The Myth of Inevitable Congregational Growth
Many churches don't grow beyond a certain size no matter how healthy they become

Sometimes, the numerical growth of a congregation has nothing to do with us at all. Sometimes God taps a pastor or church on the shoulder and says "I need a really big church here, and I'm picking … YOU!" But you can't sell a book on how to have that happen to you.

It comes down to this. While all healthy things grow, numerical congregational growth is not inevitable, even for a healthy church.

My Own Story

Recently, someone wrote a comment on another website where an edited version of one of my posts appeared. I had listed five essential elements of a healthy small church, and a reader commented that any church that was following such principles "won't be small for long."

While I appreciate the sentiment expressed in such comments, the truth is that many churches who do all the right things do stay small for long. Mine included.

For the last three decades of my pastoral ministry, there hasn't been a month go by without someone telling me my church was on the verge of explosive growth. (One recent visiting pastor called it a beehive of activity – and he was there on a normal Thursday afternoon!)

For years I believed the voices telling me we were going to have explosive growth. It felt encouraging, after all. And I do want my church to grow, of course. But as the years dragged on the unmet expectation of numerical growth laid such a heavy burden on me that it nearly killed my ministry and my very healthy church.

The unmet expectation of numerical growth laid such a heavy burden on me that it nearly killed my ministry and my very healthy church.

Because growth was not just expected, but was supposed to be inevitable, I got very frustrated when it didn't happen. So I tried everything I could to fix a problem that didn't exist. I was convinced my church must be unhealthy in some way I wasn't aware of because the lack of growth was obvious evidence that there must be something wrong with it.

After all, if all healthy things grow, then the reverse must be true. If you're not growing, you're not healthy.

The Myth Isn't Just Wrong, It's Dangerous

I spent years trying to fix a church that wasn't broken. And I broke it and myself in the process – almost permanently.

Yes, we've grown in the 20 years I've pastored my current congregation. When I arrived there were about 35 very frustrated, discouraged people attending on Sunday mornings, while today we have about 200 very excited, involved and passionate people attending on Sundays.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

June 02, 2015 at 6:27 AM

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