The Top 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark

200 barrier

While social media and even traditional media are still preoccupied with mega churches and multi-site churches, the reality is that most churches in North America are quite small.

The Barna Group pegs the average Protestant church size in America at 89 adults. Only 2% of churches have over 1000 adults attending.

According to Carl George and Warren Bird, fully 85% of all Protestant churches in North America never break the 200 attendance mark.

Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with being a small church. I just know that almost every small church leader I speak to wants his or her church to  grow.

I get that. That’s the mission of the church. Every single day, I want our church to become more effective in reaching one more person with the hope that’s in Christ.

So why is it that most churches never break the 200 attendance mark?

It’s not:

DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people.

A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer.

LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know.

Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places.

Let’s just assume you have a solid mission, theology, and heart to reach people.

Surprisingly, the main reasons churches never pass the 200 attendance mark aren’t spiritual, they’re structural.

The main reasons churches never pass the 200 attendance mark aren't spiritual, they're structural. Click To Tweet

I published an earlier version of this post several years ago. It appears to have struck a nerve.

The post has been shared over 40,000 times on social media and read by over a quarter million leaders. You can read the original post here and you’ll see how my thinking started on this issue.

When I saw the response to this post continue over the years, I drilled a little deeper, reflected more systematically on my only learnings in leading a church from 6 in attendance to over 1200 attendees today and did more research.

In addition, I surveyed 1400 small and mid-sized church pastors on what they struggled with as they tried to break the 200 mark. While I think all the points in the original post are still helpful, you’ll also see new factors that emerged from my reflection and research that I outline below.

So, here are the top 8 reasons churches who want to grow never end up breaking the 200 barrier.

1. Small churches are structured to stay small

You know why most churches still don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance?

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

The main reason churches don’t grow past 200 attendees isn’t spiritual, it’s structural.

The main reason churches don't grow past 200 attendees isn't spiritual, it's structural. Click To Tweet

Think about it.

There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything. Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the Director of Marketing? He’s at the cash register.

Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow.

But you can’t run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There’s a produce manager and people who only stock shelves. There’s a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more.

A bigger vision requires a bigger structure. A bigger church requires a bigger structure. Simply put, you need to structure bigger to grow bigger.

If you want your church to reach more people, structure bigger to grow bigger. Click To Tweet

2. The Pastor Does Everything

In any small church, the idea that the pastor does everything probably sounds familiar. The expectations on the pastor are significant.

He or she is supposed to prepare a message, lead the Bible study, show up early to set up chairs, organize the next event, make hospital visits, recruit volunteers, AND make sure to care for themselves well enough that they don’t burn out.

The list of activities is as comprehensive as anything and everything the church does.

Whether you’re in a mainline denomination or in a church plant that meets in a school, there is a predominant bias in small churches toward the pastor doing everything.

There are so many problems with this approach, but let’s start with two.

First, it doesn’t scale. If everything that gets done depends on one person, your church won’t grow beyond the ability of a single person. For most of us, that means 200 is the upper limit.

Expecting the pastor to do everything simply doesn't scale. Click To Tweet

Second, if the pastor does everything, it’s a complete denial of how God designed the church to work. It’s just insanely backward from the church’s God-given design.

God gifts his people, not just the pastor, for works of ministry. The church should organize like it.

Finally, this is why breaking the 200 barrier breaks so many leaders. They just can’t get it all done. Many pastors are already maxed out, and think “If reaching more people means working more hours, I just can’t.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t.

Reaching more people doesn't mean you have to work more hours. Click To Tweet

3. The pastor is the primary caregiver

Of all the things that pastor does, pastoral care is often the one congregations most love and expect. And it’s killing churches.

In this post, I outline more about how pastoral care stunts the growth of so many churches.

Honestly, if you just push past this one issue, you will have made a ton of progress. When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding, funeral and make regular house calls, he or she becomes incapable of doing other things. That model just doesn’t scale.

If you’re good at pastoral care, you’ll grow the church to 200 people and then disappoint people when you can’t get to every event anymore. Or you’ll just burn out. It creates false expectations and so many people get hurt in the process.

The best book I know on the subject has just been re-released with a new, updated edition. The answer, by the way, is to teach people to care for each other in groups.

98% of pastoral care is having someone who cares. It doesn’t have to be the pastor. In this course, I show you how to make that transition in a way that helps your church care for each other while the senior pastor gets freed up to lead and teach.

4. You Don’t Have the Right People

In my survey of 1400 pastors, finding and developing the right leaders emerged as the key problem leaders felt.

Not only are pastors exhausted trying to do it all, so are the handful of volunteers that have stepped up. To make matters worse, many pastors don’t think they have the right volunteers. Most church leaders have enough nice people, they just need more capable people.

So how do you get the right people?

