10 Old Wives’ Tales About Church Growth – by Brian Orme
There’s a lot of discussion that goes on about church growth: what causes it; how to generate it; prepare for it; launch it; build it; cultivate it and even, to some degree, manufacture it. Many of the discussions are helpful, but there are a number of subtle beliefs that still creep up that aren’t healthy. In fact, they’re downright superstitious and, at times, dangerous to the church.
I’ve collected these myths over many conversations, coffees and lunches with church leaders and I’d like to share them with you.
10 Old Wives’ Tales About Church Growth
1. If You’re Not Growing, Something’s Wrong
If growth and a bigger crowd is “always” the result of obedience then some of the OT prophets will have some serious explaining to do.
Of course, if you’re not growing—or you’re declining—I think it is cause to evaluate what you’re doing, but it’s not a given that something is always “wrong.”
God could be doing something different—more Jeremiah and less Peter.
Also, while we’re at it, let’s stop using the Acts 2 passage as a normative prescription for every church today. It’s an amazing description of something special God was doing in history to launch his church, but it’s not a church growth manual. A casual reading of the NT will show churches of all different shapes and sizes, and never once is there a declarative statement that the church should be growing faster than it was—more obedience, yes; helping the poor, yes; staying true to the Gospel, yes; practicing the Lord’s Supper and baptism, yes.
2. The More You Grow, the Healthier You Are
We would love to believe this one. It certainly feels good to have a bigger crowd. There’s a built-in justification for ministry leaders when more people show up, I know. However, just because your church has more people attending doesn’t mean your church is completely healthy. In fact, it might be cause to closely evaluate the message the crowd is hearing.
Growth can be healthy, and it can be a very good thing—it’s just not an automatic four-stars for healthy spirituality. Large numbers are no more an indicator of health than great wealth is an automatic indicator of wisdom. You can be wealthy or impoverished and still be wise or a fool. The same goes for church growth. You can have a lot of people or a little and still be healthy/unhealthy. Health deals more with what’s going on below the surface. Growth tells us something’s going on, but whether it’s good or bad, that’s another issue.
3. Contemporary Music Will Save Your Church
It can help at times—depending on the community and the people you’re trying to reach—but it’s not always a help. In fact, sometimes it’s an obstacle.
Changing your music and the feel of your worship gathering should have a reason bigger than, “We want to reach young people!” or, “We want to stay hip.” Hopefully, the music you sing is an authentic expression of your distinct makeup as both a church and a community and not a grasp at straws for church growth. Bottom line: Contemporary music is not the salvation of the American church.
4. Church Growth Can Be Manufactured
I admit, on the surface it does seem like we can manufacture church growth—through events, strategy, planning, etc. However, what I mean to say is true church growth is a work of the Holy Spirit—a byproduct of our obedience intersecting God’s sovereignty.
True church growth is not due to our efforts alone. You can spend money and market an event and draw a crowd. That’s not hard if you have the resources. But church growth—growing the actual Body of Christ—is a supernatural accomplishment that only God can complete. This should temper our planning, strategy and vision for growth.
5. If Your Church Grows, Your Leader Is “Anointed”
OK, this one I hesitated to put on the list because I think it’s common sense. We’ve all seen the carnage from large church leaders who hide ongoing sin. Would we call them anointed? Probably not. Leading a large church doesn’t make you “anointed” by God and the flipside is true as well—leading a small church or ministry doesn’t mean you lack it.
Of course, I do firmly believe God puts a special anointing on specific leaders to do something of great magnitude for the church at times—D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, etc.—but we should be careful about how we use the terminology or draw conclusions about just what it means to be “anointed” in ministry.
6. If Your Church Doesn’t Grow, It’s a Problem with the Leader
This happens all the time. Church members are frustrated with the fact the church isn’t growing, maybe it lacks vision and new people aren’t coming, and they point the finger solely at the leader. The only problem is … it’s not always the leader. Sometimes it’s the members—or a member—spiritual warfare or even a season of transition.
Can it be the leader? Certainly, but it’s not always the case. If the leader is obedient and has kept both their life and doctrine together, there’s a good chance it’s something else.
7. Good Preaching Is the Answer to Growing Your Church
Preaching is extremely important, but having a charismatic and gifted speaker is not the stand-alone element you need to grow your church—or turn it around. Preaching is a core element of the church, but focusing on preaching alone—or trying to find a talented communicator—is not the answer to church growth.
In fact, if you’re a really good preacher, you should probably have people leaving on a regular basis because making disciples is hard. Just ask Jesus about the crowds that left him.
8. You Will Retain a Large Percentage of Your Visitors on Special Days
Some of you have seen long-term growth from your programs on Easter, Christmas or during a special event. Most have not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something high-quality that connects with seekers in your community, it just means you shouldn’t make those special days your only church growth strategy. Can God use these special days to reach people? For sure. Is it a solid growth strategy? Not alone.
9. The More Programs You Offer, the More Your Church Will Grow
Programs are great servants but lousy masters. We live in a culture that provides unlimited choices and some churches have matched suit with this same mentality—providing an excessive amount of programs in effort to serve more people.
The goal is good, but more programs don’t typically equal church growth. In fact, sometimes church programs just keep uschurch-busy and hold us back from engaging our neighbors.
Programs aren’t bad, but they should always have a clear purpose and, in my humble opinion, they should be offered in moderation with an understanding that you can’t program discipleship. The church isn’t meant to be a wheelhouse for saints to gather—it’s meant to be a sent collective to light up the world.
10. If You Build It, They Will Come
They might, but it’s not a guarantee. Sometimes building projects just create a new container for the same people. Other times building projects are a Godsend.
It definitely takes some serious prayer and leading of the Spirit to find out which outcome you might expect before launching an expensive campaign. There are some great stories of building projects that seemed to have God’s hand on them from beginning to end; there are also church building campaigns that ended in millions of dollars of debt, church splits, fired leaders and empty—new—seats.
God never promised us a growing church if we just start to build it—faith and wisdom go hand in hand. Don’t buy into thisField-of-Dreams superstition. When you start a building project it should always be with prayer, faith and humility because the results, well, they could go any way God wants them to and that might not equal a Hollywood ending.
What old wives’ tales have you heard about church growth?