5 Significant Attitude Differences That Separate Growing and Declining Churches

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

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.

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.

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

Break The Barriers Holding You Back

If you want to move past the barriers holding you back, I have some deeper practical help.

The Church Growth Masterclass is 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 to leave a comment!

5 Significant Attitude Differences That Separate Growing and Declining Churches


  1. Gene on May 5, 2019 at 9:00 am

    Hey Carey,

    I agree mostly with the things you write about. However I do take exception with your 3rd point on principles verses preferences…I think the real issue is that we give the attendees what they want to hear and not what they NEED to hear. I have found that the majority of professing believers don’t even know the basic teachings of Scripture and are still on the milk of the Word and not on Meat. And that in my humble opinion is why we see this constant “series” preaching…5 principles to a better you…and not entire book studies. Could it be that it’s the smaller none growing numerically church who’s got it right and not the tickle the ears mega church numerically growing church? Disclaimer: I know not all large churches fit into my last comment.

  2. Dean Wiles on June 16, 2018 at 3:39 am

    Hey Carey!
    I enjoy receiving your emails. They have been a great resource as I am the new pastor at our church after serving for the past 10 years as the associate/youth pastor. May I have permission to use this information in a future sermon to inspire our church? Again thank you for your wisdom and revelation. Blessings to you!

  3. […] Nieuwhof recently shared five attitude differences he sees in the leaders of growing vs. declining […]

    • Frank on May 6, 2019 at 11:39 am

      I want to take issue with point 2. If you neglect the pastoral needs of your flock (as in my church in favour of outreach then you run the risk of your church not only declining but disappearing as people vote with their feet.

      As someone else noted, it may be best to be a small but stagnant church where the needs of the parishioners are looked after as opposed to a church too focused on outreach.

  4. […] recently shared five attitude differences he sees in the leaders of growing vs. declining […]

  5. […] recently shared 5 attitude differences he sees in the leaders of growing vs. declining […]

  6. […] recently shared 5 attitude differences he sees in the leaders of growing vs. declining […]

  7. Jacobus Venter on May 14, 2018 at 7:05 am

    I like the saying: Action produces traction – So Act! The harvest is coming in. As in Joh. 4: 27 – 42. Jesus is in conversation with his diciples. The Samiritan women left the jar and went to fetch the rest of the town. The diciples just came back from that town. Only bringing food to eat. Jesus said He was not hungry. But He mentioned: “There is One that sow’s and One that reaps.” Jesus pointed to the Samiritan’s that were coming from town. One women – changed – bringing the hole town. The diciples came back only with food – she came back with the hole harvest. — That is food for our Jesus Christ–
    Action produces traction, so Act for our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s time toreap the harvest.

  8. Rebecca on May 13, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Great article. I’m interested, what are some of the “principles” (strategies) that Connects has focussed on?

  9. theartist on May 13, 2018 at 10:08 am

    TRUE. The “all about us” mentalitiy will never grow a church. The attitude of it’s leader is paramount. The congregation ultimately takes on the personality of leadership-good or bad. If leadership is closeted, non-reaching, and self-centered-the church will ultimately become just like leadership.
    EXCEPTION” Those who recognize it for what it is , and refuse to fall in line. These are the ones who are silenced in Leadership circles, and passed over when assignments are given. These are the “trouble makers” and are relegated to being the “topic of sermons” or victims of gossip, and far worse-are left alone, when other members realize know-but refuse to stand.

  10. […] So, do you think you can or think you can’t? You’re right. (For more on how mindset makes or breaks churches, read this.) […]

  11. […] So, do you think you can or think you can’t? You’re right. (For more on how mindset makes or breaks churches, read this.) […]

  12. Ben Read on May 11, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Greatly appreciate this post, super helpful as we navigate some things with our Family Ministry team, because you could make this fit with ministries within churches, and noticing different attitudes within our teams.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 11, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      Very true. Ben. Thanks and best wishes with the change.

  13. Robin Dillon on May 11, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you for this post! I am sharing it with my church’s administrative council this evening. May I also have permission to reprint it in my church’s monthly newsletter, with appropriate attribution, of course?

  14. Tiffany on May 9, 2015 at 7:12 am

    When someone says they wish their church were deeper, it’s not an insult to the team and it’s not selfish. In our rush to reach the unchurched, we’re sadly not meeting the needs of the baby Christians in our churches. How tragic when a baby doesn’t grow! Deeper does not equal selfish; it’s milk v meat (1Pet2:2, 1Cor3:2, Heb5:12).

  15. […] 5 Significant Attitude Differences That Separate Growing and Declining Churches, by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  16. Another Article | Living Apologetics on May 7, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    […] Here’s another blurb an acquaintance posted on Facebook.  He’s posted stuff from this guy before that I haven’t cared for much at all, but this one actually has some merit.  Here are my additional thoughts. […]

  17. will abbott on May 5, 2015 at 8:15 am

    reference the growing v declining churches, these points are really good. They resonate with what God is doing in our church. In terms of other common factors I have noticed (with a mind to churches that I have seen close recently, as well as growing ones)…..I would combine two points…around the attitude of our hearts specifically towards change ie open to change v resistant to change. Plus I would definitely bring our relationship to God into things ie praying is central v praying is peripheral. Hope that helps someone.

  18. browny770 on May 4, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Watched you put this together on Periscope this morning. Love the new technology and thanks, as always, for your insight!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.