Do all healthy things grow?
If a church is healthy, will it grow?
Will that growth always result in larger congregational attendance?
Not so fast.
When Church Growth Theory Meets Church Life Reality
I know it seems logical.
If a church is healthy they’ll be reaching people for Jesus. And if they’re reaching people for Jesus, there will be more people in the church building. Right?
There’s just one problem with that seemingly rock-solid theory. When we observe things in the real world, it doesn’t always pan out that way.
Sure, there are healthy churches that are growing numerically, and a lot of unhealthy ones that aren’t. But there are a lot of healthy, outward-reaching churches that don’t see the kind of butts-in-the-seats growth they’ve been told is inevitable.
Including the great church I get to pastor.
So if all healthy things grow, how is growth happening in churches that aren’t seeing the expected increase in attendance?
Here are three ways I’ve seen:
1. Some Churches Grow By Multiplication
In many developing nations, large churches don’t fit the culture or meet the needs of the people. So, instead of getting bigger, church growth means planting new congregations in nearby neighborhoods or villages.
In fact, in the places where the church is growing as percentage of the population, it is far more likely to be happening by the multiplication of smaller congregations than by the building of larger ones.
Growth by multiplication is the way it’s done for many within the house church movement, too. If the gathering gets large, they split off to new houses.
This type of growth is not limited to developing nations and house churches. If your church hasn’t been seeing the kind of butts-in-the-seats growth you’ve expected, this may be a new way for you to look at growth.
For some insight into the growth by multiplication phenomenon, check out Is Bigger Really Better? The Statistics actually Say “No”!, by Neil Cole, based on well-researched stats from Ed Stetzer and Christian Schwarz.
2. Some Churches Grow By Sending
“The success of a church is measured by its sending capacity, not its seating capacity.”
Pastors and church leaders love saying things like that.
But when a church actually sacrifices its seating capacity in favor of increasing its sending capacity, the response is often, “there must be something wrong with that church if it’s not growing.”
While many great churches have been able to increase both their seating and sending capacities, other churches find themselves in the position of having to choose one or the other. And some of them choose sending over seating.
Many small churches regularly see people come in, get discipled, then leave for other ministries to disciple others.
In our church, that happens all the time. From our internship program, to our alliance with local colleges, to sending adults off as full-time pastors, missionaries and the like.
If your call is to be a sending church, do it with all your heart. Your work may not result in the numerical growth of your church, but it will bless the church.
3. Some Churches Grow In Influence
Increasing the number of people sitting in our building for weekend services is too small a vision for our church.
We want to impact the entire world for Jesus.
And it’s never been easier to do that, in very real ways, than right now.
The internet has given even the smallest church an opportunity for global impact that could not have been dreamed of, even a decade ago.
This is something our church has leaned into with all our heart, and that we will be increasing dramatically in the years to come.
From Sunday morning live streaming, to podcasting the sermons, more people can see and hear your church’s services online than you could ever hope to fit inside the building.
Pastors like me are starting to blog their ideas to an ever-expanding audience, helping other churches learn from both our successes and failures.
Most churches have barely scratched the surface of what they can do on social media. But there are some great innovators in this arena.
Faith and Victory church is a mid-sized congregation in Auburn, Washington with 113,000 Twitter followers (and growing). How? Not by buying them, but because they work at it, as seen in Associate Pastor Todd Sommer’s post, Using Crowdfire to Grow Instagram and Twitter.
Not only are they growing their influence on Twitter, but they’re growing their influence among other churches by showing us how to do it, too.
Have you learned something important about ministry that others might want to know? Share it online and grow your church’s influence.
How Will Your Church Grow?
Butts-in-the-seats growth is great. But it’s not going to happen for every church.
That doesn’t mean we can give up, coast along, or offer excuses. We all have a responsibility to reach new people for Jesus while serving the members we already have.
Every healthy church can and should grow. But it may not grow in the way you want or expect. We have to be okay with that. After all, we’re not the ones in charge of building the church. Jesus is.
Today, there are more ways for churches to grow than ever before. Many of which require very little money, time or talent.
If you have the will to do it, the commitment to follow through and the humility to give Jesus the credit, every church can fulfill their role in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
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