Why We All Need to Do a Motive Check on 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 pivotal for a number of significant reasons.

First, if you’re a church leader, 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 what your motivation really is. Eventually, people can sense whether you care about the mission, whether you care about them or whether you’re just using them.

Third, your motivation is an integrity issue. And integrity ultimately determines whether what you build stands, in the same way that a house with structural integrity will stand for a century when a poorly built home won’t.

Wanting your church to grow isn’t a bad thing at all. A passion for the mission inevitably means a passion for reaching more people, which in turn implies growth. 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 the right reasons.

And the question becomes: whether you’re intrigued with church growth or not, how do you know where you stand?

To some extent, I believe we ALL need to do a motive check on church growth, whether you love seeing growth or whether you criticize church leaders who do.

In the name of making this an all-skate, I’ll share five motivations all of us who think about church growth, are working toward it or experiencing it need to check.

Then I’ll share three motive checks that might be helpful for the critics of growing churches and those who even dislike the idea of church growth.

Just because you struggle with bad motives 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.

First let’s tackle those of us who talk about church growth (a lot), like me and those of us who are part of growing churches.

Here are some wrong motives for church growth we have to continually check ourselves against.

5 Checks for People Who Love Growing Churches

So what do people who lead growing churches need to check? Let’s start with pride.

1. Pride

So…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 counselor), not to more.

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

4. Organizational preservation

There’s also weird but real motive for growth in stuck or dying churches. 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 actually maybe not.

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.

Remember, you never reproduce who you want to be. You reproduce who you are.

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.

Dying at one location = 12 feet under at two locations.

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

3 Checks for the Critics of Growth

So that’s a pretty humbling heart check for those of us who love to see things grow.

But what about the critics of growth? Are the naysayers and critics always healthy?

Not always. here are three things critics of growth might be wise to pay attention to.

1. Jealousy

Sometimes I wonder if the critics of church growth are fueled (even a little bit) by jealousy.

Envy is a deadly motivator. It can’t see anyone else succeed and calls into question the motives of anyone who does.

Jealously says God hasn’t given me enough.

What’s worse, jealousy causes you to ignore your own issues while you invent issues for other people.

And this comes from a guy who’s had to wrestle jealousy to the ground.

Been there. Don’t want to live there.

2. Feeling Threatened

Many critics of church growth feel threatened by churches that are actually being more effective in reaching the community than their church is.

If you’re feeling threatened, don’t criticize, reflect. Why are they reaching people you’re not? Why are they baptizing more people?

It’s probably not because they’ve sold out or secretly worship the devil. No, in many cases the leaders of growing churches are faithful (like you are). They’re just a little more relevant.

They’ve discovered how to speak to the culture.

The problem with relevance is that it always threatens irrelevance.

If you’re feeling threatened, there’s a very good chance that’s why.

So work on your relevance, not on taking shots at the leader who is.

3. Justification

If you’re not growing and others are, you’ll probably think of 1,000 reasons why.

You’re just being faithful.

They’ve sold out.

It’s harder where you are.

You just don’t have the right people.

God’s not being fair.

Justification leads to stagnation.

Instead of looking for justifications, look for explanations.

Why are you not accomplishing your mission? Why are you not moving forward? Why are you not reaching people?

Justifications lead to stagnation. Explanations lead to progress.

Find the explanation, muster up the courage and faith to address the issues, and you’ll move forward.

Need Some Help?

Believe it or not, most of the growth that happens in churches doesn’t just happen in mega-churches. Sure, they’re growing.

But most of it statistically happens in small churches (which is about 85% of all churches). And that’s where help is needed the most.

I know because I’ve lived through it.

If you’re reaching more people but you’re currently stuck at an attendance plateau, I have some practical help for you.

Breaking 200 Without Breaking You is a course I’ve created that provides strategies on how to tackle eight practical barriers (including a more nuanced and practical dive into everything I covered in this blog post) that keep churches from reaching more than 200 people. And it’s designed so I can walk your entire leadership team or elder board through the issues.

So whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 in attendance, the principles will help you gain the insight you need to break the barrier more than 85% of churches can’t break. Even churches with attendances of 300-500 are finding the material helpful as they try to reach more people.

Click here to get instant access for you and your team.

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 think we all want to see the church to grow. The question is why.

Do you see any other false motives?

Let me know in the comments below!

7 Comments

  1. […] This article originally appeared here. […]

  2. Pastor Oladosu K.Paul on April 30, 2018 at 8:44 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article, can i get your email contact address i have something to discuss with you

  3. David Milller on April 17, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful expression of these issues. I’ve long felt uncomfortable with both the apparently ruthless “bums on seats” approach that can appear to be more about empire building than Kingdom building and the critics who seem to despise and dismiss the possibility of numerical growth as though a loving God would desire to see less people receiving the benefits of Christian community and fellowship. Seeking to make disciples who make disciples and last as disciples has always made sense to be a model that builds quality as of first prioroty and results in quantity as a wonderful bi-product.

  4. joel5 on April 17, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for going for the jugular on this one. Always need and appreciate the heart checks. For me the unholy motivator for growth is fame – that’s my dragon that must die daily. Probably falls under the pride category, but of the big four that come at us as men (money, sex, power and fame) fame sings the loudest siren song to me. But if I succumb, the people I minister to don’t get Jesus, they get me – grand-standing, going for the spotlight, craving the recognition – and we all lose. So, yeah, thanks, it’s good to grow when Jesus is made famous. John nailed it: He must increase, I must decrease. Appreciate you, brother.

  5. Daniel Decker on April 16, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Sooooo much wisdom in this. One of my fav posts with application to almost every area of ministry (business and a lot of life too). Well done.

  6. Bill Moersch on April 16, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Thank you, good stuff as always. You bring such clarity and insight to the reality. I always learn and end up sharing with those I influence. This is timely, again, thank you!

    • Stephen J “Steve” Osgood on April 16, 2018 at 10:16 am

      I see new, big words like “Narcissistic,”. There’s no reason to incorporate that in to constructive growth. Our small, rural church is in to missions. We have an outreach that many could be proud of, but we also know that pride cometh before the fall. Our concern is the higher authorities within the church. What has been driving them? Pulling a tremendous minister out of a small towns ministry that is growing and reaching out! Is that really a good idea? We in the small, rural churches are paying quite a price to keep the big, Now over-sized churches in the black through apportionment. Now, please elaborate on that for awhile.

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