When Church Growth Feels Like MLM (A Request From The Rest Of Us)

When telling us about the results of your church growth principles, don’t just promote the success stories, tell us the averages.

It’s getting harder to maintain my optimism about the Church Growth Movement.

For now it’s still intact, but I can feel the foundation eroding. 

Of course, I’m a fan of church growth. Jesus said he would build his church and he knows what he’s doing. That’s church growth. 

The Church Growth Movement has done a lot to advance that mandate, renewing our commitment to outreach, innovation and more. 

But.

In recent years, whenever I hear or read the newest idea for helping congregations . . .

  • “Double in the next 24 months!”
  • “Reach thousands of people!”
  • “Break through your numerical barrier!”

It leaves me more cold than excited. 

In fact, I hate to say it (I really do) but it feels more like a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) pitch than sound biblical principles. 

The Other Side Of Church Growth

It’s not that there’s necessarily anything deceptive going on. I personally know a lot of the folks who write these books and design these new methods, and they’re good people with legitimately valid ideas that have actually worked in the real world. 

The reason it feels like MLM is because I spend a lot of time with pastors and churches on the other side of the church growth ledger – the churches who tried church growth ideas and not only didn’t grow but were hurt as a result.

Attempting to implement church growth ideas has cost many pastors and churches more than it gained them. Click To Tweet

Attempting to implement church growth ideas has cost many pastors and churches more than it gained them. When the expected results didn’t materialize, adopting church growth methods have often led to a financial downturn, an attendance drop and – maybe worst of all – an erosion of trust.

Tell Us Averages, Not Just Successes

So why does much of the Church Growth Movement feel like MLM to me?

Here’s why.

The average person who signs up for an MLM starter pack not only doesn’t make a living from it, they don’t even recoup the costs of the kit. According to all the research, including this very thorough study by Jon M. Taylor (MBA, Ph.D.) of the Consumer Awareness Institute, a full 99 percent of those who sign up for an MLM lose money. But that’s not what you hear in the pitch, is it? Of course not. You hear the success stories. And understandably so. 

That’s what we hear and see at church growth conferences. The success stories. And I’m grateful for them, just as I’m grateful when I hear about a friend who’s now making enough money in their MLM to be able to work from home as they raise their kids.

But I don’t want to hear only the success stories, I want to know the averages.

Show Us All The Information

Given how much time I spend with hurting pastors and churches, there’s no question I have a skewed perspective in the opposite direction of my friends in the Church Growth Movement. That’s why I still hold on to some optimism about it.

My perspective doesn’t show the entire picture any more than the church growth promotional materials do. 

I’m willing to pause, hear the success stories and celebrate with them. I’m simply asking my friends on the other end of the church growth spectrum to do the same with their stories.

Find and present a wider range of information about the claims of the Church Growth Movement. Show us the failures and even damages, along with the triumphs and success stories. Then use all that data to refine and adapt your information to include everyone. 

Where Does It Work Best? Or Not?

If your church growth ideas have a higher likelihood of success in, say, a wealthy suburban area than the inner city or a rural region, let us know that.

If your church growth ideas have a higher likelihood of success in, say, a wealthy suburban area than the inner city or a rural region, let us know that. Click To Tweet

If bivocational pastors have told you it feels like your ideas are designed for a church with a full-time staff, don’t just point out the bivocational pastor who made it work, listen to their concerns and learn how to help even more bivocational pastors. 

Essential Church Growth

Church growth is essential and biblical.

The Church Growth Movement is, has been, and can continue to be helpful for thousands of churches.

But it can help more of us if we pay attention to all the information, not just the news we want to hear.


(Photo by Guilherme Stecanella | Unsplash)

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3 thoughts on “When Church Growth Feels Like MLM (A Request From The Rest Of Us)”

  1. Mi nombre es pablo muñoz pastor de una iglesia pequeña y me a sido de mucha bendición sus artículos y el libro el mito del saltamontes ,yo soy pastor hace 35 años y e luchado con el crecimiento de la iglesia y también he estado en momento de crisis por esto así que gracias por bendecirme

  2. Most of the church growth books, newsletters, etc. basically come down to ‘I caught lightning in a bottle, and you can try this and see if it works for you, but probably not.”

  3. I believe the reason church growth principles don’t work in most churches (believe me, I’ve tried and tried) is that the majority of churches, regardless of size, is that they make church members but not true disciples of Jesus. Unless the majority of the members of a congregation are dedicated to being true disciples of Jesus then it is highly unlikely that any program or formula will help that church grow.

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