Pastor Dan Brown offers practical suggestions for taking your church to the next level of significance.
Most of us have been stuck somewhere, somehow—in the desert sand off the main road; up a tree we climbed in our pre-adolescence; or, on a tricky algebra problem. But somehow, someway we got unstuck. When our tires spun uselessly in the sand, we tried different approaches; when the algebra equation withstood one thought, we assaulted it with another.
Getting stuck forces us to adapt our approach to life. In fact, one theory of learning says the brain is wired to solve predicaments, and true learning only happens when the mind tries to figure something out. God designed us to keep at it—knocking, seeking and asking—but to do so in close counsel with Him.
One of the shame-inducing truisms floating around the Body of Christ goes something like, “All healthy organisms grow.” Pastors of smaller or plateaued churches feel the implied jab: lack of growth is symptomatic of underlying sickness. That’s not very helpful in the real church-world. To begin with, there are limits to the size any organism can reach (Trophy trout are rare-especially in small streams), and if you keep growing after the legal age, it’s called getting fat.
We may find more solutions to what hinders our churches from growing larger if we think in terms of getting unstuck, rather than just getting bigger. Mega-congregations are the exception, not the rule, but they—like the oversized athletes who play in the NBA—get far more coverage than the many-times-more-numerous weekend warriors in leagues sponsored by local leagues.
Besides, the point is not, I hope, just to grow bigger congregations. Our true aim ought to be to grow more spiritually significant people. Rather than trying the latest sure-fire program emphases just to attract more people, we can actually focus our church growth strategies on the very things that make for bigger people. If we remember that the goal has never been to put on church per se, but to develop people with the tool called church, we can still find several ways to get our people unleashed and our churches unstuck.
The statistics are clear: 80% of all churches in the U.S. average fewer than 200 attendees each weekend. Without major change in leadership style, congregational dynamics, ministry vision, or some other significant aspect of church life, churches that have existed for more than 5 years will most likely stay the size they are now, with only moderate growth over time. Studies on church growth have sought to identify possible elements that accompany increases in the size of congregations. Some pastors mistakenly criticize church growth statistics, claiming that numbers do not tell the whole story: one’s passion for Jesus, one’s radical obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, one’s diligent study of the scriptures, etc. cannot easily be translated into numbers for analysis. That is true, but if we presume that every pastor is equally diligent and committed, then other differences can tell us something interesting about what elements may promote or retard church! growth.