What better place to see this happen than in the area of community engagement? It is amazing how often our church members’ enthusiasm for church grows, as we encourage them to move out into our neighborhoods, our networks of relationships and our places of work, to meet need and demonstrate the relevance of our faith in practical ways.
One church encouraged its congregation to set up a team to visit a local prison. The team was told that they were now a small group and that their prayer; study and preparation should focus around their area of practical service. The fact that they had never done anything like this before made them rely on each other and look to God for more.
Another church encouraged those who commuted to work on the train to gather together and become a small group on the train. They met on the same train; same carriage every Tuesday to pray; study and talk about their work pressures. By using dead time in their days it freed up other time for service.
Recently a friend of mine joined her local branch of Street Pastors, gathering with other Christians from across her city to pray together and serve together on the streets on a Friday night. She has seen her faith grow in the extremity of the situation and she feels real affinity for those she serves with and those who receive her service.
It is amazing how much impact encouraging your congregation out of the building and into the community in novel ways can have. And as people grow, the church will usually grow too.
Sure-fire Ways to Help Your Congregation to grow
1. Be involved in at least one thing/ministry outside of normal scheduled worship/class times.
2. Talk about your congregation in a positive way to your friends, co-workers, family, and anyone else who may not be a part of the congregation
3. Pray for the Shepherd’s, the Ministry Staff, the administrative staff, the Deacons, and anyone else who serves in a leadership positions
4. Stop being concerned about the actual numbers who are not there, but focus more energy on loving and serving those who are there. It will be contagious.
5. Live the Christian life wherever you go. You never know when someone may notice and want to talk about it.
6. Encourage as many members as you can to participate in a Small Group (if you have them), or form a discussion/small group outside of service times where you can meet together away from the building.
7. Don’t reject any idea the first time you hear it, unless it is truly unscriptural.
8. Be positive, no matter what. If someone is negative to you, return the attitude with positivity
9. Support as many mission efforts as possible. These can be foreign or local. Put God’s money to work. Don’t be the 1 talent church.
10. Get out of the way, and let God work.
The Wrong Question: How do I get my church to grow? Your job is not to force growth. When you think growth is your responsibility, you will inevitably make bad decisions. Church growth is ultimately not about what we can do in our own power; it’s about God’s power and His choice to work through us. Refuse to settle for anything less than God’s vision for your church.
The Right Question: What is keeping my church from growing? Healthy organisms grow. If you feel stagnation setting in, barriers are inhibiting your growth. Implement a plan to remove them.
Now that you’re asking the right question, I encourage you to make two affirmative decisions.
Decision #1: I believe God wants to grow my church. 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) tells us, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise to return, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so He is giving more time for everyone to repent.” Your church is part of that redemptive plan. Of course God wants it to grow. Growth signals repentance and life change.
Decision #2: I want to see my church grow. Does thinking about the next barrier you’re facing scare you into inactivity? Don’t get discouraged. God never gives us a vision without supplying what we need to fulfill it.
When you’re asking the right question, and you know in your core that both you and God want your church to grow, nothing can stop you—but growth barriers can definitely slow you down. So whether you are growing a small church in the suburbs or a mega church in a big city, you need to be able to recognize the top five growth barriers and know how to meet them head-on.
Growth Barrier #1: Space
Space is the most fundamental barrier we all face—and the easiest to overlook. As church leaders, we love full rooms, so we say, “Pack ’them in, there’s still a few seats!” But the truth is that when a room reaches 70% of its seating capacity, it’s full. Period. Here is a four-step exercise to perform frequently as your church grows:
Step 1: Determine how many seats you have in your main worship space.
Step 2: Multiply that number by .7 (70%).
Step 3: Determine how many people you averaged in attendance over the last month.
Step 4: Is the number in Step 3 greater than the number in Step 2? If the answer is yes, you’ve got to open up more seats, or find a larger location—fast.
I’ve seen many pastors of churches with fewer than 250 attendees start second services in an effort to circumvent this barrier. Starting a second service too early usually does more damage than good, so don’t think of it as an easy fix. For example, let’s say a church of 120 decides to start a second service. Inevitably, one service will have 100 people and the other one will have 20—it’s impossible to equally divide two services, although careful choice of service times does play a part. Over time, the 20 people will be disappointed with the small crowds and filter back into the larger service.
The better choice for a church of 120 is to find a larger space and grow to 300 or 400 before starting a second service. I encourage churches to be willing to move.
