerical growth within their own congregation. No matter how much they contribute to the growth of the kingdom, their fruit grows on other people’s trees.

          So teaching these principles to help churches get healthy is great. But teaching them with the idea that doing them will push a church past the 200 mark can put an undue stress on faithful pastors of smaller congregations.

  • Fernando Villegas

    Carey, you wrote earlier, “In my mind health = growth of some kind.” I agree, but we have to acknowledge that growth does not always equal higher attendance. That is an underlying assumption in this and many other similar articles that is false and must be challenged.

    Consider the human body, a metaphor that is used often in the NT to describe the church. No human body grows physically indefinitely. Every body grows to a certain size and then stops once it matures. But once it matures, “growth” continues by reproduction.

    I believe the same is applicable to churches. It is not for me to decide how large a particular congregation grows in terms of attendance, but there is a point once the church matures where the focus on growth must shift to reproduction, rather than continuing to break artificial growth “lids” or “barriers.” And yet, at least from my own limited perspective, it is very rare to read articles with the title, “8 Reasons Most Churches Never Plant Other Churches.”

    Of course we always want to win more people for Christ. But if we’re really serious about that, it would be well to keep in mind the research of Christian Schwarz, of Natural Church Development. He has shown how, statistically, ten healthy churches of one hundred people each will win more converts (in raw numbers, not just percentages) than one healthy church of one thousand people.

    Having said all of that, I do appreciate the points you raised, and agree that they do and have impeded many churches from growing. But I feel very passionate that a constant focus on attendance barriers is actually counter-productive. It is focusing on the symptom rather than the root cause. If we shift our focus instead to church health and reproduction, the attendance numbers will take care of themselves.

    • Thanks Fernando. I’m familiar with Christian Schwarz’s research. I’m all for churches of 100 that are healthy and growing and churches of 1000 who are healthy and growing. To me it’s not an either/or. It’s a both and.

      • Fernando Villegas

        I appreciate your interaction with us. Just to be clear, I’m also not saying its an either/or. I’m saying that whatever the size, the focus must be on being healthy and growing, not on the number of attendance.

        • Thanks. But health and growth will result in numerical increase. There is nothing wrong with more people who have a relationship with Christ.

  • John

    Good analysis; but overlooks the negative forces that often lurk under the surface. The one in a leadership position may be there because they want to control, not because they want to move the mission forward. To advance mission requires almost constant change[ask overseas missionaries] which many people cannot handle. Good leadership always involves attention to detail and good execution. Without those elements in play, growth will stall.

    • I agree John. There are always leaders with mixed motives. As I mentioned in the post, the ineffective leaders need to go.

  • DM

    Nice Dx. But where’s the Rx? I read “What have you seen that helps churches push past attendance barriers?” as an invitation, but don’t see responses to that question. So I guess I’ll put it back on you, Carey: What have you seen? With gratitude, DM

    • Hey DM. Thanks. I hope this doesn’t sound trite…but the answer is ‘do the opposite’. Release care, define a strategy etc. I would recommend reading Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide and Carl George and Warren Bird’s How to Break Church Growth Barriers. I also have a number of posts on my blog devoted to growing a church, including “9 Signs You’re Ready to Reach Unchurched People.” Hope this helps.

  • KurtR

    A minor point about #4 and #5, empowerment and micromanagement: For several years our council passed a motion at the first meeting with new councilmembers each year that, “Each committee (and task group) is authorized to spend their budget without any further approval from council.”
    The need for this may have grown from having more or less willing workers, not real leaders, in leadership roles. They sometimes want council to become a committee of the whole to make their decisions and tell them what to do.
    Sometimes pastors foster this type of thinking by insisting that they are members of every committee, and that no decisions can be made without their involvement.
    Really a good article. Got me thinking, Good discussions, too.

    • Hi Kurt. I have to smile that the council had to pass a motion to enable not interfering, but either way, that’s awesome. A great step in the right the direction. And empowered leaders can do amazing things.

  • Brenda

    Thanks for sharing your insight….. I’ve experinced the pastor who does everything and the pastor as pleasing everyone. I don’t believe The pleaser believed they need counselors and may cause worst situation for church, body of Christ, People and pastor over time. However even with 1 & 8 the issue… if we are able to be honest withself and allow God to lead church mission with these 8 nuggets of wisdom. Great guidance! Bren

    • Thanks Bren. You are so right. Both extremes create problems.

  • David Housholder

    Nicely done. I cover such church issues often: http://www.davidhousholder.com/?s=evangelism

  • Joe Rhoads

    When considering church growth, please keep in mind that some churches exist is small population communities, like rural areas. Our town has a population of 2000, with 8 churches in just the city limits. Roughly one third of the population attend a church on any given Sunday. So, for a small church to break the 200 barrier is just a bit more difficult that a small church in a population of nearly 130,000, like Barrie, Ontario.

