7 Things That Will Drive Future Church Growth

church growth

You got into church leadership because you wanted to introduce people to Jesus. That’s pretty much how all of us begin, isn’t it?

And yet every year, it seems to get harder to reach people.

It’s not for lack of effort. Most church leaders try hard, pray hard and do their very best to advance the mission of their church.

But the facts speak for themselves. The majority of churches are in decline, and 94% of all churches are losing ground against their community (that is, their community is growing faster than the church is).

And yet, even in the midst of that, some churches are growing.

In those churches are the early clues to what future church growth looks like.

Here are 7 factors that will drive almost all future church growth.

1. Personal Invitation

One of the things that fly under the radar of most growing churches is how much personal invitation fuels church growth (and discipleship).

A great social media presence is important, as are services unchurched people can access.

But at the heart of it all, in almost every growing church is this: people inviting their friends.

Personal invitation fuels much of future church growth. Conversely, if your church members don’t invite their friends, don’t expect to grow.

This assumes Christians actually have non-Christian friends they can invite. Shockingly, too many Christians don’t.

Many Christians cocoon in their little bubble, distraught over the direction the world is heading and angry at or indifferent toward people who don’t hold their values and beliefs.

Don’t miss this, Christians: it’s hard to reach a world you don’t love…or know.

2. Refusing to Settle for Mediocre

It’s one thing to invite your friends. It’s quite another to have a great experience to invite them into.

Many churches settle for mediocrity. Don’t.

Battle mediocrity instead. Too many churches allow what’s good to stand in the way of what could be great.

To some extent, that means a service with decent music (decent to outsiders, not insiders), authentic, compelling preaching, a solid next-gen ministry and a good guest services approach (making your guests feel welcome).

An awkward reality of stuck and declining churches is that they choose inclusion over excellence. We let a not-very-gifted singer sing because no one has the courage to tell him he can’t. We let non-leaders lead because they’ve been there the longest, and they’re bossy, and we’re all afraid. (I wrote more about this dynamic that here.)

I’m not judging. I’ve led in that context before, and that’s one of the first things a leader has to change.

God designed some people to sing. Get them singing.

He gave others the gift of rhythm. Get them drumming.

He gave some the gift of leadership or communication. Get them leading and communicating.

It’s a mistake to dismiss that as entertainment. It’s called gifting. And the body of Christ works best on gifting.

The price you pay is a service nobody really likes, except the insiders, kind of like a school play parents endure because they know their kid is in it.

If your worship service is something only insiders love, don’t be surprised when outsiders walk away.

3. An Open Door Online AND A Great In-House Experience

The online world is continuing to become more and more real. Your regular attendees and everyone you want to reach moves seamlessly between the digital and real worlds these days.

Future churches know this is true.

One of the tensions most leaders have felt, though, is a fear that a great online experience will mean people stop coming to church. If you post your messages online, why would people attend? If you give your best content away from free, why would people show up?

That can be a superficial fear (attendance alone is a poor motivator), but it points to something more deeply real.

Future churches will realize their online presence is their front door, not their back door. Will you lose a few people when you launch a great online presence? Sure. But they weren’t the kind of people you could build the future of the church on anyway. The people you lose through a solid digital presence are the kind of people who were sitting in the back row not serving, not inviting friends and not giving anyway. They were already on their way out or at least were barely hanging in.

The people you’ll reach? Well, there are 1,000 or 10,000 of them for every person you might lose.

Future churches will also realize, though, that following Jesus is about more than consuming content while you run, drive or cook dinner.

Our digital age also leaves people hungering for greater community, greater experience, and greater transcendence.

Which is why churches that are growing are focusing more and more on creating experiences that engage more than just the head on a Sunday…but also engage the heart and relationship.

In short, people don’t just want to know what’s true, they want to know what’s real. And what’s real is deeper than just an idea—it’s an experience.

They come looking for something bigger than themselves, and something frankly, bigger than us. They come looking for God.

It’s a shame is when people come to church looking for God and only find us.

