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Why It’s Easy (And Wrong) to Think Growing Churches Simply Won The Lottery

growing churches

There’s a theory out there that goes something like this: growing churches grow because, well, they just got lucky.

It’s like they won the talent lottery, the gifting lottery, the demographic lottery (right neighborhood) the nice-people-who-attend-their-church-and-don’t-block-change lottery, the perfect timing slot machine and just about every stroke of luck you can manufacture in your mind.

The dark underbelly of the theory?

They won the lottery. We didn’t.

Is there truth to the lottery theory?

Well, almost any leader will tell you it wasn’t the lottery (and that gambling is just a bad idea in any form), but they will acknowledge providence or divine favor.

For sure, they’ll simply be unable to describe why things have gone so well for them (just listen to Andy Stanley’s refreshing response when I asked him the question on Episode 1 of my leadership podcast).

First, that’s a sign of humility, which is wonderful to see. None of us can claim full credit for the good in our lives.

But that’s just too easy to say “See, it’s 100% divine favour. They have it. We don’t.”

Not so fast.

Because that would mean there’s nothing you can do to become more effective at realizing your mission. It discounts the practices growing churches adopt which other churches don’t. And it ignores some easily adoptable practices that could help any church do a better job of reaching people.

The more we settle for excuses and glib explanations, the more we lock ourselves into a story that says

There’s nothing I can do.

There’s no way that could happen here.

If I was them then I’d have the same results too.

What would happen if ministry leaders stopped qualifying other people’s achievements and quit making excuses? (We make far too many excuses in ministry…here are 5 of the most frequent.)

While there’s an element of divine providence in every story, growing churches don’t simply ‘get lucky.’

In fact, here are 5 things are true about most growing churches.

1. They Are Led By Passionate Leaders

Find a growing church, and you’ll almost always find a passionate team.

I simply love being around leaders who are passionate about Christ and passionate about the work he’s called them to do.

It shows in how they lead, teach, worship and mobilize their teams. The passion is contagious.

If you’re wondering why your church isn’t excited about its mission, check your pulse. Your church will only every be as passionate about your ministry as its leaders are.

Conversely, study leaders who make excuses and qualify the success of others and you’ll find they’re more passionate about criticizing other people than they are about their own mission and ministry.

Leaders who criticize more than they contribute never make a lasting impact.

And even if they’re not passionate about criticizing others, they’re likely passionate about something else in the life of leadership other than the mission before them.

2. They’ve figured out the structural issues that hold people back

Sadly, some of the greatest barriers that hold congregations back from reaching more people are not spiritual, they’re structural.

Many pastors of smaller churches or even mid-sized churches want to reach more people. They pray. They sincerely love God. And they know the scriptures and love people well.

You would think infinite growth would be automatic.

This is where structure matters a lot.

Think about the difference between a couple that has one child versus a couple that has, say, seven children under the age of 10.

If you have that many kids, your structure has to change. Everything from the number of beds and bedrooms you have, to the way you do meals, to how you do laundry, to the vehicle(s) you drive have to adapt.

Larger growing churches inevitably change their structure to accommodate the people they’re reaching,

If you want to drill down further on growth barriers, here’s some background on the #1 barrier to breaking the 200 attendance barrier, and 8 reasons most churches never grow past that size.

Churches that structure bigger, grow bigger.

3. They are relentlessly focused on reaching people outside their walls

This is probably the point that gets leaders into the most trouble.

Why?

Because as soon as you start obsessing about the people outside your walls that need the Gospel, the people inside your walls start to say “what about me?”

To make that a little more difficult, it also means your colleagues in ministry will start to criticize you as being a mile wide and an inch deep.

Which is exactly why many leaders get scared away from truly focusing on people outside their walls.

Leaders of growing churches realize that criticism comes with the territory.

So how do you deal with the internal criticism? Easy…just get everyone on the same mission. Get everyone to focus on people outside your walls.

Ironically, getting the focus off yourself is a key to spiritual maturity. Sharing what Christ has given you grows you in a way few other things can.

I have written more on how to tell if your outsider focused church is actually producing disciples in this post.

4. They’re willing to do what it takes

Growing churches have a unique culture. Hang out with them long enough and you’ll realize most of them are willing to do whatever it takes (short of sin, as Craig Groeschel always says) to help reach people.

Their leaders have a habit of not just dreaming, but doing.

Others see obstacles. They see opportunities.

They have a tremendously high pain tolerance and consider nothing to be as important as the mission.

If you’re willing to do whatever it takes, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.

This pushes you past every excuse, past the drag of gravity and inertia and directly into the future.

Leaders who lead this way realize there’s no guarantee of success, but are willing to go broke trying.

By the way, leaders who look for a guarantee of success never tend to find success.

5. They refuse to let the present become a barrier to the future

Realizing your mission and reaching more people creates its own challenges, not the least of which is your realization that what you’re doing is working.

Which ironically can make you biased against further changes.

As we often say around here, success makes you conservative, which is why the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

Afraid of breaking things when everything’s going well, many leaders become risk averse.

Churches that continue to reach people push past this.

They realize that no system or approach or idea is sacred other than the mission.

In churches that continue to reach people year after year, mission always takes precedence over method.

When the only thing that’s sacred is the mission, you tend to realize your mission.

Want More?

If you want to help your church drill down on the opportunity around you, here are some resources you may find helpful:

Lasting Impact (Team Edition) – A video companion to my best-selling book that outlines 7 practical strategies to help your church grow. Designed for elder board and staff team discussion of today’s biggest issues facing the church.

Unreasonable Churches by Rich Birch — A deep dive into the strategy of 13 churches that are reaching their community and what makes them different.

Episode 134: How to Break the 200, 600 and 1000 Barrier in Churches – My interview with Carl George and Warren Bird

What Do You See?

These are 5 things I see growing churches practice.

What would you add to the list?

Or, if you want to go deeper, why do you think criticizing the effectiveness of others is such a big pursuit these days?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

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2 Comments

  1. […] Why It’s Easy (And Wrong) To Think Growing Churches Simply Won The Lottery by Carey Nieuwhof via … […]

  2. Chuck on April 25, 2017 at 7:31 am

    I agree, for a very simple reason. See, I have this problem with dismissing lack of success to things like dumb luck, “fate”, or similar euphemisms. When we do this, we dismiss 1) God’s sovereignty (see Prov 3:5-6), 2) the Church’s responsibility to get up and DO the Word (see James 1:19-2:26), and 3) the individual’s call to faith. (Seriously, do you think those folks in Hebrews 11 settled for “fate” or “dumb luck”?) It’s very hard for me to justify simply resigning like that. I can’t do it.

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