5 Wrong Motives for Church Growth

So you want your church to grow. Wonderful.

Here’s a challenging question: why?

Your motivation for wanting your church to grow is important for several reasons.

First, it’s the church. It’s not your church, it’s God’s. And one day you’ll give an account to God for what you did with what he entrusted you and why you did it.

Second, ultimately, I think people can tell. Eventually, people can tell whether you care about them or whether you’re using them.

Third, it’s an integrity issue. Integrity ultimately determines whether what you build stands, in the same way that a house with structural integrity will stand over the years.

Wanting your church to grow isn’t a bad thing. Passion for the mission means passion for growth. And the purest motive in leadership will be simply that you want people to come to know the love, forgiveness and fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

Yet not everyone wants their church to grow for noble reasons.

How do you know where you stand? Here are 5 false motives to watch for.

Just because you struggle with them doesn’t mean you’ll succumb to them. But if you recognize them for what they are, you can identify them, confess them, and kill them before they ruin a good thing.

wrong motives1. Pride

Is pride driving your desire to see your church grow? That can be tough to answer accurately.

Pride is like greed; it rarely shows itself in the mirror.

How would you know if pride is driving your desire to grow? Just watch what happens when you grow or don’t grow. As Tim Keller says, if growth has become an idol to you, success will go to your head and failure will go to your heart.

Proud leaders do great as long as everything is moving up and to the right, but if things turn, they almost can’t stand the outcome because it crushes them.

A humble leader can lead in time of failure, stagnation and success.

Humility separates what you do from who you are. Pride never does.

2. Competition

Some leaders want their church to grow because they need to be the best—to be the brightest, fastest or on top.

There’s a world of difference between wanting to do your best and wanting to be the best.

Competition is an inferior motive for growth not just because it’s linked to pride, but because it diminishes the contribution of all others as ‘inferior’. Leaders who always want to be first usually take delight in the fact that others are second.

And that stinks. Especially for a Christian.

Competitive leaders feel they have to be the best.

Healthy leaders simply want to do their best. (Sometimes, that even lands them at Number One.)

3. Insecurity

Sometimes insecure people want their church or organization to grow because it makes them feel better about themselves.

Insecurity and pride are closely linked. Why? Insecurity can lead to an obsession with self the same way narcissism can. The insecure person thinks about themselves constantly and will use others to make them feel better, which of course, is always a mistake.

Pride, competition and insecurity should drive you to God (and perhaps to a Christian counsellor), not to more.

Insecurity can lead to an obsession with self the same way narcissism can.

4. Organizational preservation

Too many churches want to grow simply so they can stay afloat.

You’ve heard it more often than anyone would like to admit:

We need some people to help pay the bills.

We just need more butts in the seats if this is going to work.

We are so short on volunteers that we really need to get some new people in the doors.

People who join your church will soon see that you value them for what they can do, not for who they are. As a result, they won’t stick.

Cruel as it sounds, churches that want to grow simply to keep themselves alive probably should die. They’ve lost the mission.

5. Because you simply want to grow

Other churches don’t need to grow to stay afloat, but instead, they want to grow simply because, well, they want to grow.

The logic goes like this: Healthy things grow, right?

So we should add a campus, or add a service or embark on a building campaign to make more space. Well, maybe.

But that healthy ‘thing’ should already be growing, to the point where you need to make a move or it just makes sense to make a move.

Expanding so you’ll start growing is like saying you want to get married so you’ll fall in love. No, you get married because you’ve fallen in love.

Usually, a church should expand because one of two things is happening:

There’s not enough room for people who are already coming.

You’ve got a thriving ministry in one location and you want to bring it to a new location.

Expanding for the sake of expansion is not a growth strategy; it’s actually an implosion strategy.

What often happens when you expand because you want to expand is that you will end up with more debt, more complexity, more stagnation and more confusion.

What Do You Think?

So those are false motives I’ve had to wrestle with and I’ve seen many other leaders struggle with.

The truth is, I do want the church to grow. Why?

The best and perhaps the only great motivation for growing a church is that we want to see people move into a life-giving relationship with Jesus.

That’s exactly what we all should be doing.

Do you see any other false motives?

Let me know in the comments below!

5 Wrong Motives for Church Growth


  1. Five Leadership Blogs I Read on June 28, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    […] Carey is Canadian! Do I have to say any more? Seriously, his blog and podcasts focus on cultural trends in the local church leadership. You can read this blog to get a sense of his insight and writing style: 5 Wrong Motives for Church Growth. (click here). […]

  2. Siju on June 28, 2016 at 11:49 am

    This is a great and insightful write up. I see Competition as also similar but slightly different from COMPARISON. Many Pastors compare the progress already made by other churches with the one they pastor. While it may not be necessarily for competition, but at times just in order to fit into certain class and not to look or seem backward among others. Interestingly, we are not called to fit into any social status, we are commissioned and not compared.

  3. Ambrose Ochiabuto Sunny Okorie on June 25, 2016 at 6:19 am

    I may add 2 more that may related to some of what you’ve already said, but resonates well within my mind as read your writings.

    1. Spiritual Authority – Suppression and Submission:
    Some leaders simply wish to exercise spiritual authority over many more people than they can actually truly influence or speak into their lives.

    The core focus of a church is to equip believers for the work of ministry – Ephesians 4:7-16, to make each member a supplying joint until we come to maturity where Christ wants us… and in the meantime be change agents in the world, beginning with our Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth in missions.
    Behind this insidious spiritual authority motive to rule over people is the greed for their money or resources and abilities… to keep people in one bondage or the other, and without freedom to go where God may be wanting them to go and share the skills or resources they may have with others outside their immediate church setting which has been drummed into their heads as the only place to give and get God’s blessings.

    2. To Get Bigger Tithes –
    While we generally accept that Christians should pay or bring their tithes to their local church, playing the numbers game with it as a reason for church growth is a terribly bad motive and unbelief for any leader or pastor who wish to limit God’s blessing to the 10% “assured” income for the “truly faithful church” members. A church wanting to grow for more tithing members should probably die if it is not truly “feeding my sheep” as Jesus commanded Peter regarding the Church.

    Contributions by: Dr. Ambrose Sunny Okorie

    • Richard H on July 11, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      I was thinking of this #2 also. A church that lives in financial fear will imagine that more people (suckers?) will allow them to survive.

  4. Sean Boucher on June 24, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Here’s another one that is likely to fail:
    “Because (insert name of current famous person on church growth) says churches should grow”.
    If church growth doesn’t come from a personal conviction that God wants you to be a vital part of your church growing then I reckon you’ll just burn out trying to replicate what someone else says should happen.

    If I were to be even more provocative I’d say this one might fail for the same reason:
    “Because God/The Bible wants the church to grow”.
    Church growth (and church planting) is hard long-haul gut-wrenching sometimes-the-most-frustrating work. Undertaking it because it’s ‘the right thing to do’ (without a personal ‘call’ whatever that means for you personally) will likely end up with you pushing others to do things in a tyrannical manner to ‘get the job done’ but without love.

    Just a thought…

Leave a Comment

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