The truth is, great people don’t randomly assemble. They are attracted by clear and compelling missions like the mission of the church. They are challenged, nurtured, and inspired by skillful, humble, passionate leaders who have devoted their lives to a cause greater than themselves.

The reason your people aren’t like the people of the churches you admire is because you haven’t led them there yet.

Growing churches don’t buy great leaders, they build them.

Growing churches don’t buy great leaders, they build them. Click To Tweet

5. Too Many Doers, Not Enough Leaders

A second problem the 1400 pastors I surveyed identified is that as their church grows, they end up with teams of doers, not teams of leaders.

That’s a huge barrier.

Leaders lead other people; doers only lead themselves.

Leaders don’t mind having a team of people to manage. Doers would rather worry about themselves and their specific assignment.

If you only have teams of doers, your church will struggle to grow.

Leaders lead other people; doers only lead themselves. Click To Tweet

6. The Team is Not Aligned

Another reason 200 is such a big barrier is because once you get hundreds of people in an organization, you end up with chaos unless you have a great plan.

When our church was between 200 and 400 in attendance, I found myself waking up at night wondering, “How do I keep all these well-intentioned people from accidentally running the mission of the church off course? How do I convey what is so clear in my head — the mission, vision, strategy, and values of our church—to everyone else in a way that’s clear to them?”

Those questions (and the fear associated with them) are focused around one key leadership issue: alignment. Alignment is getting a team of people committed to a common mission, vision, and set of values. It’s the hard work of making what’s clear to you clear to your team.

Alignment is so critical because if you don’t do it, it’s like releasing the stallions from the barn. They’ll run wild and in every direction. That’s why some leaders fear empowering leaders: they fear those leaders will run the church in various directions.

An unaligned church will struggle to grow, and if even if it does, it carries within it all the seeds for implosion.

Alignment is the hard work of making what's clear to you clear to your team. Click To Tweet

7. Micro-management

If you need permission every time you need to buy paper towels or repaint an office, you have a governance issue.

Most boards who micromanage do so because that’s where most people simply default. You need a board who guards the mission and vision and empowers the team to accomplish it and then gets out of the way.

Most small churches are led by congregations who want a say in everything or a board that does.

Here’s what’s true: committees kill vision.

Committees kill vision. Click To Tweet

Individuals are almost always more courageous than groups. And the more people you seek to please up front, the less inspiring your idea will become.

When everyone wants to have a say, very little gets done.

Governance is a silent killer for most churches trying to grow.

When everyone wants to have a say, very little gets done. Click To Tweet

8. The Leaders Make Too Many Excuses

All too often when I’m interacting with church leaders, I hear the same excuses over and over—reasons that something won’t work or that another idea can’t be done.

Leaders complain that their building is too small or too big, their location isn’t ideal, they don’t have the right team, they haven’t got enough money, or that their context is different.

Here’s what’s true: you can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

You can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can’t make both. Click To Tweet

In fact, the leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses. And the leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress.

The leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress. Click To Tweet

Stop Spinning Your Wheels…Let’s Solve This Together

I address these issues directly in the Church Growth Masterclass and provide strategies on how to tackle each of them.

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 Have You Seen?

In the meantime, what have you seen that helps churches push past attendance barriers? Scroll down and leave a comment!

The Top 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark


  1. Andrew on August 17, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    I need to know how to release the vision without the fear of it being diverted by those entrusted in various church ministries. Thank you

    • DONALD E WEBER on January 17, 2022 at 8:44 pm

      I am coaching Pastors in Kenya and I am committed to helping then reach the lost and grow their churches

  2. Andrew on August 17, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    I am keenly interested because I am a victim of never growing beyond the church beyond 200. These insights are helpful. Thank you

  3. Lorraine T. on August 16, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    I don’t understand the people who say their church is good with the people they have. Isn’t that the whole purpose of the church? To reach the un-churched? To grow believers in Christ?
    The church wasn’t put there so we could all hang around & pray. We could do that at home. The church should be a group of people that pray together but most importantly go out & bring other people to God.
    It’s easy to just stay at 200 & have the status-quo. The hard part is thinking of ways to get those other people who haven’t found God’s love yet. It’s not gimmicky it’s reaching out to people in the way they will listen.
    What if Paul had just kept on going? Found God & said..”yea I’m good” Hadn’t reached out to others? We can’t get stuck in our comfy way of life. God reaches others through us & we need to make it work. JMHO

  4. Reggie on May 20, 2020 at 11:15 am

    One thing that I would suggest – turn #2 around. A lot of churches are bottlenecked at the pastor because he very much wants it to be that way. My church is very pastor-centric. He is a good man whom I believe loves the Lord but most everything happens under his thumb. And as far as caregiving goes – I was out for 2 months after surgery and nearly died – no one from the church visited me. So now I am looking at someone who neither a shepherd nor a rancher.

