I love my church. I want it to be strong, healthy and growing.
That’s why I read church ministry blogs and books, go to conferences and seminars, listen to podcasts… whatever I can get my hands on. I’m always looking for the best advice I can find.
But I’m not going to read any more ‘10 Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing’ lists. At least for a while.
Why? Take a look at some reasons for lack of church growth that I’ve read recently:
- There’s no priority to reach the unchurched
- Disobedience to the scriptures
- Honoring the building more than people
- Selfish attitudes
- No vision for the future
- There’s an attitude of “We like our church just the way it is…which is without you!”
Oh my. The truth is, a church with those attitudes will not grow. And it shouldn’t grow. Because it’s not healthy.
So why have I stopped reading those posts? Because they’re based on a false premise. They presume that if a church isn’t growing numerically, it must be filled with self-serving, petty attitudes.
That presumption isn’t just incorrect for most churches and their pastors, but hurtful. And it damages the very people they’re trying to help.
A Plea from Your Target Audience
If you’re writing blog posts like this, I’m your target audience. I pastor a good church that has never experienced the numerical growth I’ve always been told is inevitable if I follow the lists.
Plus, because of my blogging and my book, The Grasshopper Myth, I talk to a lot of pastors who are also in your target audience. Like me, they want their churches to grow. And they’re looking for help.
But when an already-discouraged pastor reads a list telling them their church isn’t growing because they’re visionless, self-serving and petty, it doesn’t lift them up, it beats them down. Guilt doesn’t motivate, it discourages.
Besides, those petty attitudes aren’t true for us. Pastors who don’t care, don’t read church leadership blogs.
You know who is reading your blog? Good pastors. Hard-working pastors. Caring pastors. Discouraged pastors. Write with those pastors in mind.
Go Positive, Not Negative
To be fair, not every ‘Why Your Church Isn’t Growing’ list makes those assumptions. Many of them point out strategic issues, training ideas and teamwork principles that we may have missed and need to know.
But when good ideas are framed in a negative list, it stops many discouraged pastors from reading it because they don’t know if they’re going to get beaten up again.
So what’s the answer? Write the same helpful ideas, but reframe them in positive lists, not negative ones.
I’m far more likely to read a post titled ‘10 Helpful Hints for Church Growth’ than ‘10 More Ways You’re Failing as a Pastor.’ (No, that’s not a real title. But it is how those negative titles feel.)
We need a moratorium on ‘Why Your Church Isn’t Growing’ lists for one simple reason: they don’t work. Slapping the hands of your readers for not caring is like yelling at the people who did show up to church because you’re mad at the people who didn’t show up.
Don’t slap our hands, put tools in them. Tools that will work for us now, while we’re small. Tools that promote health and growth. Tools that encourage, inspire and resource us. Tools we can use.
Discouragement: An Obstacle to Church Growth and Health
The best path to church growth is to remove obstacles to church growth. But do you know what one of main obstacles to church growth and health is? Discouraged and demoralized pastors who feel beaten up for things they may not be doing wrong.
Every year thousands of pastors get so discouraged they stop looking for help. For many of them, the discouragement gets so deep they give up and leave the ministry for good. After all, you’re not the only ones telling us how bad a job we’re doing. We hear it from our church members, our denominational officials and mostly, from ourselves.
We know we’re making mistakes. Anyone who thinks they’re not is fooling themselves. And we want to correct our mistakes. But a selfish, petty, uncaring attitude isn’t one of those mistakes.
So the next time you’re tempted to write another ’Why Your Church Isn’t Growing’ list, please consider the faithful, hardworking pastors who aren’t inspired to do better by such lists, but walk away feeling defeated and discouraged by them.
Then give us something positive, encouraging and uplifting. No one can ever get too much of that.
To My Fellow Small Church Pastors
Finally, to my friends, compatriots and fellow-laborers. My fellow small church pastors.
Your church is small. It may not be growing. But if you care enough to be looking for help, you’re not a petty person.
And you’re not alone.
There are hundreds of thousands of churches like yours and mine. In small towns, big cities, slums, community centers, school auditoriums, coffee houses, wayside chapels, living rooms and more who are contributing greatly to the growth of the kingdom of God.
Lift your head high. Stand tall. Keep learning. Keep loving your people, reaching the community and worshiping Jesus.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, take a break. Spend less time reading blogs and books, and more time in the Word, in prayer, in fellowship and in Sabbath rest. Those are the things that will always nourish you and never discourage you.
You and your ministry matter. Never let anyone make you feel otherwise. Including yourself.
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