Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God supernaturally breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ—the local church—is a living thing.
So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: "Why not?"
Here are five "growth-restricting obstacles." If we understand the reason for non-growth, it is easier to accurately diagnose and prescribe the cure.
Growth-restricting obstacle #1: The Pastor.
There are three different causes for the pastor's inhibiting the growth of a church:
- The pastor does not have a priority. Churches grow when they have a priority for reaching the unchurched. When the pastor doesn't, the church won't.
- The pastor does not have a vision. No vision for outreach is as much a barrier as no priority. Growing churches have pastors who believe God wants to reach people in their community and assimilate them into the Body.
- The pastor does not have the knowledge. Working harder is not the secret to effective outreach. The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in seminaries or Bible schools about how to effectively reach and assimilate new people.
Growth-restricting obstacle #2: The church members.
There are often competent and skilled clergy in non-growing churches, because the problem is in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when:
Members have no priority for reaching the lost. "Sure, our church should reach people," some say. "But me? I've got three kids, a job, membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should feel compelled."
Members have a self-serving attitude about church. When members believe the priority of the pastor and the church should be to "feed the sheep," the message that newcomers hear is: "We like our church just the way it is…which is without you!"
Members fear that new people will destroy their fellowship. When "community" is the number one priority in a church, members will act in a way that communicates to newcomers: "We're just fine with the people we have, thank you."
Growth-restricting obstacle #3: Perceived irrelevance.
Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people in their community, and then relate the gospel to those points of need. Stagnant churches are seen by the unchurched as having an irrelevant message to their life.
Growth-restricting obstacle #4: Using the wrong methods.
Any farmer knows you can't harvest ripe wheat with a corn-picker. Using inappropriate methods can be worse than no methods, since they create resistance to the gospel. A bullhorn on a street corner, tracts in an urban neighborhood, youth outreach in a senior adult community…none of these methods are wrong. But they are inappropriate for the harvest field.
Growth-restricting obstacle #5: No plan for assimilation.
Over 80 percent of those who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership. A new member does not automatically become an active member without an intentional plan by the church on how to assimilate them into a caring, loving, Christian community.
There are many reasons why churches don't grow. But there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it's just a matter of finding out why it's not growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?