  • Cindy

    Stephen Ministry is a great place to start in correcting #1. I’m working toward convincing our vestry that it is well worth the money because a) the rector won’t be overburdened with all the pastoral needs, b) parishioners won’t be getting mad when they get no (or insufficient) pastoral care, and c) the spiritual life of the entire parish is enhanced due to the ministry of the laity and the workings of the Holy Spirit.

    • Stephen Ministry has done some great work. Thanks for pointing that out. Small groups is a scalable model that works in all sizes of church as well.

  • David

    My home congregation is just over 50 years old, and has come up to the 150 member mark several times, but then has always pulled back and has until recently never been able to cross that line in membership size. Under our new Pastor’s leadership over the last 3 years, we have been using the model of congregational growth in “Raising the Roof: The Pastoral to Program Size Transition” by Alice Mann to guide our leading of the congregation to the program size model. The key point, that Pastor Carey writes about so well, is that growth to the next size category takes intentional leadership, planning and investment to make the transition happen.

    My own take is that what is key is for a congregation to prayerfully discern what size it is called to be, and to then live into that. In our case, we have a campus that can support a larger congregation and our call is to do the hard work of growing into that. I also think that it is valid for a congregation to discern that what it needs to do is to stay small, and to then do that well. Perhaps this means that growth in the church can be in developing and strengthening smaller congregations that are thicker on the ground rather than focusing on membership numbers as the primary indicator of congregational success and health.

    Of course this has implications for the role of the clergy in our churches (more part-time and bi-vocational clergy and what kind of education and formation they need) and what kind of church buildings congregations can sustain, but that is another conversation!

  • GwenJinn

    The church the DH & I are now members of broke 200+ members YEARS ago! It’s a thriving, caring, spiritual church where everyone who wants to (and can) volunteers to help with various duties & ministries. Meanwhile, the church we used to be members at are lucky to have 25 people show up on Sunday.

    • That’s the way it goes sometimes, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing this!

  • cjb

    Carey, are your points evidence based (i.e. grounded in research) or anecdotal (i.e. based on casual experience/observation)? I ask, because my own own experience in small churches has been very different…

    • Both. Read the Carl George/Warren Bird book I reference in the post for evidence . And I have talked to literally hundreds of church leaders and specifically coached dozens around this issue.

  • mmhays

    a great book on this issue is Kevin Martin’s The Myth of the 200 Barrier. Kevin gives lots of analysis and practical suggestions for bridging this gap.

  • Leftrighton

    best article I’ve read on the subject, thanks!

  • kellen owenby

    Carey,

    Great post. I’m thankful for your insight!

    • Thanks for the encouragement Kellen. As you can see, it’s been a controversial subject. 🙂

  • Dale

    I think the 200-300 mark for a church should be maximum size in order to achieve community. We should still look to grow and plant churches though. What needs to be done is that the mother and daughter churches continue to share some resources (Youth Ministries, Men’s & Women’s Ministries, and maybe even the building if possible)

    • I have heard that comment before Dale and thank you for raising it.I guess I just see it differently. If a church is a community of communities it can scale to much bigger than 300, which simply gives churches the chance to bring more people into relationship with Christ. You can certainly plant and daughter churches but putting an artificial old on the church is something I’d be hesitant to do.

    • Tristan Miller Baker

      I think that both kinds of churches (micro and macro) have their places. In small towns and for certain people small churches provide the best missions, support, and community. However, very large churches can provide very large missions, such as missionary and church planting efforts in other countries, disaster relief, and centralization of resources. Neither are better, but different, and since there will always be small churches, it is good to encourage some to become larger.

    • June Field

      Having scanned all of the questions and comments I could endure re; Carey’s article; Dale is the only one who mentioned YOUTH Ministries. If a church does not have (yes and recruit) families with children, it is usually the death of a church. Children are the health of a church and future true Christians. At my age, I’ve seen too many adults who experience “Road To Damascus” conversions, only to fall away. CHILDREN will be fed and reared in Jesus’ Name. They will be the insurance for a healthy and long-lived church.

  • Ferrell Hardison

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this Carey. Keep’em coming! PLEASE do not let the naysayers divert you from your calling to hold us all accountable and challenge the fruitlessness of the local church in America. When I read your posts I can tell you have obviously worked, or are currently working through these things in your own life and ministry. Acts 2:41-47

    • Thanks Ferrell. Appreciate it. You keep up the great work too! I pray this is the Acts church working itself out in the 21st century. That’s my deepest goal and hope.

  • Dan_Cartwright

    I’ve noticed that the definition of “church growth” in this blog and, as well as at other popular ‘leadership’ sites seems to all about numbers. The New Testament knows no such model. Everything seems to be about pleasing the ‘unchurched’ (read unsaved), giving them what is attractive to them to get them through the doors. The News Testament knows no such thing. In fact, God grew the early church through persecution, specifically the stoning of Stephen and the scattering of believers into Samaria, Judea, and then all over the place! Believers were scattered as a result of persecution and they just kept on preaching the gospel!