    • joe on May 27, 2021 at 9:50 am

      Did your pastor know that you had surgery? You’d be surprised how little the pastor actually knows about individual lives to people who are not plugged into leadership or just not there more than Sundays. I am a pastor. It’s like people think God just beams the message or need of all the people into my head. It doesn’t work that way. Hospitals used to call churches and I swear, I think some older people still think this happens. Communication is key. I’d visit anyone in the hospital who wanted a visit, but most of the time, I’m out of the loop.

  5. Jennifer Harbour on February 5, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    It’s true..
    It works..
    No denying it..
    Why does it make me feel so sad 😞
    I appreciate your honesty.

  6. Matt Ellington on December 31, 2019 at 12:15 am

    You’re supposed to be a Shepard not the CEO of a business… Your model of a leader here doesn’t seem to be Christ, or even Timothy ( 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

    • Phil on May 1, 2020 at 12:30 am

      I’m assuming you were shaking your 90 year old bony finger at the screen when you yelled that….

      Nobody wants a Shepard anymore.

      • Jonny Existence on May 3, 2020 at 6:22 pm

        No, but most appreciate someone who can spell. Next time, shepherd your comment.

      • Charlie on March 28, 2021 at 12:07 am

        But Carey just said give people what they need, not what they want. People need a shepherd…if they’re humble.

    • Thomas on February 18, 2021 at 5:18 pm

      I think you just made the authors point. I see nowhere in the blog that indicates not shepherding the flock, or lack of sound doctrine, or not preaching God’s word ( 2 Timothy 4:1-5). In fact it helps pastors do a better job of shepherding, doctrine, and preaching. How? Because it allows pastors to be more effective when they are organized to meet the needs of the congregation and focus energy where it is needed. In turn empowering other gifted leaders in the church to use their spiritual gifts. Even Moses had to do that through advice of his father in law Jethro (Exodus 18:1-27). Similar example in the new testament church assigned seven leaders to care for the widows that were be neglected due to what this article is talking about (Acts 6:1-7). Hoped that helped someone and ask for grace if I miss spelled something 🙂

  7. Peter Rhode on December 7, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Our church is 7 years old. At a recent Pastors meeting I suggested that we should reflect on our growth as a ministry and possibly accept that we may have “reached a ceiling” in our membership. I am rather intrigued by this and have decided to write a doctoral thesis on this topic. I therefore found this post very helpful and will use it to engage further with our Pastoral team.

  8. Joshua Breland on October 13, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    Great post! I wonder how many church plants < 200 are using data and analytics to support their 200+ attendance goals. I always appreciate your blog, Carey.

  9. Olubukun Nelson on September 21, 2019 at 3:48 am

    My name is olubukun nelson I am so cool man in my life

  10. Tim Roman on May 9, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Good article but forces me to ask, how does one define “leadership?” Do you use a biblical model or a business one? If from a business perspective, programs can be essential for the desired result for success. As one may deem it. If from a biblical perspective, success or church health does not equate to the numbers of a congregation. Those in the bible who led God’s people, at whatever capacity were far from the qualifications one places on “church leaders” today. When it comes to God’s calling, I would not equate today’s idea of leadership in stride with Biblical leadership. Not compatible with business models. For a business, the typical slogan used is “A healthy organism grows” therefore success is elevated in numbers via programs. But to apply this mantra to the church is problematic at its core. For the very reason that “unhealthy organisms” grow too and at a faster rate. And a church of 200 to 2,000 can be a place of spirtually, cancer-stricken members who are unsaved. A large, successfully seeming church does not make it a healthy one. And so I must ask, why must we assume a church under 200 is a problem?

    • Boface Gividon on May 14, 2019 at 9:17 pm

      Sounds like my local government. Hmmm, and my state govt. The whole nation really!

    • Jacob on June 24, 2019 at 10:18 am

      I agree with this statement/question. Not all growth is good. Cancer, for example, is an abnormal tumor growing within a body, which isn’t good. In the same, the number of members in your church doesn’t determine the health of a church. There could be 1000 members, and 800 of them don’t exemplify scriptural discipleship (Matthew 7:21-23). Trying to single out a list of strategies or implementations for church growth isn’t a spiritual plan for God’s kingdom. Even if it’s based off historic data. I understand that these principles fit into a lot of successful business models that exist today. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s biblical… Spiritual growth is always rooted in God’s plan: the Bible. Each individual has a calling to grow personally (Galatians 5:22-23) based off scripture. And fostering that in 200 people is more so powerful than growing a church of lukewarm attendees. Jesus didn’t get involved with how many people attended to his ways. He was focused on the hearts of the crowd and singled out those that not only believed in him, but were committed to HIS ways (John 8:31-32) and the truth. I don’t see much structure in this. He met people where they were at and focused on their alignment with God’s plan and if they wanted to get better (Samaritan woman, sinful woman, Zacchaeus). The only thing he provided structure for was that his disciples were to live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), where they were to find people committed to living and acting in the same way Jesus lived (through scripture). No organizational structure, but purely a (continual) commitment to live a life that matches that of Jesus. Another thing I question is the lack of scriptural references to back up the strategies that you’ve implemented.