Growth Barrier #2: Self-Development
Growing churches are led by growing leaders. So, if you’ve stopped progressing personally, your church is not far behind. Jimmy Britt, pastor of Rocky River Community Church in Concord, N.C. Recently realized the power of this truth. Jimmy had grown his church to 150 when he got stuck. After learning about the barrier of self-development, he set up a personal growth plan for himself, focusing on leadership ability and spiritual maturity. Sure enough, when he started growing as an individual, his church started growing again. An organization can never outpace the inherent qualities of its leader.
When a pastor isn’t growing:
• The sermons are stale
• The congregation’s passion for ministry wanes.
• The staff stops growing.
• The church stops growing.
An intentional reading plan is the single best avenue for personal growth. Set a reading goal that will stretch you—perhaps a book a month—and spend focused time in the areas of theology, church history and philosophy, in addition to reading your Bible. Also schedule time to attend key conferences and plan opportunities to seek out and meet with mentors. Personal development is essential not only for your own health and balance, but also for the growth of your church.
Growth Barrier #3: Sharing
Churches stop growing when they become inwardly (instead of outwardly) focused. If you notice a decline in your number of first-time guests and an increase in discussion of inwardly focused programs, beware! You are about to fall victim to the sharing barrier.
In my experience, healthy growing churches will have a 5:100 ratio of first-time guests to regular attendees; If you are averaging 200 people per week, you should average 10 first-time guests per week. Watch this ratio carefully, and take its waning as a warning sign. When this barrier starts blocking your growth, here are some ways you can break through it:
• Teach on relational evangelism.
• Set an example by telling stories of how you’ve invited people to church.
• Do servant evangelism outreach.
• Challenge staff, volunteers and attendees to invite friends.
• Read an evangelism or church growth book with your staff and key volunteers.
• Ask someone who has experienced life change to share his or her testimony.
Growth Barrier #4: Worship Service
Your weekly worship service is the front door through which people are introduced to your church. If not done correctly, it can become a big barrier.
To keep your service strong, always try to look like a church twice your size. If you are a church of 100 people, intentionally create a worship service that looks like it’s for 200 people. Take your preaching up a notch. Energize your worship time. Create the excitement that would be present in a bigger crowd. Moreover, it’s essential to get in the habit of looking at your service through the eyes of your guests and regular attendees. What kind of impression are you giving them?
Improve the quality of your service in the following ways:
• Tweak your transitions.
• Set up feedback and develop evaluation mechanisms.
• Visit larger, growing churches and benchmark against what they are doing.
• Attend cutting-edge seminars and leadership conferences.
Jeff Gunn, pastor of Crosswalk Lutheran Church in Phoenix saw incredible growth when he was able to overcome this worship service barrier. Some years ago, Jeff started a new congregation in a longstanding community that was being transformed by new development. As a strong communicator, he grew the church to 100 people in no time. But Jeff didn’t have a worship leader. In his Sunday services, he was cueing up and playing recorded music.
When Jeff made the decision to improve his services by bringing in a worship leader, he quickly broke the 125 mark and grew to more than 200 people. As he’s learned, sometimes you have to get out of your own way and do what needs to be done to create a quality experience for your attendees.
Growth Barrier #5: Staff
If your congregation suddenly doubled in size, would you have the necessary staff members to serve them? To keep your church moving forward, you will need to hire people on faith, so you’ll be prepared to receive the harvest God wants to send you.
Hiring staff is truly a faith issue. Many pastors want to put off staff hires until they have the money in place to support the positions. Sounds like a practical plan, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work. You will never have enough money in advance to hire the staff you need.
To overcome this barrier, change your perspective on what it takes to hire a new staff person. Say you need to fill a position that would require a 480,000 salary. Don’t look at it as a year-long position. Instead, think in three-month blocks. If you approach the new position as a three-month, 120,000 risks, instead of a 480,000 risk, you will be more comfortable filling it. Then, if the staff person you hire is good, the position will begin paying for itself after three months.
When you approach staffing with a faithful heart, you’ll be much more prepared to handle the growth God brings you.
All Grown Up
In our journey from 35 to 1,200, our church had to break through every one of these barriers—most of them more than once. Thanks to that process, I have come to understand that staying ahead of growth barriers is the most effective way of dealing with them. When we cooperate with God by taking action for His church, He will bless our efforts. As you learn to identify and diffuse growth barriers before they get you stuck, you’ll be able to keep your momentum and effectively expand God’s Kingdom for His glory.