    So what’s changed?
    BW, I did receive the E-Book. It begins with 15 characteristics of nonbelievers that while true, are not to be found spelled out in the NT. The characteristics spelled out biblically include their hatred of God, inability to understand anything spiritual, total spiritual death and need to be made alive (rebirth).
    What’s up with that?

    • Dan, I’m sorry you think it’s all about numbers. It’s about people. And God’s methods of growing the church include the ones you mention for sure, but are much broader than that. I think ultimately it’s by the fruit that conversions produce that we will know them. And the “fruit” I see displayed in life after life of formerly unchurched people is amazing. I see authentic followers of Christ. Not all, to be sure, but many, if not most. It’s a wonderful thing when you see it.

      • Dan_Cartwright

        Sir,
        Perhaps I miscommunicated something. I said that church growth these days seems to be all about numbers. I didn’t mean ALL, but for the most part. It comes across in all of the Peter Drucker style strategies, etc. Do whatever it takes to get the ‘unchurched (lost?) through the doors. “Be a place the ‘unchurched love to come “? That seems an awful lot like pragmatism and not anywhere in scripture..

        • RickMckc

          “Be a place the ‘unchurched love to come” … if that’s a bad thing, then Jesus might not have gotten very far in his ministry.

          • Dan_Cartwright

            Is the church primarily for building up the saints or giving the unsaved, who are God haters by nature (Rom 8:7) something they love?

          • Chris J.

            Honest question, doesn’t the whole book Acts, which speaks to the early church, talk about addition and growth of people who are being added (numerical terms)

            42 All
            the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to
            fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. Acts 2:43-47…talks about people being added daily. Can this growth still happen in healthy churches today?

            43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They
            worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s
            Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all
            the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And
            each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

            Didn’t Paul himself, preach messages that were geared towards the pagans of his time. the unsaved, the unchurched, the idol worshipers? He even quoted poems that were written to Zeus and unknown gods…didn’t Paul do this in Acts 17 – in reaching the people where they were there was addition and numerical growth.

            2 So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for
            as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars
            had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you
            worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

            24 “He
            is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of
            heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and
            human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives
            life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man
            he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided
            beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their
            boundaries.

            27 “His
            purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their
            way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.

            30 “God
            overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but
            now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to
            him. 31 For
            he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has
            appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the
            dead.”

            32 When
            they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed
            in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” 33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them, 34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

          • Dan_Cartwright

            Chris,

            I don’t think you answered my question, but I will answer yours. Acts 2:47 tells us exactly how the church grew, and you quoted it:

            “47 . . . And each day the Lord added to their fellowship (the church) those who were being saved.”
            In a general sense, numbers are involved, simply b ecause the church was growing. Numbers however were a natural result of people ‘being saved’, NOT giving them a place they could love in their unregenerate state.

          • Chay

            Jesus hung out with sinners, but not in Church. He was in places they were, hanging with them. Not morphing his church to be a place they necessarily wanted to come.

          • Great point Chay. Thank you.

    • kellen owenby

      Church growth is about people coming into the kingdom of God. Those “numbers” that you don’t like to talk about each represent a human being who is taking a step towards faith. *By the way, Jesus didn’t just teach the disciples or small groups, He preached to thousands…

      • Dan_Cartwright

        Of course it is. However, I don’t think getting folks into the doors should be the main way we do that, although it is one way. I think that evangelism is first and foremost the work of every believer. that means we all should be about the business of sharing Christ and the message that he died for our sins with all whom we meet. If we lead folks in whom God has begin a work (the only kind that are saved) to the Cross of his Son, they will desire fellowship. that could be our church, or somewhere else. Our job is to pray for open hearts and spread the Good News to everyone we meet.
        I guess the deeper issue here might be the ‘Jesus’ we point them to. Is it the Jesus who died for their sins, or the Jesus who died for their deams.

        • Duncan Ojwang

          whether you get them through the door or window, the great commission is to go to the world, teach them and baptizing them, how are you going to baptize non members? The fact that people come in and want to stay is a good sign, remember the main accusation against Jesus was that he eats with sinners-tax collectors and prostitutes. That means we should be a place a sinner can call home. I think their is a way small churches console some failure with scripture like wherever two or three are gathered God is there, this should fit home worship but a church should not depend on two or three. What is so desirable with the leadership style that have a church run like an individual shop, is it the desire to control. I thank the author of this article because
          just this week it came to my mind that a small church and a big church is about mindset and thinking, you can not grow a big church in a small church mentality.