      • David on June 27, 2020 at 2:40 pm

        Sure, there are several scriptures to back up these ideas. First, in Exodus and Numbers Moses moved from a one man operation to delegating to thousands of leaders. God himself delegated the work of moving the tabernacle to various clans so that the work would move smoothly and quickly. In Ephesians 4 the work of each of the ministry functions is to equip the saints for works of service and to grow them into the likeness of Christ. Thus we now turn to the Gospels. Jesus example was to select 12, train them and release them. Paul did the same.

    • Joel on December 18, 2019 at 11:24 am

      A church under 200, depending on your geographic location is a huge deal. My church is in the lower economic area where most people make minimum wage and it becomes difficult to pay the bills. Under 200 makes it difficult to have enough volunteers to help in every area that needs to be led. My church is under 80 (kids and all) and it is very difficult to accomplish many of the small tasks. You have the teachers, greeters, welcome team, worship team, media team, ushers, child care, list for cleaning the temple, and the list goes on and on. Doesn’t mean the people I have are not spiritual, they need help growing to take tasks on but with me working full time in a secular job, it is hard to manage everything. With over 200, it becomes a lot easier to allow the pastor to work full time in the church without being a financial hinderance to the budget of the church. So yes, the more people that are available to serve and lead, the more opportunities there are to reach more people le to the gospel.

  11. Tim Roman on May 9, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Good article but forces me to ask, how does one define “leadership?” Do you use a biblical model or a business one? If from a business perspective, programs can be essential for the desired result for success. As one may deem it. If from a biblical perspective, success or church health does not equate to the numbers of a congregation. For a business, the typical slogan used is “A healthy organism grows” therefore success is elevated in numbers via programs. But to apply this mantra to the church is problematic at its core. For the very reason that “unhealthy organisms” grow too and at a faster rate. And a church of 200 to 2,000 can be a place of spirtually, cancer-stricken members who are unsaved. A large, successfully seeming church does not make it a healthy one. And so I must ask, why must we assume a church under 200 is a problem?

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  13. LaWanda on December 18, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    I’ve read many of the comments that are alluding to demographics being an issues, I don’t believe that is the case for our church. Our church is in a small community of 295 people, but our church membership is right around 200 and has been there for some time. I believe our issues are the topics mentioned in this article. Thank you for sharing, this is incredible helpful.

  14. Pamela Loomis on October 27, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Our church has gone from under 100 to 200. We have a wonderful pastor and church. Our parents are gone, we are now the older generation and our children do not attend but go elsewhere or consumed by their sports, even though they were taught right. The church has growth spurts around sad events- 9/11 but other than that the only churches that are growing are the gimmick filled feel good ministries. Sad but we have a work to do whether small min number or not…. God’s plan.

    God Bless.

  15. who cares on September 14, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    The churches are small in number while the bars are filled is simply because the church – in too many places – has decided to build a non-profit business rather than throw themselves on the floor and WAIT in prayer for the Spirit to fall in supernatural power. The church rarely offers the Spirit. Most people I know with Spiritual hunger go to witchcraft in its many forms because they’ve been to churches and see immediately that coffee and muffins in the back with a comfy and an informal country club setting seems to be where the efforts are made by what is called a church. So they leave their 5 million dollar a year job and move into the woods to be with nature, often worshipping the creation, rather than the Creator, because those who have taken it upon themselves to say they follow in the footsteps of Jesus are totally removed from the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit and Fire, and they don’t even know it… a church field trip to a 3rd world country church that is oppressed, without staying in plush hotels or overprotected pre-planned little adventures, where if God doesn’t come through for you, it’s going to be very uncomfortable would be a very nice church field trip or pastors conference… The church “bus” got off on the wrong exit a long time ago… this should help things a little… a 40 day fast with repentance for building a kingdom in this world, with the audacity to do it in God’s name, would also be a nice start… Ultimately returning to The Real Jesus, Who moves, not by might nor by Power, but by the Active Holy Spirit, and abandoning the present mindset, altars to baal and other self-fulfillment is what’s needed. Peo[ple need to KNOW Jesus, not just about “A” Jesus… The Jesus preached is far too commonly NOT the REAL, Biblical, Supernatural Working Jesus!!! … Many of these churches can stay under 200 people of collect 200,000, but if the Spirit of God is not people totally out of who they are and into the image of Christ… it’s the blind leading the blind, and one would be advised to stop attending human-initiated state-registered non-profits misnamed a church, and prayerfully find the few who Know Jesus and walk the narrow, difficult, Holy Spirit-empowered life of the Spirit, so that when they die, the go from knowing Jesus, KNOWING HIM, in this life to the simple transition from life on earth to life in HIS literal presence… If you lead people to Living Jesus you don’t want hundreds and thousands listening to you speak every week, you selflessly serve them and God’s vision for them, not yours, so that HIS purposes on earth and in each specific person are fulfilled… that’s pastoring… Public speakers would do the church, and the world, a great favor and take their speaking into the streets where the people are, in the bar parking lot, etc… and get out of the way of the pastors who do not shepherd the sheep for hire. Fine, pay the shepherd, but get the hirelings out of the way… Jesus said they’re out there… Go to any major city, talk to the people, they know what’s going on in the non-profit entities, but to local franchisee, leader, can’t see it… and they just keep speaking and speaking, hoping and hoping… THAT’S why you don’t break 200 people!

