5 Crucial Attitude Differences Between Churches That Grow and Churches That Don’t


So…what’s the difference between a growing church and a declining church?

Well, there are many, but one of the biggest differences I see is the attitude of the leaders.

The leaders of growing churches almost always share a common attitude.

So do the leaders of declining churches.

And the attitude has a huge influence over the results each church sees.

Attitude may or may not be everything, but it’s close.

Here are 5 attitude differences I see again and again in growing churches and declining churches.

1. We Can v. We Can’t

Perhaps the biggest differences I see between growing churches and declining churches is the attitude around what’s possible.

Growing churches believe they can.

Declining churches believe they can’t.

They’re both right.

One of my all-time favourite quotes is Henry Ford’s “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.”  He’s correct.

Growing churches make a way when there’s no way, which seems to be what God specializes in if you read the Bible.

Growing churches make a way when there's no way, which is something God specializes in. Click To Tweet

When you sit around your leadership table, do you come up with 20 ways to make it happen, or 20 reasons why it won’t work? That tells you far more about your church than you probably want it to.

Growing churches believe they can. It’s that simple. And even if they’re wrong, at least they tried. The mission is important enough to take significant risk.

Growing churches believe they can. Declining churches believe they can't. They're both right. Click To Tweet

2. Them v. Us

Declining churches focus on themselves.

Growing churches focus on the people they’re trying to reach.

If your leadership table conversations are all about the needs and wants of your members, it’s a sign that your church is insider focused.

The mission of the church is to reach the world. Growing churches not only know that; they live it.

Besides, who likes to hang out with selfish people?

And ironically, selfish people almost always end up in a very surprising place: alone. Because a life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone. That’s also true for selfish churches.

If you’re becoming smaller and smaller, is it because you’re selfish?

Selfish people ultimately end up alone. The same is true for selfish churches. Click To Tweet

3. Principles v. Preferences

Declining churches focus on their member’s preferences.

Todd didn’t like the music. 

Allison thinks we’re not deep enough. 

Bill wants to start a new program.

And so the leaders respond, trying to please everybody.

In reality, declining churches bend to the preferences of its members.

Growing churches don’t.

Instead, they focus on the principles (even strategies) that will help them reach new people.

Is your leadership team principle-driven or preference-driven? There’s a world of difference between the two.

Declining churches bend to the preferences of their members. Growing churches don't. Click To Tweet

4. Proactive v. Reactive

This is a close cousin of points 2 and 3 above, but the difference is deadly or life-giving depending on where you land.

Growing churches are proactive. They choose their agenda and immediately get on issues that can impact their future.

Declining churches are reactive, letting members determine the agenda and reacting to problems as they arise.

In fact, most declining churches are so busy reacting to problems other people raise that they never get around to charting a course for the future.

If you never get around to charting a course for the future, you will have no future.

Growing churches have a strong bias for setting their own agendas, not in the selfish sense, but in a way that determined leaders see what the mission requires and decide to deal with it.

The leaders in a growing church simply refuse to yield to the agenda of others that would take them off mission.

And as a result, they are far more effective.

5 Crucial Attitude Differences Between Churches That Grow and Churches That Don’t Click To Tweet

5. Now v. Eventually

Growing churches act. And they act now.

Declining churches don’t.

Declining churches don’t actually say they won’t act, they’ll just say they’ll get to it ‘eventually’, or someday, or ‘when the time is right’—which means never.

By contrast, as I outlined here, great leaders and great teams banish the word ‘someday’ and other words from their vocabulary.

If you want to be effective, you act.

If you want to be ineffective, you don’t.

Talk without action has little value. And too many church leaders specialize in talk.

Talk without action has little value. And too many church leaders specialize in talk. Click To Tweet

In addition, too many church teams meet for the sake of meeting.

If you can’t remember the last time you made a major decision that changed the course of your church, your leaders are wasting their time.

If you talk about the same issues meeting after meeting with no resolution, you’re not leading, you’re spinning your wheels.

Does that mean you have to act on everything? Well, yes and no.

If you’re not going to act, strike the item off the agenda and move on.

If you are going to act, act. Now.

Just make a decision and move on with it. Don’t get stuck in the no man’s land of believing the lie that talking about things solves things.

As my friend Casey Graham says, action produces traction. So act.