          • Dan_Cartwright

            Duncan,
            First of all I have nothing against numbers. If I hear you correctly, are you saying that we just get them (lost, spiritually dead sinners) however we can and make them ‘feel at home’? Please tell me where that is in the N.T.
            Just where does the Holy Spirit and the conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment (the stated mission of the Holy Spirit) fit in? The gospel is, by nature, offensive and foolish to anyone whose heart has not already been opened by God (see the account of Lydia in Acts 16). Under the ‘just get ’em in’ paradigm, you really have to leave out the ‘offensive’ gospel, if that’s your goal.
            So when we get ’em in, and if we want the unregenerate sinner to ‘feel at home’ we still have the issue of the ‘offensive’ gospel’, don’t we? Do we just leave that part out (the sin issues) so they ‘feel at home’? If we do get to the “offensive” parts of the gospel, then some of those we spent so much time on getting through the doors by giving them the Jesus that is ALL about love (Think Beatles), there WILL be some who run for the door yelling “Bait and switch!”
            My whole point here revolves around the question “WHO builds the Church?” Jesus said it was His job (See Matt 16). If I read the book of Acts correctly, it was the Lord who added to the church daily those who sere being saved (See Acts 2). Not a peep in there about giving sinners a place they love to come to. That church was a place outsiders feared and respected. At the same time believers were noted for their joy and love for one another and found favor with those same outsiders.
            The church ‘grew’ as a direct result of persecution, beginning with the death of Stephen. Believers were scattered and just kept preaching wherever they went! What did they preach?
            That, my friend, is the N.T. ‘model’ for church growth. Or should I say ‘non-model’. All of our Peter Drucker management and leadership styles are nowhere to be found.. All I am really saying is that Jesus builds the church, HIS way, We’re not Burger King. That begins with individual believers being involved in personal evangelism and sharing the true gospel (includes the sin issue), and praying that God would open hearts before they hit the streets. Let Jesus continue to build the church His way.
            Should ‘numbers’ even BE an issue with us? I say no. Many other today say yes. I do not agree. God saves, we don’t. We’re nothing but farmers, going around planting good seed, sometimes watering, and sometimes seeing part of the harvest. I am on the planet for one reason – the gospel – the one that is offensive to unregenerate unbelievers. It’s my duty and GREAT privilege to be part of the way God saves sinners and how Jesus adds them to the church.
            Know also that I am not personally criticizing anyone. There was a time (years ago now) that I thought my job was to ‘bring ’em through the doors’. what changed? Mostly just reading the Bible, over and over and over.
            Keep reading, and keep the faith, my friend!

          • Duncan Ojwang

            If persecution is what is lacking then how comes some churches are growing and others are not in the same country? Are you implying that those churches that have grown are persecuted and those that are small needs to be persecuted. so we should wait for persecution? God can make and take advantage to use any situation for his glory, but persecution is not a prerequisite, that is very generalized an exception and make a rule from it. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few pray that he will send more workers : this is how Jesus said work will be done, not for us to wait for persecution Matthew 9:38. Moreover scripture says

          • Dan

            Did I say persecution was some sort of missing ingredient? I don’t think so. I presented a historical observation concerning church growth. What I AM saying is simply this that today’s church growth models are nowhere to be found in scripture. The church grew in the N.T. through the preaching of the gospel to God-opened hearts. That ‘preaching’ was not only by the apostles, but also by ordinary believers scattered because of persecution. That’s the historical record. No programs, no slick entertainment, no attempts at making the church into something that unsaved folks would just love. Show me that in the Bible and you might have a case.

          • Duncan Ojwang

            Dan, so if the individuals members in early church spread the word because they were persecuted–that makes it a biblical model; however, you do not tell us what to do if we are not being persecuted? That is why I believe you are not having a dialogue with this article at all, since this article is meant for the churches in the U.S where their is no persecution. Your model heavily rely on persecution, whether it is an historical fact you are not close to even engaging on how to witness. It was not biblical model to be persecuted and then go spread the word, that is simply that an historical fact that is not repeating itself under the milieu of the U.S churches. Therefore your model or biblical model you are promoting here in this context should find a different audience in countries like Russia and Iran where Christians are persecuted. Finally, in my opinion if you have nothing relevant in a context of the topic discussed you can chose to just read and say Amen.

  • Karl Vaters

    Carey, I appreciate all 8 points in this post, but I would like to ask a question and offer a friendly challenge to your premise.

    You start by saying “there’s nothing wrong with being a small church.” Then you say the reason churches don’t break the 200 barrier is “They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.”

    My question is, if there’s nothing wrong with being small, then what’s wrong with organizing, behaving, leading and managing like a small congregation as long as that small congregation is healthy, vibrant, worshipful and outward-reaching? Or to use your illustration, what’s wrong with a Mom & Pop grocery store? Do they all have to be chain supermarkets?