    • Jonny Existence on May 3, 2020 at 6:24 pm

      Or…they don’t want to listen to someone incoherently ramble on and on.

      • Dan Burland on September 25, 2021 at 5:02 am

        You can learn a little from anyone. Even if they are not as intelligent as you.
        I think the forgoing ribbon is very insightful. I’m glad to see people speaking from their heart.

    • owen frost on July 27, 2021 at 7:51 am

      Maybe an afternoon nap would be beneficial before posting.

  16. Seth Stiles on July 9, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Another possible reason for the 200 “barrier”. It may be God’s will that the majority of churches in north America are meant to be under 200 people. Think about the global church. In many countries with sizable populations 200 would be huge!

  17. Seth Stiles on July 9, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    I think a big problem is lack of compelling and consistently communicated vision. This is one we really struggle with I think. We have been under 200 for 32 years even though we have a good staff structure and elder structure in place.

  18. Craig Trapnell on March 2, 2018 at 10:38 pm

    Correction… blood,hell or sin…other terms that some people resist. The Bible is very clear and uses these words extensively, yet many churches don’t want to appear to be offensive or extreme,thus avoiding deep study. Many churches are large to a fault.

  19. Craig Trapnell on March 2, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    Many churches feel they must attract folks with entertainment and restrict offensive terms like blood he’ll sin… Growth should be a natural outcome of truth and scriptural teaching. Growth will come when the Word is being taught.

    • Dan Burland on September 25, 2021 at 5:11 am

      that is the one key that is not being talked about—-teaching the Word of God. Thus, the biggest reason to have a good organization is so the pastor can study and teach the word. An excellent example is Pastor Chuck Smith that took a church of less than 200 to become a mega church by teaching the Bible from cover to cover every two years. There have been over 1500 churches that have come out of that church and the attendance of Calvary Chapel, I believe, is now over 9000. It is an interesting study in church growth, and it is centered around the simple teaching of God’s Word

  20. Kali St-Wyatt on February 26, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    This article is good if you just blank out the arbitrary number 200. If the average church has 89 members why is the author using the number 200? Also, I believe demographics plays a significant role in the reality of number of parishioners. When Wal Mart builds a store they do not build it in a rural town, surrounded by dairy farms for twenty miles. They build it near a highway system on land that is being surrounded by new housing or gentrified neighborhoods. Many small towns have been declining for decades, much like inner city neighborhoods in the north, because industries that supported a mortgage and a family have moved south, oversees, or became outdated forcing the townspeople to move. I serve in a town with 289 people and my church has 25 worshippers most Sundays whose average age is 73. Most of their kids and nearly all of their grandchildren live in suburban and urban centers because of employment needs. Even the dairy farms have mechanized resulting in cutting labor jobs for milk producers. Cattle are trucked out for butchering that is done at a factory in an industrial area of an urban center. Advances in farming equipment have made harvesting hundreds of acres of corn crop a one or two person job. The local jobs that supported these industries no longer exist because the equipment and supplies needed for operations has changed in type and delivery. A machinist is no longer needed to make replacement parts because it is cheaper and quicker to order parts from the factory. So, the average age of 73 are made up from those people that grew up there through generations and are now retired from local jobs that no longer exist. The church I serve was founded by a church four miles up the road because back in the day parishioners only way to church was to walk or take the plow horse. Now that church in the town up the road is still serving with a congregation of twenty people. The town on the other side of them is five miles up the road, and is older than the first two, and they closed two years ago because there were only six people still attending and it became difficult to maintain the church. Trying to convince people that grew up with their generations of family and neighbors sitting in the pews around them that it is a good idea to merge with the church four miles up the road is equal to recommending to an frail elderly person it is best to move into an assisted living home. The problem is the church synod has the difficult task of supplying pastors to all of these little churches when seminary graduates has declined at the same rate as church membership. The less people in the pews on Sunday means a smaller field of potential pastors, so, the synod is having to reconsider their approach to supplying clergy and structuring congregations. Is this an excuse? I don’t think so. Is this from lack of pastor leadership? Perhaps not teaching the congregation how to be the church without their preferred God Box would have been a good long term lesson but pastors back then were not taught what we are now thoroughly taught in seminary. I do believe it was a lack of vision at the church-wide office to not see this coming and / or not being capable of responding with an effective and immediate plan within the past decade when it has been unequivocally clear the church was declining exponentially. Thankfully leadership is working diligently on getting ahead of this and has made some progress in helping churches merge, recruiting more seminarians, and redefining church. The future looks brighter than it did four years ago. The eight points made in this article can be applied to any size church because they are sound observations no matter the size of the congregation.

