It’s one of the most pressing questions pastors and church leaders ask themselves:
“Why aren’t we growing?”
Sure, not every mission’s soil will yield the same fruit, but we’re not talking about overall size. Just the idea that biblically, we can assume that God wants every church that honors His name and proclaims His message in Christ to grow and that He is willing to empower it to that end.
Churches are living things. Living things grow. If you’re not growing, something is wrong.
So the question seems to be one for ourselves. If our church isn’t growing and clearly God isn’t the problem, are we?
Here are five areas to consider:
It’s been said that everything rises and falls on leadership. Perhaps a more accurate way of putting it would be that no organization will rise above the level of its leadership. If on a scale of 1-10, the current leadership is around a “4”, then it will be difficult for the church to grow beyond that level.
Solution: Ensure that people with the spiritual gift of leadership are actually leading, and that they are committed to developing that gift by reading about leadership, getting around other leaders for insight, and exercising their leadership gift in challenging settings.
There are few things more critical to a church’s growth than an effective communicator for weekend teaching. The dilemma is that many who serve as the primary communicators in their church aren’t Spirit-gifted teachers. They like to speak, and the group that gathers around their teaching seems to benefit from it, but the majority of listeners tend to vote with their feet. Or at least the teaching doesn’t seem to be catalyzing the congregation to invite their friends to benefit from the teaching.
Solution: Make sure that the point communicator has the spiritual gift of teaching, and is actively working at developing that gift by listening to other gifted communicators. Don’t be afraid of developing a team-teaching approach to shore up weakness, or to adjust responsibilities so that various roles more accurately reflect gifting. In other words, perhaps someone has been serving as lead communicator, when their gifts are better used in another area. This is a difficult maneuver, for as stated above, people who are speaking tend to like to speak and to have a (perhaps) distorted view of their effect.
3. Quality of Worship
The quality of the worship experience is more important even than its style. If the service itself seems slapped together, incoherent, or unable to be embraced, then it will not provide the traction needed for ongoing growth. To be sure, worship is not about what we get out of it, but what God gets out of it. But the better that service is at helping people connect with God, the more people it will attract.
Solution: Review the music, presentation, style and quality of the worship experience of your church in light of its ability to optimally serve and engage people. View the services of larger, faster-growing churches that you feel are biblically and theologically sound for benchmarks. If you are continually plagued by forgotten lyrics, missed notes and awkward transitions, consider planning meetings for your services, and run-through rehearsals of critical parts.
Every church has an atmosphere, but not all have an atmosphere of friendliness and acceptance. Let’s put it bluntly: every church thinks it’s friendly. But what that often means is they are friendly to each other, friendly to people they know, friendly to people they like, or friendly to people who are like them.
Solution: If you haven’t already, consider developing an entire ministry around first impressions and the creation of a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. At Meck, we call it “Guest Services,” and it oversees parking lot attendants, greeters, ushers, hospitality, and so much more – all geared toward the experience of first-impressions and friendliness. It’s one of our largest and most strategic efforts.
The physical location of a church, if you want to grow by inviting people to attend, is decisive. If it is hard to find, hard to get to, too small in size, has insufficient parking, is difficult to enter or exit due to road traffic,
…then you are artificially limiting the size of your church.
Solution: Much of solving location problems is logistical in nature. Hire off-duty police to help people enter and exit your services. Increase the number of your services. Develop a capital campaign to help pay for increasing the size of your auditorium or parking. If needed, simply move to a new location. That may seem dramatic, but it’s often critical. If you do, have the people you’re trying to reach in mind as you pick your new location – such as where they live and ease of access. Going “multi-site” is also proving to be a helpful strategy for many churches facing location issues.
I know these five areas are incredibly simplistic, and almost any leader could rattle them off. And I’ve not offered particularly fresh insights into their importance, or how to solve them.
But what I do hope has come through is the importance of ruthless self-evaluation in each of these five areas. The kind that an outside consultant who isn’t trying to curry favor might give. So no matter how familiar you may be with each area, go through each one and give it an honest assessment, such as: “We need to do better,” “We are taking this for granted,” or “We’re hitting this one out of the park.” It usually is one of those three. Think in terms of “declining,” “flat” or “growing.”
Or think about a “mystery” worshiper who would have the courage and ability to say things like,
“The talk just wasn’t that good, and he wasn’t a very good speaker.”
“The service was boring and the music stunk; I never could get into it.”
“Somebody has been making a series of leadership miscalls over the years, and it’s pretty clear to an outside person who does have the gift of leadership.”
“People weren’t very friendly...or welcoming.”
“It’s too far to go, or too big of a pain to go.”
Now, before you get defensive and say that people shouldn’t think that way if they really know Jesus, remind yourself of who you are trying to reach.
Yep, people who don’t know Jesus.
So they are going to evaluate you accordingly.
But maybe that isn’t how you are thinking.
So make that #6. And the solution is easy:
Think like a lost person.
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.