21 Ways to Keep a Church from Growing

I was once asked to help a church process how to get younger people to attend. After we discussed some change recommendations a man pulled me aside and said, “Son, we don’t need no fancy ideas around here. We like being a small church.

I soon learned he represented the feelings of the church as a whole. They thought they wanted to reach younger people, but the truth was — when faced with change — they were really satisfied with the church as it had been for many years.

There’s nothing wrong with being a small church. Let me say that again — There is nothing wrong with being a small church. In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. I’m not opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small church mentalities.

I think there is a difference.

As long as there are lost people nearby, I believe the church has much work to do. And, any organization, Christian or secular, that refuses to accept some changes will stop growing and eventually die.

The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It’s relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth.

In fact, I can come up with lots of ways I’ve seen that keep a church from growing.

Here are a 21 ways:

  • Make the entry to serving in the church lengthy or complicated
  • Develop followers not leaders
  • Squelch any dream except the pastor’s own
  • Refuse new people a voice at the table
  • Make sure everyone knows who is in charge — and it’s not Jesus
  • Cast your vision — but only once
  • Only do “church” inside the building
  • Demand that it be done the way it’s always been done
  • Give up when change is resisted
  • Make excuses when things go wrong
  • Quit dreaming
  • Resist any organized system, strategy or plans to grow the church
  • Stop praying
  • Insist you have all the answers before you “walk by faith”
  • Never challenge people
  • Treat new people as outsiders
  • Always refer to the past as the good times
  • Put more energy into structure than serving
  • Allow gossip to fester
  • The ministerial staff does everything
  • Be stingy investing in the next generation

Whenever I do a post like this I get a common — and expected — question. Well, if these are ways not to grow a church, then what are some ways to grow a church? And, that is one of the main topics I write about in other posts. But, for simplicity sake, try doing the opposite of some of these I’ve listed and see how they help the church to grow.

What am I missing? What else will keep a church from growing?

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16 thoughts on “21 Ways to Keep a Church from Growing

  1. Great article!

    We’ve have been pastors of two churches and starting a third and you are right on! Thanks for sharing.

    Pastors David and Linda Cross
    Christian Family Church of Lakeville

  2. These points are all correct. I'd change entry to church leadership is impossible. Only certain hand-picked people can enter leadership. Also, put age requirements on everything.

  3. Ron–thanks as always for your insights into the world of church life. Part of what has frustrated me has been what some people term "leadership" that in essence is really dictatorship. It's my way or the highway type of approach that many pastors seem to have since apparently God doesn't talk about the future with anyone other than the senior pastor. This isn't a rant based simply off my experience but rather an indictment of much of our training system–I believe pastors haven't really been taught how to lead or pastor but rather to simply change what the last person did or copy a successful system from another congregation.

    OK–off the soap box for now! At a point, I'm expanding Synergy for Ministry to include more leadership content for pastors and would love to have you share in a webinar again!



  4. Thank you for this post Ron.

    Not sure if this applies, but I've noticed lack of balance in church focus can keep a church from growing, or keep a church from growing well. What I mean is, a church may pour their heart and soul to individual spirituality and forget about reaching and serving others, or they may focus on social works so much that they forget about personal relationship with Christ altogether, becoming an entity more fitting of a humanitarian non-profit than the Church.