  21. paulwbramley08 on January 12, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Love what I just read! But I am wondering how you work around the ones who micro-manage without making them feel alienated. Helping them with love to grow past this.

  22. Tim on November 25, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    This sounds very harsh but those who are talking about their “small” churches are making excuses just as Carey was speaking of. Our churches are supposed to grow. If not, we are NOT doing God’s mission. Quit making excuses and go make disciples!

    • Uggghhhh.... on February 19, 2018 at 8:51 pm

      There’s a world of difference between making excuses and recognizing your reality, Tim. There’s also a remarkable difference between “growing” and surpassing some arbitrary numbers mark.

      And the assumption that a church is south of 200 people means they are somehow failing and need some expert to come to their rescue is the most ridiculous of notions. We aren’t south of 200 because we are lazy or simply don’t care about evangelism, or about our growth and impact in the community.

      Please, stop assuming that those who get irritated with arrogant plan-pushers are just making excuses. We’re not. We’re calling these guys out for their inane and self-serving statements.

      • Jacob on June 24, 2019 at 10:32 am

        I agree, this in itself can cause people to step away from the church. When it focuses on the mass growth rather than the individual’s growth. I believe if the existing members are ‘perfecting their faith’ as disciples (Hebrews 12:1-3), then it is just as much of a growth victory as finding a person on the streets to become a disciple. Either or is great because people are becoming more like Jesus 🙂

    • Shane on September 7, 2019 at 11:56 am

      I agree with multiplication… but what about having small group churches multiply new small group churches. When a church hits 100-200 people, it’s hard for me to believe that there are not others called to pastor and shepherd. In Acts, it often appears the disciples/apostles/evangelist would raise up small groups/leaders and go to the next town. In today’s environment people bypass multiple churches to attend mega churches more for “what that church has to offer” than being kingdom minded. Often times large churches have simply done a good job of attracting believers away from other churches. I think it is essential to raise people up, even if that means they will leave.

      • David on June 27, 2020 at 3:12 pm


        This is the best comment so far. The need to multiply congregations as they approach 100 rather than continue to grow the same group with different structures. Below about 120 ANY organization can work informally, but above 150 our human brains reach the limit of the number of relationships they can handle and we need a different organizational structure to continue as a group.

  23. Alan Knuckles on November 25, 2017 at 8:45 am

    I understand and agree with everything you have said. I problem is this. Just because a church is under 200 doesn’t mean something is wrong. Why are we giving the small church, under 200, the impression has something wrong with it. Somehow we have decided smaller churches have something wrong with them. In, fact, I am seeing a movement of young families moving from the large churches back to smaller churches. Did we every think that there are things a well run small church can do that a large church can’t. One thing is personal family relationships. Last Christmas I attended a church Christmas program in a church running in the 150’s. Every child in the church had a part in the program. The sanctuary was overloaded with grandparents, family and friends of those involved. Many are of the participants had at one time been a part of larger churches. Big churches can’t minister in that way. My point. Just because a church is under 200 doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it.

  24. Lisa on November 24, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    WOW! This well articulated document holds much truth…. and challenge for all involved in growing His Kingdom.

  25. Uggghhhh.... on October 9, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    “Surprisingly, the main reasons churches never pass the 200 attendance mark aren’t spiritual, they’re structural.”

    Please don’t forget, they are also often demographical.

    The reality is:
    -Churches in upper-class, predominantly white suburbs grow faster than those in the inner-city or rural areas.
    -Churches with more money succeed far more than those with less.
    -Churches in growing suburbs have more opportunity to grow than churches in dying neighborhoods.

    The opposite of all these is also true. Churches in the rural towns are likely going to grow far slower. Churches in the inner-city will struggle more than those in more affluent neighborhoods and suburbs.

    I don’t know your demographics, and by no means am I suggesting that the only reason churches succeed is because of their demographics. But if we ignore them, we run the risk of sounding arrogant.

    A church in a town of 2000 people, in a farming community, will likely never have 200 people going. That’s 10% of the community. You’d have to ask a church in Chicago to have 500,000 people to match that. It’s hugely absurd. That’s not a structural issue. It’s an issue of opportunity.

