Church Growth
Why Church Growth Is a Shockingly Inexact Science
Have you ever wondered why some mistakes will stop the numerical growth of one church, but not even slow another one down?

Why won’t my church grow!

Have you ever wondered that? Me too.

After all, it’s not like we haven’t tried. And there are plenty of people offering us seemingly surefire help to bring growth. Every day there’s another blog post with a list of Seven Reasons Why Some Churches Don’t Grow, or Eight Common Traits of Growing Churches. All backed by sound research and experience.

But do you know what we don't have? A list of churches that didn’t make those seven mistakes, or did all of the eight things well, but still aren’t growing numerically. Like mine. Maybe yours, too.

We only hear from the churches that are growing – which makes sense. No one wants to concentrate on negative results. And we all want to learn what we can from positive outcomes.

But if you pastor one of those other churches – one that seems to be doing all the right things, but is still not growing numerically – it can be very discouraging.

No Perfect Churches

Every church makes mistakes. Not just yours.

There are no perfect churches. Not even the megachurch with mega-growth.

Certainly there are principles that will encourage growth, and behaviors that will inhibit it. Given everything we’ve learned over the last four decades of church growth studies, you’d have to be blind or intentionally ignorant not to see that.

But, despite all we know, one stubborn reality remains.

There is no surefire method for numerical church growth. Period.

There is no surefire method for numerical church growth. Period.

For some churches, every minor mistake seems to hinder their growth, while for other churches, those same mistakes disappear under the seemingly inevitable march towards numerical success and growth.

If you’ve ever wondered, why are my mistakes hindering our church’s growth, but their mistakes are just hiccups on their superhighway to dramatic growth? you’re not alone. I’ve even talked with pastors experiencing relentless growth who don’t know why their mistakes haven’t killed their growth.

Churches and Church Growth are Complex

It’s never as easy as “get healthy and you’ll grow.”

I wish it was. But it’s not.

A healthy church has two simple ingredients: The Great Commandment and The Great Commission. But, as I wrote in Two Lists: One for a Healthy Church, One for a Big Church – And They Don’t Overlap, there are a massive number of factors at play in turning healthy churches into consistently numerical growing ones.

Why? Because churches are made up of an endless variety of the most complicated ingredients:

  • People
  • Faith
  • Jesus’ life and teachings
  • Money
  • Relationships
  • An indefinable ‘product’
  • Volunteers
  • Spiritual needs
  • Emotional issues
  • Financial burdens
  • Societal changes
  • God’s will

and more.

Plus, we have an unquantifiable end result.

How do we know when the church is a ‘success’, after all?

Conversions? If so, how many?

When it gets big? If so, how big?

When it plants other churches? If so, how many churches?

Church Growth has Guidelines, but No Guarantees

When it comes down to it, church growth will never be as predictable as we’d like it to be.

This should never be used as an excuse to stop learning, praying and working, of course. There are ways to ensure that you won’t be healthy or grow. Giving up and settling for less are on the top of that list.

While it’s not an exact science, church growth and health are not random guesswork, either.

So, there are definite signs of health and dysfunction that we need to be aware of. And, while it’s not an exact science, church growth and health are not random guesswork, either.

But if you’re pastoring an otherwise healthy church that isn’t hitting the numbers everyone says it needs to hit, take heart. There have been a lot of churches and ministries throughout history that were outright failures according to the numbers, but were huge in God’s eyes and in their kingdom impact.

Stay faithful. Keep learning. Never use the inexact nature of church growth as an excuse to do anything but your best with everything God has given you.

But leave the end result in God’s hands.

Pivot is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters