Lack of vision, inadequate systems, poor planning, unfriendly people and more will doom a church to irrelevance very quickly. Spotting such churches is obvious and easy, especially for anyone who has spent much time in pastoral ministry.
It’s much harder to spot a church that will grow. Or a healthy church that may not grow.
Take the examples of Church A and Church B.
Both churches are doing everything they should do to promote growth. They’re healthy, vibrant, and contextually valid. They have Godly leaders, enthusiastic volunteers, a compelling vision, challenging, but doable goals… everything needed for a healthy, growing church.
Sure, they each have their problems. No church is perfect. But the problems are minor.
Church A grows.
Church B doesn’t.
Pastor A holds seminars on how to grow your church like they grew theirs.
Pastor B calls goes to Pastor A’s seminar to find out what Church B is doing wrong. Pastor B comes home with a list to work on. They work on the list. It doesn’t help.
Same Mistakes, Different Results
Ironically, and unknown to anyone, Church A is making the same mistakes Church B is making. But those mistakes aren’t hurting Church A like they’re hurting Church B.
Two churches can have the same strengths and weaknesses, but end up with very different numerical results.
So, while Church A celebrates and builds on their strengths and their successes, Church B searches deeper into their failures, trying to fix them. But no matter what they try, Church B doesn’t grow like they’ve been told they should. Even though they seem healthy, their lack of numerical growth keeps Pastor B convinced they’re making some massive mistakes that Church A isn’t making.
The more they work on their problems, the tougher those problems become.
Soon, Pastor B stops trying to copy the numerical success of Church A and starts growing resentful and jealous of them. Resentment becomes anger. The anger becomes toxic. Or it becomes discouragement and something that looks like laziness, even though it’s anything but that.
People see Pastor B’s diminishing enthusiasm and think “no wonder that church isn’t growing.” But they’re confusing a symptom for a cause.
A Factor, But Not an Excuse
No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to automatically dismiss lack of church growth as “God’s will” or “circumstances beyond our control.”
Saying “it’s God’s will” should never be used as an excuse for not putting proper principles in place whenever we can. But it’s arrogant to think we can always figure out why otherwise healthy churches don’t grow numerically.
As I’ve written in many previous posts, including the controversially-titled, Growing a Bigger Congregation Is Hard, Rare and [Gasp!] NOT a Biblical Mandate, even when the church is healthy and outward-looking, numerical congregational growth is not inevitable. The principles behind church growth are not as simple as putting the right blend of chemicals together in a science lab. Real life has a way of throwing you curve balls. And nowhere is that more true than in the area of church health and growth.
Church growth is not the exact science I wish it was.
If it was, we’d have a lot more big churches than we do – and far fewer good pastors living in discouragement and confusion.
When trying to assess church health and growth, we can’t discount the non-numerical aspects that factor into it. After all, the Church A / Church B scenario happens regularly.
Maybe the mistakes both churches are making are insignificant in the new suburban area where Church A is ministering, but are deal-breakers in the inner city where Church B is trying to survive. Maybe Church B’s neighborhood needs a bunch of healthy Small Churches more than they need one big church. Or vice versa.
If you’re in a Church A situation, we recognize that such growth doesn’t come without putting in a lot of work, prayer and proper principles. But it also doesn’t come without the favor of God being on those efforts. So please stop looking at the otherwise-healthy Church B around the corner from you and assuming they’ve blown it in some way that you haven’t. God may just have a different plan for them.
On the other hand, if you’re in a Church B situation, what should you do? First of all, realize that there are no church growth guarantees. So stop feeling guilty for lacking the results you think you should have – or that others have insisted you should have. Then…
- Keep ministering
- Keep blessing people
- Keep your eyes off the numerical successes of other churches
- Keep trying to get better every day
- Keep your eyes on Jesus
Do that and he’ll keep you healthy. He’ll keep you strong.
And he’ll keep you effective in the ministry he’s given you to do.
So what do you think? Have you ever experienced a Church A / Church B scenario like I’ve described?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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