    For years I read lists like yours and it led me to years of frustration trying to organize, behave, lead and manage my church like a big congregation. It nearly killed me and my church. Neither they or I are called or gifted for that. So now we organize, behave, lead and manage like a healthy small church. It works great! We have greater community and worldwide impact than ever before. Far more than when we were trying to get bigger. We’ve become senders, not accumulators.

    Growth is wonderful – even essential. But the premise of this post, like so many before it, seems to be that every church needs to be above 200 – and any church that isn’t, is doing something wrong. Do you really think every church needs to be above 200? That there’s no room in the world for healthy small churches? I don’t think you believe that, but posts like this feel like that.

    I’d have no problem with this post if you’d just change the title from “8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark” to “8 Reasons Many Churches Never Become Healthy.” Let’s help churches get healthy and quit obsessing about attendance numbers.

    • Good point. In my mind health = growth of some kind. You can’t be healthy and not growing. Health ultimately produces growth of some kind. Maybe we agree. 🙂

      • cjb

        Health only equals numerical growth in a for profit business model. Breaking/hitting 200 isn’t a normative goal for all organic groups. Growth can be and often should be measured differently for communities of faith.

      • Karl Vaters

        Thanks for the response, Carey. I do agree that health = growth of some kind. Growth is essential. The Great Commission is clear. But the growth of THE church doesn’t always mean the numerical growth of MY church.

        There are a lot of churches that contribute to kingdom growth but don’t see butts-in-the-seat growth for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with lack of strategy, lack of prayer, lack of good systems or lack of anything. Like I said, our church has set up a system whereby we are senders, not accumulators. Being smaller allows us to give people hands-on, pastoral training in every aspect of church (and non-church) life, then send them off with a well-rounded view of life and ministry. We contribute to kingdom growth, but we see them leave almost as fast as we bring them in.

        80% of the churches in the world are under 200 people. I refuse to believe that 80% of pastors are failing, which is how they’re often made to feel by lists like this (unintentionally, of course.) Actually, it’s not even the list that makes them feel that way. Many small church pastors read the title, think “oh no, not another one of those” and skip right on without reading it. I work with a lot of small church pastors and that’s what I hear.

        It seems strange to me that we tell pastors how to break through 200, but spend almost no time helping them pastor well while they’re under 200. Seems a little cart-before-the-horse to me.

        Again, your 8 points are valid. And church growth is as clear as The Great Commission. But the idea that 200 (or 400, 800, 1,000 or even 50) is a barrier that needs to be broken is where I disagree – hopefully with an agreeable spirit (there’s too much of the other kind of disagreement online. I never want to contribute to that.)

        • Joe Rhoads

          It’s even more difficult to break those barriers when the population that you draw from to grow your church is small. My church is in a town with 2000 people. 8 churches just in the city limit. 4 of which have 200+ members. (Obviously, some members live outside of the city limits and not a part of that 2000.)
          I have a friend who pastors (bi-vocationally) a church in a town of about 400, not near any megapopulation. How is he supposed to break the 200 barrier? Actually, for him, it would be the 50 barrier.

          • Karl Vaters

            Great point, Joe. I’ve just finished ministering in the nation of Croatia, which has similar issues. The lack of funds, broken infrastructure, lack of population centers and other cultural issues make big churches almost impossible there. The reason I was there was because they read some of what I’ve written about the value of small churches. They’d almost given up on the hope that they’d ever find any help on being a small,but healthy church. The “here’s how to get bigger” advice doesn’t work there and they were getting very discouraged.

            I think the same goes for a lot of pastors in small town America. Or if you’re like me and you pastor in a highly populated area but still can’t get the church to grow, the sense of failure can be even deeper.

          • Joe Rhoads

            Or, what if you are in China, where it’s illegal to be a Christian, and Christians have to lay to gather together for worship. Or in any Muslim country that if a Muslim converts to Christ, it’s a death sentence. Do you really what 200 Christians in the same building?

          • Martin Johnson

            Actually Joe, it isn’t illegal to be a Christian in China. It is illegal to worship in a home church that is not registered with the government. The Masses in the Beijing cathedrals I have attended are standing room only as are the services at the Three-Self (i.e. registered) Protestant churches I have attended in a few cities in China. There are also several Catholic and Protestant seminaries here, one of which is in Beijing; I have a friend who taught there. I worship with a group in an Embassy were one must hold a foreign passport to attend, of course the Chinese government doesn’t care about us.

          • Agreed Joe. A church that reaches 10% of the population would be a mega church regardless of the actual numbers. I picked 200 as a number because it is the lid a staggering number of churches in large and small cities can’t break through because of issues like the ones I raise in the blog post. Hope that context helps this make more sense.

          • Kelly Keith Dunn

            That the kind of ministry I have worked in. Small churches in small/rural areas… Bi-Vocationally. I wish knew then what I know now. Maturity not numbers is what to work towards.

