Why Is My Church Not Growing?

Here is an example of a common question I receive:

My church is not growing. People come but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should but they do not stay. Any thoughts please?

I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time I know many times they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can, but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.

Here is an expanded version of my typical answer:

It’s hard to diagnose here without more information. I do believe God wants the church to grow. We are to make disciples and part of discipleship is make more disciples. That in and of itself is growth.

A few quick comments first:

  • God is in charge of the numbers. People can disagree with me (and do) when I say I believe healthy churches are growing. Some grow in different ways. Some internally and some by raising up people who go outside the church to make disciples. Regardless of how growth occurs, all of us must agree God is ultimately in control.
  • The Holy Spirt grows people and therefore the church. We aren’t without responsibility in doing our part. We’ve been given an assignment to be a body with many parts, but we don’t ultimately grow people or churches.
  • Churches go through seasons, just as individual believers do. There are seasons we grow more than others and seasons we are simply maturing to grow later.
  • There are no cookie cutter answers. Just as God makes people unique, churches are unique because they are comprised of unique people.

With those clarifications, here are a few quick thoughts to help you discern your particular situation:

1. Do a survey of anyone who visited in the last year. Ask them why they stayed or didn’t stay. Ask them for ideas they have to improve a visitors experience. Ask them how they found the church. Be prepared for some hard answers, but you may discover things you aren’t seeing.

2. Do a church wide/or leadership wide half day brainstorming session, depending on the size of your church. You want enough people to have a wide range of ideas, but not so many that you never get anything accomplished. I’ve done this with 12 and I’ve done it with 100. That’s getting a little large, but you don’t want to exclude people who are genuinely concerned and want to help the church. I prefer people who have positive dispositions, but you need a range of thought. You might even bring someone in to facilitate this process. Many times there are answers in the room that come from collected thinking. Ask, why aren’t people staying and what can we do?

You may need to do a second half day, perhaps with a smaller group, to summarize and make conclusions from the feedback of the larger group. In my experience, you will produce some key thoughts from an exercise like this which will spur momentum, in addition to creating renewed energy among these key leaders. (But you’ll have to act on some of the suggestions.)

3. Pay a community member (or a professional consultant if you can afford it) to “secret shop” your church and give you honest feedback. You can often find someone to do this free of charge simply to help the church, but there are professionals who know what to look for in a church visit. Many times we can’t see what’s missing on our own.

The bottom line is that you’ll have to do something intentional to get the answers you don’t have. There are good church consultants out there if you want to take that step. Let me know if you want some names and contact information. But, keep asking the questions you’re asking. Our mission as a church hasn’t changed, but the culture around us is changing rapidly. We must continue to grow as church leaders in order to continue to make new disciples.

Praying for you.

How would you respond?

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9 thoughts on “Why Is My Church Not Growing?

  1. As I have told my congregation, if we try to grow the Kingdom, God will take care of our church. If we try to grow the church first, we risk losing our place in the Kingdom. The church must deny itself to be faithful.

  2. The biggest problem that I, personally, get stuck on is that of Outreach. Many in my Church say it is nothing more than telling people where the Church is located, and stop at that. I think there is more, that we need to be teaching discipleship and from there reaching out to the community. I am one to think it has less to do with numbers and more to do with discipleship, training. I might be wrong, but I have no desire to invite people to the building.
    I love the idea of having someone to come in and "shop" the Church! I may not like all the answers we get, but I would love to find out what they see!
    The brainstorming idea, we tried something like that a few years back….we may have gotten the wrong people involved, because we didn't get feedback, we got pet peeves about the way the Pastor dresses, the pew his wife sat on, things like that. It didn't play out too well.
    Twitter: bryankr

  3. Churches should NOT be growing just for NUMBERS sake…Churches need to be teaching the CROSS OF JESUS CHRIST…Teaching about sin… These kinds of messages may not tickle the ears of congregants, but it WILL prepare them for the LAST DAYS of revelation, which I believe we are DEFINITELY IN!

  4. This is a very helpful and well-balanced post, Ron.

    As someone who spends a lot of time working with Small Churches, I'm sometime perceived as one of those people who you say "can disagree with me (and do) when I say I believe healthy churches are growing". The reason some of us are perceived that way is because we don't think butts-in-the-seats growth is inevitable for every healthy church. But you clarify that well when you add "Some grow in different ways. Some internally and some by raising up people who go outside the church to make disciples." That's dead-on.

    I think one of the challenges we have though, is the assumption that lack of numerical growth is automatically a problem to be fixed. I don't think that's your assumption, but that may be the assumption behind the people who ask you that question. One of the questions I think an outside consultant should be asked to assess is "is the church healthy and growing even if there isn't a butts-in-the-seats increase?" If so, I believe many pastors need to relax about their numerical growth. Obsessing about getting more people in the building can lead to unhealthy methods, sick churches and burnt-out pastors. I know. I've seen a lot of it. You probably have, too.

    It's better to concentrate on health (including outreach, ministry, and evangelism in addition to fellowship, worship and discipleship) and let God take of of whether-or-not that leads to more people in the building. Not every church will get bigger, but every church can – and should – grow. As you also said well "Regardless of how growth occurs, all of us must agree God is ultimately in control."