10 Very Possible Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing

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Sometimes you and I make life out to be more mysterious than it actually is.

You ask why you keep getting speeding tickets (why me God?!?) when the simple truth is you usually speed.

You ask why your friendships are so conflicted when the truth is you gossip.

You wonder why your kids don’t talk to you when the truth is you haven’t been around to build a relationship in the first place.

Often problems whose origins seem mysterious to us are really not that mysterious to others. We just can’t see the truth.

The same is true for many of us who want our church to reach new people and are puzzled why that just isn’t happening.

Maybe it’s not as mysterious as you think. Sometimes attending church is hard.

The same is true, by the way, for personal growth. Growth in effectiveness and impact as a leader is not as mysterious as you think.

A Few Things First and a Motive Check

Every time church growth surfaces as a subject, some leaders get defensive.  What’s wrong with small churches? Why are so many people obsessed with growth? And then people go hyper-spiritual and start quoting scripture verses to justify why church growth is a bad thing.

I write posts like this because I love the mission of the church, and I truly believe Jesus is the hope of the world.

I have met with countless church leaders who want their church to grow for great reasons (because they love Jesus and believe people’s lives are changed by him) but are puzzled at how churches grow and why theirs aren’t. That’s why I write posts like this. (If you want more posts on growth, you can check out The Top 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark and 6 Keys to Breaking the 200, 400 and 800 Attendance Barriers).

And, yes, I have also met church leaders who want their church to grow for questionable reasons too. God knows the hearts of people, and just because some people might want a church to grow because of ego does not mean all growth is bad.

And, in the end, healthy things grow. The mission of the church at its best throughout the centuries has been an outward mission focused on sharing the love Jesus has for the world with the world.

That’s why this matters to me (and to so many of you).

10 Very Possible Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing:

So with that in mind, here’s a list of ten things that might be holding your church back from realizing the potential of its mission. We’re often the last to see what so many others see, and once we see it, we can deal with it. Progress often ensues.

Here are ten very possible reasons your church isn’t growing:

1. You’re in Conflict

Ever been in someone’s home as a guest only to have your hosts start to argue with each other? It doesn’t happen that often, but the few times it’s happened when I’ve been around have made me want to run out the door.

Why would church be any different? If you’re constantly bickering and arguing, why would any new people stay? It’s not that Christians shouldn’t have conflict, but we should be the best in the world at handling it. The New Testament is a virtual manual of conflict resolution, but so many of us prefer gossip, non-confrontation, and dealing with anyone but the party involved.

Growing churches handle conflict biblically, humbly, and healthily.

2. You’re more in love with the past than you are with the future

This can be true of churches that are in love with tradition and churches that have had some amazing days recently. When leaders become more in love with the past than they are with the future, the end is near.

If your church is a museum of 1950 or even 2012, the likelihood of reaching the next generation diminishes with every passing day.

Too many churches are more in love with the past than they are with the future. Click To Tweet

3. You’re not that awesome to be around

Fake. Judgmental. Hypocritical. Angry. Narrow. Unthinking. Unkind.

Those are adjectives often used to describe Christians, and sometimes they have their basis in truth.

There are certain people who are energizing to be around. Unfortunately, too many Christians today don’t fit that description. Jesus was mesmerizing. Paul caused conflict for sure, but he had many deep relationships and incredible influence. The early church was known for compassion and generosity.

If people truly don’t want to be around you, don’t let the reason be that you haven’t let Christ reshape your character or social skills.

4. You’re focused on yourself

Too many churches are focused on their wants, preferences, and perceived needs. They are self-focused organizations and self-focused people. It should be no surprise that outsiders never feel welcomed, valued, or included.

If you want to reach people, you can’t be self-focused. After all, a life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone.

A life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone. Click To Tweet

5. You think culture is the enemy

If all you ever are is angry at the culture around us, how are you going to reach people in that culture? Christians who consistently expect non-Christians to act like Christians baffle me (I wrote about that here.)

If you treat your unchurched neighbor like an enemy, why would he ever want to be your friend?

If you treat your unchurched neighbor like an enemy, why would he ever want to be your friend? Click To Tweet

6. You’re afraid to risk what is for the sake of what might be

Let’s face it, at least you’ve got something going for you. You’re paying the bills. You at least have X amount of people.

And if you’ve had any modicum of success recently, you’re going to be hesitant to risk what is for what could be. The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

When you’re perpetually afraid to risk what is for the sake of what might be, you might as well cue the funeral music now.

The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success. Click To Tweet

7. You can’t make a decision

Governance will become a major issue for future churches.

When your decision-making is rooted in complex bureaucracy or congregational approval for every major change, it makes decision-making difficult and courageous change almost impossible.

8. You talk more than you act

Most church leaders love to think and love to debate issues.

Effective leaders add one more component. They act.

Most church leaders I know overthink and underact. If you acted on even a few more of your good ideas, you could possibly be twice as effective in a very short timeframe.

Effective leaders don't just talk. They act. Click To Tweet

9. You don’t think there’s anything wrong with your church

I still run into a surprising amount of leaders and church members who love their church and can’t figure out why anyone else doesn’t.

Well, those churches are on their way to soon have not much more than a small club for the already convinced.

10. You’re more focused on growth than you are on God

Some leaders get so jacked up about growth that they forget it’s about God and his mission. This is just a danger every motivated leader needs to keep in mind.

We’re leading people to Jesus, not to ourselves or our awesome church. Keeping the focus on Christ ensures genuine life-change happens and lasts.

Some churches are more focused on growth than they are on God, which stunts their growth. Click To Tweet

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

As leaders, we tend to see the challenges and roadblocks before other people do.

We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

Now ask yourself this:

What would it feel like to have those answers at your fingertips 24/7?

Whether it's reaching new people, improving your preaching, increasing volunteers, refreshing your vision, engaging your staff, or any of the countless challenges we face as church leaders, The Art of Leadership Academy will equip you to lead your church with confidence and clarity.

Between comprehensive church leadership courses, live coaching calls, staff and volunteer training resources, and direct access to a private online community of senior-level church leaders, you'll get the exact insights and answers that fuel your church for growth.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.