5 Significant Attitude Differences That Separate Growing and Declining Churches

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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 difference 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

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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.

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

Action produces traction. So act. @caseygraham Click To Tweet

What’s Stopping Your Church From Growing? 

Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of church leaders to help them understand the dynamics of church growth.

And here’s what I've learned.

It’s almost never a lack of passion or effort that leads to stagnation, it’s that growing churches are effective at removing the barriers that stand between them and reaching more people.

And that’s exactly why I created The Art of Church Growth course.

By taking a thorough evaluation of your leadership team, volunteer core, missional alignment, and culture, you'll create an action plan to:

  1. Discover and eliminate the barriers that keep your church from growing
  2. Guide your church through transformational conversations that lead to growth and discipleship

While only God can grant growth, you can position your church for it. The best time to do that is now.

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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.

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