    • Holly on January 13, 2018 at 8:46 pm

      Very good point. Demographics is important. All of the big churches I’ve seen have great locations.

      • Jason on April 13, 2018 at 11:59 pm

        How often do those churches start with a great location. Something had to be going right to get that location.

    • Holly on January 13, 2018 at 8:58 pm

      Re: getting the right people. “The truth is, great people don’t randomly assemble. They are attracted by clear and compelling missions like the mission of the church.” This is so important. The church needs to be inspired by the Pastor’s and/or Leaders’ vision and that vision needs to be communicated as much as possible. We(myself included) needs to be reminded why the church exists, not just about being fed and nurtured, but about reaching the lost by pulling are resources(time, talents, and money) together…advance God’s kingdom. Good article!

    • Charles on February 28, 2018 at 12:22 pm

      So how do make church appeal to people who are not white, upper (or middle) class, suburbanites?

    • Bill on November 13, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      We’re the church you’re talking about – our average attendance has gone from 115 3 years ago to 200 today. Our country/farming town’s population is 1800. We are the only protestant evangelical church in our town. We preach expositively through books, our worship is a mix of the old and new and we are applying the love found in the gospel practically. There is too much on the line for us not to continue to grow beyond where we are at…too many lost and hurting people who need Jesus. There has been talk about planting another church rather than going to 2 services or building another building but currently, our leadership feels God is calling us to build since we own land free & clear and our current building is not up to code and lacks seats, size, parking, and classrooms.

      I’m saddened to hear the negative, arrogant, hyper-spiritualized comments above. I appreciate the wisdom and leadership tips – I certainly don’t take them lock stock and barrel but as a pastor who is more naturally bent to be a shepherd, I find it helpful to hear from someone who is more equipped as a rancher.

      • Kyle on March 20, 2019 at 10:24 pm

        Bill. Thank you. I’m praying God’s blessings on your congregation’s plans to grow. You sound like a pastor. I can’t say that for many of the other comments. Reading through these replies gives compelling evidence for why we are not being more effective reaching our communities with the message of Jesus.

  26. Sandy on September 19, 2017 at 6:04 am

    this is good article

  27. Leigh Broomhead on September 18, 2017 at 9:36 am

    First and foremost God Bless you for caring .
    Can I humbly say though that in all the points made it sounded like a business proposal or a agenda to grow numbers only .
    No mention of leaning on the Power of the Holy Spirit or teaching
    Grace not legalism in the majority of churches , we are putting the cart before the horse , I was raised in an Anglican Church , attended an Alpha Course put on by Faith Baptist 21 years ago , became a Born-Again Christian 21 years ago , I have never looked back . My love and understanding of Gods pure gift of Grace , the finished work of the Cross and the resurrection that promises all followers of Jesus eternal life but as important it starts the moment you receive the Gift of Grace .
    Churches still operating under the old covenant ( works) is a very deep problem as the Apostle Paul points out in his teachings . I don’t claim to have a degree in theology , but I have 61 years of living , loving , burying parents , siblings , friends and God has brought me so far in understanding pure Grace . No program or agenda or attendance goals will ever compare to a person walking and loving and serving out of the pure love they have for Christ and others .

    Christ is the Vine ! If we are not one of the branches we will not produce fruit .

    So in closing I respectfully ask why I think the churches are not growing today would be because we are not believing Christ when He said it is finished ! It is all about Jesus ! And what He has done ! It has nothing to do with what we do ! I don’t deserve Grace but Jesus gives it to me freely , no strings attached .

    It is out of Love people do things , a changed heart not works, rules and to do lists exhausting not only congregations but pastors too .

    • robert on September 18, 2017 at 10:37 am

      I love what you have to say. If I understand you correctly, I think the answer would be that Carey is talking much more about the organization of the local church growing – which in my opinion SHOULD be tied closely with spiritual growth.

      When I think of Jesus’s ministry, he did certain things that drew great crowds (such as feeding people, performing miracles, teaching in a way that the common person understood, presenting truth, etc.). However, it seemed that while Jesus’s goal was to make followers (and not just “fans” as Kyle Idleman would say), he used the platform that he had with thousands of people to develop a disciple-making organization called the Church. He sent his 11+1 apostles out to gather or begin congregations, appoint elders, take care of widows and orphans, teach and raise up younger men and women, etc. This all involved not just preaching and Spirit-work, but structures and systems. As a matter of fact, the book of Acts and Paul’s letters are full of those types of organizational instructions (1 Corinthians 12-14 and Ephesians 4 especially).

  28. Terry on September 15, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Great stuff Carey. Question; How does this apply to MultiSite campus growth? We have a sending campus of 3000 and a second campus 1 year old of around 200. The structure is there and it’s healthy. The second campus isn’t neglected in any way. But the 200 barrier is there. There is growth but could be a lot more. Anyone have anything to share on that? Grace and Peace to you all.