          • Vicki Gann

            Joe, for some reason we beleive in all kinds of different denominasions and not the one true God through His Son Jesus Christ being God in the flesh and giving us the Holy Spirit to know all this is true. We have created the church into being something it is not by our own wisdom and understanding not believing the truth an creating our own. This wisdom as become a regular practice, we loose not only church attendance in a small town but also leads most “Christians” not believing the right and most perfect way through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ making us a child of God. He is our Lord but we act as if we are not listening to what he is saying.

        • pastorclint

          Great post Karl- as John Wesley said “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”

          It’snot about how many butts in the pews – rather how each is effective in their own Ministry.

      • Bob Fisher

        Yes, but… At times in their lifecycles healthy organisms grow and change quickly, other times growth is imperceptible and of course decline and even death are part of the cycle…the life, death and rebirth that we proclaim. And the primary characteristic of cancer cells is that they grow unchecked. Growth can equal unhealthy too.

        I think the focus on growth undermines the true wisdom here. Your eight reasons point out why a faith community of any size may fail to be fruitful for the gospel in their place, regardless of size. Thanks for posting this,

    • Philip A Locke

      I agree with you to a point. However, a healthy congregation is contributing to the growth of the Body of Jesus Christ, the church. A healthy ministry is measured by the impact its has on those who live outside of Jesus Christ. If your church is in a city of 2,000 and 80% of the residents are without Christ I would wonder about the health of that congregation. We are to go into the hedges and highways that the master’s house is full, i.e., the Body of Christ Jesus.

      I witnessed to a coworker for months. One day she came to me and with excitement shared that she had accepted Christ as her personal Savior, but she did not join my congregation. It occurred to me that it was my responsibility to introduce people to Christ and they could chose to become members of my congregation which could involve many conditions, reasons, personalities, style of worship, etc. Accepting Christ Jesus is often less difficult than joining a congregation.
      A healthy congregation is doing the work of Him who is the Head. These are my thoughts among so many great comments.
      Sometimes ministry priorities get turned around and we must be reminded to return to our first love. These are my thoughts among the great comments already posted.

    • Ron

      I believe the writer stated that this post was for Pastors of small churches who WANTED bigger churches.

      • Karl Vaters

        Good point, Ron. And like I said, I have no issue with his 8 principles. And I certainly don’t have an issue with church growth. But there are a lot of churches and pastors who want growth and aren’t guilty of any of those 8 problems, but still don’t see significant numerical growth. The implication that health always brings numerical growth to the individual congregation doesn’t bear itself out in many, many churches and it leaves many good pastors feeling guilty and helpless when the expected growth doesn’t happen for them. Yes, it does and must result in kingdom growth, but bigger churches don’t necessarily equate to kingdom growth – or vise versa.

    • Deborah Hall

      Karl, I would bet that your church is a small healthy congregation because you have stopped making the 8 mistakes. Carey isn’t talking about your church. He is writing about churches where pastors want to grow the church. More members equates to more giving to help a church leap into unknown areas that further the kingdom.

      • Karl Vaters

        I hear what you’re saying, Deborah. And I appreciate your passion for this. I’m passionate about it, too. My guess is that we actually agree more than we disagree on this issue, but the limitations of a comment thread don’t allow all the subtleties to come though as they should. So let me give this another shot in response to your reply and to other comments you’ve made here.

        I want my church to grow, too. And it is, in many ways. But the idea that more members in an individual congregation means more kingdom impact doesn’t bear itself out in real life.

        From one of your other comments in this thread, I agree with you that “it is about the numbers”. But it isn’t necessarily about the numbers all being in one congregation – and we’re not “kidding ourselves” – we’re very aware of the challenges and we do ask our congregation members to “do something meaningful”, as you have asked. But a church doesn’t have to be big and “create amazing programs” to offer meaningful ministry.

        Having 3,000 people worshiping and serving in 30 smaller congregations is just as valid as 3,000 people worshiping and serving God gathered in one church. Better yet is a community that has both – if the community is big enough for both, that is.

        From yet another comment of yours, let me say that I agree with you that there are too many churches “where the pastor does everything including run the Sunday bulletin and create the agenda for the Session”, “are further declining in membership and either closing… because of these 8 mistakes,” are “allowing politics to interfere” and those whose “members stop giving… when a member leaves a bucket load of money”, etc. I have a problem with those small churches, too. But that doesn’t describe most small churches, just the unhealthy ones.

        I don’t idealize small churches. But I know a whole lot of them who are health and strong, who “leap into unknown areas that further the kingdom” as you suggested, and who are contributing to the growth of the kingdom of God, yet they never break through the 200 barrier.

