Church Growth
Why I've Stopped Saying ‘Church Growth’ – And What I Say Instead
The words Church Growth are packed with so much emotional baggage that they’ve become virtually useless in my context.

I’m a huge supporter and promoter of growing churches.

How can I not be? Jesus said he’d build his church, and I always want to be on Jesus’ side.

But I’ve stopped using the term Church Growth when I talk about it.

I never tell our church staff, volunteers or congregation that we need to grow. And I never use the term Church Growth when I speak or write about churches getting healthier, stronger and having greater ministry impact.

If that term still works for you, that's great. But I'm done with it.

Here’s why.

The phrase Church Growth is packed with too much emotional baggage. It’s interpreted by different people in such different ways that it’s become virtually useless in my context.

I’m not upset about it. And I’m not rejecting the Church Growth movement, per se. It’s just that some terms work in certain times and places and not in others.

Church Growth is one of those terms. It’s not universally useful. In fact, it’s a relatively new term, popularized by Donald McGavran in the 1950s and ‘60s. Until then, the church grew without commonly using the term Church Growth, and it will continue to grow whether-or-not we keep using it.

Church Growth By Any Other Name

For some people, Church Growth is shorthand for getting healthier and reaching more people with the good news of Jesus. Under that definition, I’m all for it.

But for others, Church Growth is often presented and/or interpreted as “if you’re doing the right things your church will get bigger – and if it isn’t getting bigger, you must be doing something wrong.” Under that definition, we have some disagreement, as I’ve outlined in posts like We Followed the Steps – Where’s the Church Growth?

So, if I don’t use the words Church Growth, what do I use to let people know that we want the mission of the church to move forward, reach more people and contribute to the advancement of the kingdom of God?

Here it is.

We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry.

We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry.

I’m not expecting this phrasing to catch on anywhere else – it’s too wordy to be catchy. But it does have several advantages that work for us in our context.

5 Advantages of Increasing Our Capacity for Effective Ministry

1. It keeps our eyes on the prize

Namely, effective ministry.

Not just doing more stuff or packing more people in the room.

And never staying where we are.

2. It allows for no excuses

We’re always striving to increase our capacity.

Do more with less.

Work smarter, not harder.

Never settle for less.


Lack of numerical growth is not an excuse to do ministry with anything less than the full commitment of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

3. It removes unnecessary guilt

If we’re doing better, more effective ministry that doesn’t put more butts in our seats, we don’t walk away feeling defeated, because more butts in the seats was never the goal.

And yes, many churches do great, kingdom-impacting ministry without seeing the corresponding numerical increase in their local church.

4. It keeps us focused on kingdom success, not just our success

When we measure effective ministry by kingdom impact rather than butts in our seats, it frees us to do ministry without an agenda.

When we measure effective ministry by kingdom impact rather than butts in our seats, it frees us to do ministry without an agenda.

People are more likely to trust us and the message we carry when there’s no appearance of trying to gain something for ourselves from it.

5. It’s a bigger way to look at the church and our place in the world

We live in a very interconnected world, now.

The small church I pastor (under 200 people in the building on Sunday) does ministry on an international scale that we never would have believed possible just a decade ago. From the live streams and podcasts of our services, to social media, to this blog and more, our church and its ministries are reaching exponentially more people outside our geographical region than inside it.

The people in our local congregation are the first priority of my pastoral ministry. But their numbers represent a miniscule percentage of our church’s ministry impact.

Increasing Your Church’s Capacity

So what does this mean for your church?

I don’t know. But try it on for size and see what happens. Here are a few possible ways it might play out for you.

Stuck in a small building? What can you do in that building to increase your capacity by doing effective ministry from, not just in that building?

In a rural area with a small population? What can you do to increase your capacity for effective ministry to that population?

Called to minister in ways that are small and intimate, rather than large and loud? What can you do to increase your capacity for effective ministry within a small, intimate setting?

Not every church is called to be bigger.

But every church is mandated to do more effective ministry.

And every church can.

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

November 14, 2016 at 3:29 AM

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