I think the best future churches will have content that leans toward the immanent—practical, helpful and digestible. And they’ll also offer experiences that are transcendent…that you had to be there to experience.

If everything your church does in the future feels downloadable, probably all you’ll get is a lot of downloads, not a lot of gathered people.

To put it simply, if people feel like they missed nothing when they missed church, they’ll keep missing church.

If what your church does touches the soul, people will continue to gather.

The best churches will offer both because that reflects the character and nature of God and the character of the Christian church at its best.

4. Genuine Community

The paradox of our age is that we’ve never been more connected as a culture, and we’ve never felt more alone.

Churches that grow in the future will prioritize community. Real community.

Real community isn’t just ‘fellowship,’ where the people who already know each other catch up over coffee while new people go unnoticed.

Churches claim to be friendly, but that usually only means we’re friendly to each other.

And catching up on what happened this week and talking about sports or the weather is hardly what Jesus had in mind when he told us to love one another.

But the truth is the real mission of the church is relationship. It defines the vertical nature of our faith (love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength) and the horizontal essences of Christianity (love your neighbor as yourself).

If anyone can get relationship right, it should be the church.

So ask yourself as a church leader: what are you doing to forge the deepest relationships you can forge between people in your church? Then do it.

5. Deep engagement

As I’ve written about before, in the future church, engagement will drive attendance.

Why? Because in the future church only engaged people will attend because only the engaged will remain.

Think about it your church right now, whether it’s growing or not. Again and again, it’s engaged Christians who advance the mission.

Engaged people are passionate people. They know what the mission is. They serve in it. And they live it out.

They’re passionate enough about it to invite their friends.

Over the long-term in a church, you can accomplish more with 300 engaged Christians than with 3000 disengaged attendees.

The disengaged group will dwindle. The 300 engaged Christians will advance the mission and never stay the same.

Yes, only God can bring growth. But he uses people who are engaged to do it.

If you want more on how to engage the people you have in the mission, here are 7 ways to do it.

6. Clarity

This may seem like a strange one to add to the list, but it’s essential.

Growing churches are clear churches. They have clarity about the mission. Clarity about the vision. And they have clarity about the strategy.

It’s strategic clarity that scares a lot of leaders. Here’s why: clarity takes courage, which is why so many leaders shy away from it.

Clarity means this is how we’re doing music. Often blended worship in a church exists to try to keep everybody happy, which of course means, no one is happy. Especially the leaders.

Clarity means this is how we’re going to reach our community. It also means, no, we’re not going to do X Y and Z. We’re about THIS instead.

I know language like that strikes fear into many hearts.

Clarity does not mean you issue executive fiats. It doesn’t mean my way or the highway.

It means a group of leaders has prayed and thought through the future, chosen what they believe is the best path to accomplish the mission, and then invited others along.

They focus on who they want to reach, not who they want to keep.

And usually (if the clarity points them in the right direction), they reach them.

7. Risk and Experimentation

To accomplish a radically new future, you will have to do radically different things.

The people you’re trying to reach don’t care what you did yesterday. Actually, they don’t really care what you’re doing today.

This scares the socks off of most of us. After all, risk is for risk-takers, and many of us are not crazy risk-takers.

Whether that’s pop-up church, micro campuses, new approaches to social, or even different ways to connect people, your church needs to rethink its current methods to accomplish its mission.

If you want to see some church trends to spark your thinking, here are some posts I wrote about disruptive church trends over the last few years:

2020 Church Trends (Post-COVID)

2020 Church Trends (Pre-COVID)

2019 Church Trends

2018 Church Trends

2017 Church Trends

2016 Church Trends

You can start experimenting today. And keep doing it.

Will you need to do some big stuff? Sure. But you’ll also need to try some little things. Experimentation can happen in anything.

What Do You See?

As you look ahead to the future, what are the factors you in growing churches? Scroll down and leave a comment. Let’s help each other out.

7 Things That Will Drive Future Church Growth


  1. Unwana on September 15, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    Great post! God bless you richly.

  2. Unwana on September 15, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    Great post! God you richly.

  3. Diane on October 6, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    Too many churches I’ve been part of (well, several, not many, in my 71 years) do nothing to challenge my thinking. I was once told. I think too much by a pastor and “I’m not like other laypeople”.. My friends are Jewish, gay, and spiritually abused by the Christian traditions they’ve been part of. I want a church with that welcomes all, no matter their spiritual path, and affirms that lgbtq people are created in God’s image, welcomed and fully included. If my friends aren’t welcomed and affirmed, I won’t be part of a church where I can’t invite them. The church has long oppressed and abused people. That’s why I longer participate. I have plenty of gifts – talent, financial resources, leadership skills. Not interested in involving myself where friends and family are told they’re not good enough.

  4. Ron Beed on October 3, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Sometimes I think that the message of Christ; or the manner in which it is presented, has lost much of it’s relevance and energy , especially to the ‘ I’m all right generation” and I wonder if this is not the time to examine in depth the basics of our understanding and presentation of the message to this unchurched generation. And then I call to mind similar times in history when we have forgotten the message and , lo and behold, the good Lord stepped in and revealed a bit more of Himself, the theology and relevence of a life in Christ , the Church became energized and I become hopeful as I wait for this to happen again. Only hope that I live long enough to see it happen.

  5. Lara on April 18, 2020 at 3:52 am

    Thanks for d=sharing this article.

  6. job villasor on July 30, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    very true indeed!

  7. Bill Pitcher on May 1, 2019 at 8:06 am

    I’m a new regular reader of this blog. After reading this, I went back and read your predictions for 2016, 17 and 18. I’ve seen much come true within my own church.
    I’m particularly concerned with the trend of using the streaming of a message for the weekly “attendance.” In an area with a largely Roman Catholic tradition, the so called *weekly obligation* runs strong and this tends to satisfy it for many–at least in their own minds. None the less, we’re working to expand or digital footprint.
    Thanks for all the great information.

  8. Steve Osgood on January 2, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Our church isn’t any different than any other country church, However, we care, we participate, we have strong missions and a mission statement!

  9. Wayne Harris on July 30, 2018 at 6:19 am

    These 7 suggestions will indeed help a church reach more people – by addition. What our world needs is a movement of God that will only happen through the multiplication of believers being disciples. This will only happen when pastors begin to equip their people to invite people to Jesus rather than just inviting them to church!

  10. Lee on July 29, 2018 at 10:12 am

    These ideas are fine, but I think church growth goes much deeper when we consult Scripture. How do you assess the current culture in light of Matthew 24? I am not sure what the future of the church in America will look like in the coming years. Each generation has its own share of challenges. Technology can bring us closer and yet we can feel alone. It appears that Bible history is repeating itself but under a new umbrella. The gospel message of Jesus Christ is essential to these discussions. Where is the priority of prayer?

    • Chima on December 7, 2020 at 4:36 pm

      I enjoyed reading what you wrote. Great one and more encouraging to me

  11. Chiazor Elvis Chuka. on July 24, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    None yet till I thoroughly go through,tnx Elvis

  12. Claudio on May 25, 2018 at 9:06 am

    For me this post is so timely. The one factor that stands out is battling mediocrity. Leaders who settle for the status quo or comfort zone cause disengagement to happen. Noticing and then placing people in leadership roles or service roles that they are gifted in is so important. It takes courage for the leader to set expectations and then follow through with them. Saying no to someone who is not a great singer or communicator may seem unkind. Yet, it is up to the leader to find something that the person is gifted in so that they do not become discouraged/disengaged. Thanks for posting this insightful and informative article.

  13. David on April 22, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Could you clarify what you mean when you say that “having a strong digital presence can cause you to lose some people” ? I am not following that statement . Thanks. Great post as always.