        Bigger isn’t better or worse. Smaller isn’t ideal or failing. And correcting the 8 issues Carey mentions, while good and helpful, doesn’t necessarily lead to a bigger church. They’ll lead to healthier church – and that’s what matters. We need healthy churches of all sizes.

    • Jordan

      I have a question. WHY do people want to KEEP SMALL CHURCHES!? Do you want more people saved or not!? If a man walks into your church not knowing Christ, do you want him saved or not? If it were up to you… would you have him be saved and attend your church? (I HOPE this is a yes? Because God’s answer is certainly yes) Yes? Ok, then your church just grew by one. GROWTH IS THE NATURE of a church if done properly!

      YES! There are hard times where growth is near impossible, and I am not knocking the hard work of many pastors in difficult areas or small areas. But pastors who insist “we want to stay small” is one of the most small minded, selfish things I could even imagine!

      • Karl Vaters

        Hi Jordan. I don’t know anyone who wants to limit the growth of the church. I sure don’t. Growth is the nature of the church. We agree completely.

        But in many places on earth where the church is growing the fastest (like in Latin America) it’s through an explosion of smaller churches. There are a LOT of people whose spiritual needs are met better in smaller settings. They find greater opportunities for ministry there, too. And a lot of non-believers feel more comfortable asking their “God questions” in smaller churches, too. Others prefer bigger churches. We need both.

        So to answer your question “why do people want to keep small churches?” Because hundreds of millions of people meet and serve Jesus in small churches.

        The issue isn’t that growth is bad. The issue is that if 200 (or any number) is perceived of as a barrier, the implication is that there’s something wrong with being smaller than that. And that implication has led to stress and burnout for thousands of pastors who are serving God and their church faithfully, but aren’t seeing the numerical growth that they’ve been told is inevitable.

        We need big churches and small churches. But what we need most is healthy, growing churches, no matter what their size. 200 isn’t a barrier. It’s just a number. Some churches serve God best by becoming bigger than that. Some serve him best while staying smaller than that. For lots of reasons.

    • pastorclint

      Hi Karl
      There is a difference in being a small church – and a small minded church…
      …a small church is small in numbers only. It recognizes God’s hands at work equipping them and they eager to strategically grow in serving Him – a small minded church is as Carey described – it thinks and acts small. For some – this is where they want to be – however, after a while, without some sort of healthy growth, this church will cease to be.

      • Karl Vaters

        Agreed. Like I said, I agree with all of Carey’s points. My only contention is that there are a lot of churches under 200 (about 90% of the churches in the world) and the implication that once they get healthy they’ll go over 200 doesn’t bear itself out in the real world. There are millions of healthy, growing churches that will never be bigger than 200 people for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with a failure of leadership.

        But this expectation of numerical growth puts an undue burden on small church pastors. I know. I talk with them regularly. I think we need a world filled with healthy, big-thinking churches of all sizes.

        • Jonathan

          I think I agree with you that there are people who have the passion to grow their church, that aren’t making any of these 8 mistakes… 8 points is kind of a narrow and generalized list and clearly cannot be applied to ALL situations… I would suggest the book Purpose Driven Church by pastor Rick Warren to you… it explains much more of the reasons why churches are and aren’t growing… Whether or not you agree with Rick’s theology, he has studied over a thousand churches in the United States in depth… he has founded and pastored Saddleback Church in Lake Forrest, California which is one of the largest churches in the United States… it is a great read and provides great insight to anyone who wants to grow their church… my church Seabreeze Church in Huntington Beach, California followed many of the principles in the book and we have way exceeded the 200 mark…

          • Hi Jonathan. Thanks for the info.

            I pastor in Fountain Valley, California, so you and I are neighbors. I’m very familiar with your church. It’s a great church that has experienced wonderful growth. I’m also very familiar with Rick Warren and Purpose Driven Church. I’ve used Rick’s principles from that book for more than a dozen years. It’s been a great blessing to me and my church, but it hasn’t produced the kind of numerical growth for us that it has for your church. So we’ve discovered different ways of growing and have re-imagined what a “successful” church means for us.

            The details of all that are too numerous to mention here, but I outline them in my book The Grasshopper Myth and on my website, which you can get info on if you click on my avatar. (If I put my website address here, it might trigger Carey’s spam filter).

            Thanks again for your kind concern.

    • Aubrey Prunty

      They way I understood it was that if you are trying to break the 200 attendance mark these are the reasons you might not be able to. It totally makes sense. I didn’t feel like it dissed the Mom & Pop stores, I felt like it only gave examples of different business models. If it is the Church’s goal to stay small then operate like a small church and you’ll be fine!
      I have a group of friends who have planted a church and made it a goal to branch off every time they reach 150 in attendance, they don’t even want to own a building because they believe that could become a stumbling block to the mission. I am impressed by this model and excited to see what they can do through it.
      I think every church needs to be different to be able to reach the unreached. There is no “perfect model” for ministry. Everyone has to mold and adapt to the people around them and what works best in reaching them.