If you talk about the same issues meeting after meeting with no resolution, you're not leading, you're spinning your wheels. Click To Tweet

Break The Invisible Barriers Holding You Back

So attitude is one thing, but believe it or not, there are large, invisible barriers to growth most leaders miss.

You likely didn’t get into ministry to watch your church plateau or, worse yet, decline. You wanted God to use you to reach new people with the good news. You wanted to see your church grow. You wanted to make an impact on your community that would outlast you.

But the odds are, it’s not happening. And the thing is, you’re not alone. We live in an era where 94% of churches aren’t growing or aren’t growing as fast as their communities. Barely 1 out of 20 churches are effectively reaching their neighbors for Jesus. Despite how desperately our communities need to hear and engage with the good news about Jesus, many churches are lost when it comes to reaching a postmodern culture.

That’s why I put together the Church Growth Masterclass. It’s everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that. But I believe you can position your church to grow. You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.

In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The five keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

What Do You See?

What are the attitude differences you’ve seen between growing and declining churches?

Scroll down the leave a comment!

5 Crucial Attitude Differences Between Churches That Grow and Churches That Don’t


  1. Calvin on November 16, 2018 at 4:14 am

    What a great message!

    • Linda P. on February 19, 2019 at 7:39 pm

      Good article! A lot to consider and pray about. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Lesia Laugavitz on November 8, 2018 at 12:25 am

    How as a lay person do we get the church to see this or do we just move on to find one that fits us better because one person runs the church their way?

  3. Paul G Donelson on November 5, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    All wonderful ideas! As a pastor appointed to one dying church after another over a period of 43 years I discovered that it was almost impossible to get those churches to turn away from the things they were doing that kept them on the road to death! When I first came to those churches they would declare, “Yes! We want to grow!” But, very quickly, I discovered that they really did not want to do anything to make that happen. As a result some of those churches after all these years have actually closed their doors. But, I tried my best and worked hard.

  4. Jenny on November 3, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    I think one of the hardest things about the acting one for me is being a new church everyone wants to jump into everything that every other church is doing (thanks instagram) and we would burn everyone out if we did that so its picking wisely and also making sure those with the passion find ways to use that passion without burning down our (growing) church!! Id say yes to everything if i could, but i enjoy a spa at my unsaved neighbours house to much!! ;D

  5. Julie on November 1, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Thank you Carey. This could not have done at a better time. We are currently going through a pastoral change and the church was (is) declining. This is a great thing to share with our board. I have always been challenged and encouraged by your articles. Thank you for being honest

  6. Adam Zamora on November 1, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks Carey! I always appreciate your insight. This is spot on!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:11 pm

      Thank you Adam!

  7. Asenaca Melania Samanunu on November 1, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks for this ,to be honest iam in a place where it sits on the issue of a decling church .For the sake of God’s calling and mission that has commanded us to reach others ,it is truly proven that we need to study this program.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:11 pm

      We all do. 🙂

  8. Sharin on November 1, 2018 at 11:16 am

    Really good stuff! Blessings to you for sharing.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:10 pm

      Thank you Sharin!

  9. Tom Kang on November 1, 2018 at 11:01 am

    So thankful for you and your ministry, Carey! We are blessed by both all the way over here in LA! Lead on, my friend.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:10 pm

      Tom…love LA and CONGRATS on the launch of your new church. Cheering for you!

  10. Matt on November 1, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Outstanding post! Going to share with some of our key leaders now! Thanks for continually outputting effective tools to improve ministries across the world!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks Matt!

  11. Jay Gregory on November 1, 2018 at 9:44 am

    I’m tracking right along with you on these 5. Is an outward focus an attitude?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:09 pm

      Sure is! Preach it.

  12. Scott Bostwick on November 1, 2018 at 9:14 am

    This. This is what our people need to hear. Thanks, Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:09 pm

      Thank you Scott!

  13. Earl Heverly Heverly on November 1, 2018 at 7:53 am

    Great synopsis, Carey. Thanks for articulating so well. Wayyyyyyyyyy too relevant in churches today. We struggle supposedly with finances, attendance and ‘spiritual powers,’when the real struggle is within–our inability to articulate why we are here and what it is God has called us too, and to allow God to work in and through as He desires instead of focusing on our own giftings and preferences..

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 1, 2018 at 7:09 pm

      That was my situation 23 years ago. God turned those churches around. So thankful!

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