  29. Robert on September 14, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Does anyone have any thoughts on how SOON a new church should hit the 200 mark… or the 500, etc.? I’m sure that growing TOO fast is possible?

    • Dr J. on September 23, 2017 at 7:44 pm

      Rick Warren used to say that a church should hit 200 by year 2 or it never will (something like that)…that being said some of the largest churches in our New England area started small and stayed relatively small for 3 to 5 years and then blew up. I think it depends on a number of thibgs amount of support (budget- lets be honest alot of issues come back to this issue), your team (or lack thereof); launch team, full time vs part time, where do you and oiur community live, do you have a “building” (this one depends on communuty but don’t get it twisted it really CAN make a difference- we nearly doubled in size within 6 months of when we “moved into building”), polity,etc. I found going to 2 services is a great way to boost growth relatively quickly but only if its done the right way and you have to have healthy rotations and resources/leaders so you dont burn volunteers out. As a church we are up against the 200 barrier (we have reached it on special days and one time almost hit 300 and then the next week we had our lowest attendance all year -hahaha i want to write a book titled “bipolar church planting”) and we are about 2 years into it. Now I am no big shot, church planting expert but i dont think theres a one size fit all requirement… that being said you cant stop a healthy thing from growing and as someone famous once said “you will know them by their fruit…if i abide in them and they in me they will produce much fruit.” Anyways that is one church planters take on this for whateber its worth…

      • Dr. J. on September 24, 2017 at 1:57 pm

        I apologize for the horrendous grammatical issues and type-o’s I posted this on my IPhone last night…

      • Robert on September 25, 2017 at 12:53 pm

        I love what you have to say man, Dr. J.!

      • mitch on November 7, 2019 at 6:46 pm

        The problem that I have faced is when God’s people refuse to commit to faithfulness and good morals. In 23 years of pastoring the same church I have witness our number really high and then drop because of sin. Often when one sins, family, and friends will leave with them instead of going through a repentance and reconcile process. I have had has many as 30 or more leave to follow the disruptor. Church growth has its many problems and many solution. We can do all that we can as a church; but if the church does not settle down and look at the big picture, then we will continue to be our worst enemy.

  30. Gail Goodwin on September 6, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    We used to have 500 people and programs for every age and every interest. We now have less than 100. Why? People got older and died off. This included most of the leaders. The younger people were not willing to take on the torch. They are burnt out from the responsibilities of raising a family, work sports ,schools, parenting in general. They have all the responsibility they can tolerate. For those without children there’s travel, skiing, summer homes etc. At one time the community revolved around the church and the school. No more. People realize a church does not a christian make. Look inside the church and figure it out for yourself. It’s often just a power struggle. It has nothing to do with the size of the church in my humble opinion. It has to do with the people inside and the passion and feeling of necessity is no longer there. Wake up and smell the roses. No one knows for sure . Many people in big churches go to church to be entertained. As my husband has said to me, “When does the show start”. Thats not worship. Many who claim to be followers of Christ are just plain fake. I attend church every Sunday , on line, live, where I don’t have to worry about critics, saying the wrong thing or making a casserole when I don’t have time. I attended church every Sunday for 50 years and experienced more stress from that than any other organization I ever belonged to. In every organization I have found that 30% of the members do all the woek. Church is no different. I love the Lord but not the man-made church.

    • John Finochio on September 9, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Gail I hear your heart and it sounds like you’ve been through one church conflict too many. I’ve been in the local church for well over 40 years and have seen the good, bad and the ugly and in the last 2 years in particular went through a spell of just plain nastiness. But I’ve also raised a family and I think the same could be said for it too! The most stressful times happen within families and the best times happen within families but I would never give up on mine. So I guess that is how I feel about the church. Until Jesus says that He is no longer building His church I’m in warts and all. Withdrawing your physical presence from the community of the church is never the answer to the issues you have mentioned but perhaps God uses all this to perfect us, grow in grace and develop long-suffering. Blessings to you and I hope your heart heals up and the Lord restores your vision for a glorious church!

    • Robert on September 14, 2017 at 8:42 am

      I get it that leaving the corporate gathering may be less stressful for YOU, but have you thought about the younger believers that you are now not able to influence and mentor because you’re not there? I would be careful not to remove yourself from the local church – the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14).

  31. Bob Sherbondy on September 6, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    I think that most of the problems that you cite in churches are due to poor or no effective teamwork between their pastors and their people. I have written and used a manual to deal with this problem on “Leadership and Teamwork in the Church” that is designed to train pastors and their members in the effective strategies for sharing the functions of leadership in working teams of those who are seeking to serve God. A description of this manual and a free copy of it can be secured from

  32. Todd McKeever on September 4, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Let me know if you are doing a new one for passing the 500 barriers. Love what you do.

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