    • Chris on April 23, 2018 at 3:35 am

      I think what Carey is saying, is that some people will be satisfied by downloading the sermon and cutting their physical attendance on a Sunday. Maybe it’s because they are too busy or don’t have the personal capacity to attend (think a family with three hyperactive children under 5), or perhaps other parts of the service are a turn-off (like music at 200 dB). So they get what they want or avoid what they don’t like, without turning up to church and only tune-in online.

      It’s like going to the movies versus watching it on Netflix.

      Hope this helps clarify your question.

  14. Anna Fillgrove on April 22, 2018 at 7:00 am

    Carey…great info, as usual. Just a bit of a different perspective on the idea that blended worship often exists to keep everyrone happy, and then no one is happy…
    We have a blended worship style and talk with our congregation about how we are an intergenerational family. We sing each other’s music. In a family, sometimes we do an activity that the other person likes but that wouldn’t necesarily be our first choice of activity. That’s how familes work. It’s a way that we love and honor each other. You’re right, everyone isn’t alway happy. It takes continuing education and vision casting from the leadership.

    • David on April 22, 2018 at 12:38 pm

      I agree

    • Randy Beumer on July 10, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      Thank you Anna for your insight on blended worship. I agree on a deep level. “Blended” worship can actually be about trying speak the gospel into self-centered attitudes our culture constantly promotes about styles. It’s about teaching a community to value each other more than what we prefer. It’s about seeing a 17 year old singing their hearts out to an old hymn next to an 80 year old who is in tears because of it. It’s about the 80 year old trying out a new song because they love their grandchild more than their own comfort. Its about teaching all generations to deny themselves a little bit for the glory of God. I know it’s not a popular biblical principle. It certainly won’t increase the size of your church if that is what we are all about. Should we sacrifice intergenerational fellowship for numbers? Are we tearing the generational fabric of church apart by pigeon holing our style into the latest trends? The generations of Christians need each other more than ever. We should do everything we can to help generations to listen to each other. Should that not be an essential goal of all churches?

      • Anna Fillgrove on July 11, 2018 at 7:45 am

        Well said.

    • Tony on July 29, 2018 at 3:06 pm

      “We sing each other’s music*…” I hope “you have mutual tolerance of same*.

      Yeah I get the family thing and that’s good.

  15. Yemisi on February 13, 2018 at 11:40 pm

    Thank you.

  16. Gus cocina on February 13, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Wow what an eye opener! So true when you point out the fact about so many church family members getting together over coffee, and say little or nothing significant about our savior. Or even to say hello to anyone other than their own little circle. I pray that God will keep giving you great insight to keep inspiring us, and help us realize how much more is out there to keep on helping grow the church. Thank you Carey.

  17. Larry Myers on February 12, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    I really looks forward to the great insight on helping moving the ministry forward. Please keep up the blessings, it’s working. Thanks

  18. Christopher Sykes on February 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    Great Post as usual! I just picked up the book The Problem with God and have already started digging into it. I’ve also already checked out some of your series content, which I do all the time anyway. Is that content available for sharing? Either the intro video or the series outline/talks? I’d love to use it in our context.

  19. Sam Hunsu on February 12, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Great article

    • Brian Harkness on February 13, 2018 at 11:54 am

      Great Article but how do I help my leadership to get on the same page about what “Great Worship” is for our setting and culture? I think we are doing many of these things well. Is there some objective measure of what a “great worship experience” is ?


      • Ben on February 15, 2018 at 8:55 am

        Brian, I’d recommend you check out the book “Holy Roar” by Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead. I just finished it and have started teaching some of the principles to my worship team and congregation and have seen awesome results. It’s a simple and quick read but I found it very helpful in trying to define what a great (and biblical) worship experience looks like. I’d say your best objective measurement would be engagement…is the majority of the congregation (and band) actually participating in the worship experience or simply observing? The book gives and explains 7 Hebrew words from the OT that show what engaged, participatory worship looks like.

        • Brian Harkness on February 15, 2018 at 9:20 am

          Awesome. Thanks!

          Ordering the book today.

          • Ben on February 15, 2018 at 9:57 am

            Very cool! Hope you find it as helpful as I have!


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