      • Hi Aubrey. I agree with you that this post was not a slam on Small Churches. My only issue is the underlying assumption behind phrases like “200 barrier”. It makes healthy churches under 200 feel like they’re missing out on something (and that’s about 90% of churches on earth). Certainly Carey’s premise is correct, that growth is in the nature of the church and that a church must structure itself differently over 200 than under 200.

        I love your friend’s idea of the church that branches off into congregations of 150 as a new way of looking at growth. I also love megachurches. The only issue for me is that we’ve had too many years of promoting bigger congregations as almost the only means of church growth. Phrases like “200 barrier” reinforce that mindset.

        I want to see more healthy churches of all sizes, not just bigger ones. I think Carey agrees with that. In fact, from his responses to me, I know he does.

        We agree on far more than we disagree on.

    • Vicki Gann

      Karl I agree with you, but I have known churches that start of with twelve people and now have thousands because they only operated by faith in our Savior making them who they were individually and as a church body, it grew more than they could ever imagine. That is through his power and not their own, most churches do it through their own power and therefore everything falls a part. We only receive what He wants us to have through believing in Him giving it to us, His grace goes way beyond ourselves in who we make ourselves to be, we only receive Him by faith not by works. The right believing creates all the miracles through us, because He gives us all of himself through faith! He is our Lord what do you have that is not Him?

      • Hi Vicki. I know of churches that started small and grew massive through reliance and faith in God, too. But I know far more churches that have just as much faith, but don’t experience massive growth. It’s not inevitable that a church will become large, no matter how faithful they are or how faithfully they apply growth principles. Why? Because world needs great churches of all sizes.

  • Matthew

    I have to admit, I’m troubled by your first two paragraphs. You assert that the mission of the church is to reach one more person with the love of Christ. I find that too limiting. The mission of the church is to provide a space for people to grow into loving relationship with God and partner in his activity in creation. Part of that is drawing new people in to begin a relationship with God, but if that’s the only stated goal, then we end up with stunted, spiritual infants, and stunted, spiritual infants are unable to effectively plan strategies (#2), lead others (#3), participate in work toward goals (#4), and create meaningful programs (#7), which results in the pastor doing all the work (#1), assuming that he is not stunted himself.

    Not that your points are invalid. You’re quite right about them, but the potential underlying motivation feels shaky to me.

    • Matthew. Thanks for the comment but I’m honestly at a loss as to how you read a desire to see stunted spiritual infants into this post.

    • Kelly Keith Dunn

      Too clarify on the commission Jesus gave to thuch just prior to His ascention was for His Disciple toake other Disciple of Jesus – baptizingtem and teaching them.

  • Dave

    My church is a mainline, liturgical church. We have been in a steady “growth mode” for several years now, but we have no interest in growing our own parish to the 200 point. If our growth over the past 5 years is repeated in the next 5 years, we will be ready to plant a new church.
    I have nothing against the mega-church movement, but not everybody wants that.

    • Dave, I love the idea of church planting. In my view the goal is not to hit numbers but to play our role in a growing Kingdom. Whether that’s through church planting or additional services is secondary to the goal of helping people move into a relationship with Jesus.

      • Ferrell Hardison

        WELL SAID Carey!

        • David

          This comment and also Dale’s, remind me of how the Latter Day Saints don’t let a ward (congregation) grow to more than 200 to 300 members before they split it into two wards.

  • Phil

    I definitely see some of these in our setting….I’m guilty of number 7 for sure…as we’ve begun to implement change…and received pushback, the tendency is to try to resolve people’s concerns or pull back on the vision and strategy, so as not to “offend” anyone…courageous leadership is tough at the outset of change…for sure….

    Thanks for your insights…as always Carey.

    • Phil

      errr…..I mean point 8….

      • You’re so right Phil. I’m sure you summarized the thoughts of many.

  • Mark

    If I am honest I’d say we suffer from half of these. Our church was born out of a split and then split again. I have pastored here for 10 months and it is abundantly clear that they want me to do it all. There are no “true” leaders and everything “needs” to be voted on. All of our would-be volunteers are quick to proclaim that they are “too old” to do the needed work. How does a pastor change the culture when everyone seems to think it is only the pastor’s job to increase the church? I will readily proclaim that God has been gracious to me in that He has been my strength. If I thought I had to do this by my power or will, I would have left by now.

    • Such a great point about God’s power Mark. Hang in there.

  • #1 is a key issue where I am currently serving. My predecessors did it all, so now I am having to work hard to change the culture.

    • Been there Jon. It took me a few years to figure out what I talk about in the blog post and then another year to reprogram people’s expectations. Some days I think I’m still re-programming people’s expectations. But keep at it. 🙂

      • boface wanyama

        it sounds like you are talking directly to me