Is It Wrong If I Don’t Want My Church to Grow?

No Growth TreeOne of the foundational beliefs of the church growth movement is that every church should desire to grow. And if you don’t want your church to grow, there’s something wrong. Probably something wrong with you.

So let me get right to it and answer the question in today’s title.

Is it wrong if I don’t want my church to grow?



Without reservation.

No excuses allowed. No “buts” added.

It is always wrong when a follower of Jesus, and especially a church leader, doesn’t want their church to grow.

People need Jesus.

As long as there is one person in our community who doesn’t know Jesus, one child in poverty, one scared, pregnant teenager, or one person anywhere with a need that Jesus wants us to meet, we need to reach out to them. 

Any follower of Jesus who does anything less than their best to reach people because they want their church to stay small, familiar and comfortable is selfish, settling or worse. It is burying your talent. If you think that language is too harsh, Jesus was harsher. He called such a bury-your-talent-and-sit-on-what-we-have attitude, “wicked and lazy.”

So, if you are intentionally or unintentionally putting up roadblocks that are hindering your church from growing, that needs to stop.


Remove those obstacles.

Stop being the obstacle. And start being the church – vibrant, outward-reaching, innovative, healthy and growing.


Most Small Churches Don’t Want to Limit Growth

One of the primary misunderstandings ministries like face, is the assumption that supporting and encouraging healthy, innovative Small Churches means we’re not wanting churches to grow. That just isn’t true. As I wrote in a previous post, “Church growth should always be a part of every pastor’s prayers, passion and strategy.” 

Churches stay small for a whole lot of no-guilt reasons, which I’ve described in previous posts, including 9 No-Fault, No-Excuse Reasons Many Healthy Churches Stay Small. But very few of them are small because they don’t want to grow.

We support healthy Small Churches because we’ve realized that a bigger congregation is not the only measure of a great church. We’ve discovered that applying church growth principles doesn’t always lead to a bigger congregation (we know, we’ve tried them all). We’ve also seen that, while some unchurched people will be drawn to Jesus through a professionally-staged, well-lit, high-production church extravaganza, with pristine facilities and world-class childcare, many are looking for Jesus in more intimate settings.

The body of Christ needs to have healthy churches of all styles and sizes to meet all kinds of needs.

It’s not wrong to

  • Question certain methods of the church growth movement
  • Realize that there’s a place for healthy Small Churches in the body of Christ
  • Do ministry in such a way that most of the visible fruit of it grows on other trees
  • Use a shepherding model, because that’s where we find our greatest gifts, calling and effectiveness

As I mentioned in my previous post, it doesn’t matter how we gather as the church, or how big, it just matters that we do it. And when we do, reaching out to others and enfolding them into this wonderful opportunity to have a relationship with Jesus must be a central part of it.

The Great Commission isn’t optional.


Church Growth Doesn’t Always Mean Bigger Congregations

There have been many church movements throughout history – and many that still exist today – which foster smaller congregations, including house churches. They channel their growth with great skill and intentionality, through the multiplication of more congregations, rather than bigger ones. And there are some strong stats showing that this may be a greater tool for growing the church than building larger congregations.

The church must always grow. The church will always grow. We know that because Jesus said he’d do it.

In some places, that means larger congregations. In most places that means more healthy small congregations. In spite of this truth, the focus of the church growth movement has been almost entirely about growing individual congregations bigger. Supporting and strengthening healthy smaller congregations has taken a distant second place – if it’s considered at all.


Bigger Churches are a New Idea

There are those who insist that a healthy congregation will always increase numerically and that there’s something inherently wrong with a church that stays small for whatever reason. I’ve chronicled some of those attitudes in The Grasshopper Myth and my post on Church Leadership Bullies. If that’s what you think, let me ask you this.

How did the church of Jesus grow for the first 1900+ years of its existence without any megachurches around?

That’s how long it took for the first megachurches to appear on the landscape. They’re the new kid on the church block. Until the middle of the 20th century, the relentless growth of the church moved forward, not through growing bigger churches, but almost exclusively through the multiplication of smaller congregations. And that’s where most of the growth of the church still happens today.

I’m glad for the recent appearance of megachurches and the church growth movement. As Thom Rainer wrote in a recent post, the church growth movement has introduced or reminded us of some much-needed principles that much of the church had all but forgotten. And I’ve written a couple times about what Small Churches can learn from megachurches (as well as what megachurches can learn from the little guys).

One of the blessings the church growth movement has given us is the reminder that we must never settle for less in the church. That a healthy church is always a growing church – even if it doesn’t always grow in the butts-in-the-seats manner they imply is virtually inevitable.

It’s ignorant, hurtful and counterproductive to say that if a church is staying small, there must necessarily be something wrong with it. And it’s just as wrong to criticize bigger and megachurches merely because they’re big.


Let’s Use Big and Small to Their Best Advantage

The world needs great, passionate, innovative, outward-reaching churches of all sizes. As I wrote in The Grasshopper Myth, “Wanting to worship and serve God in a Small Church is not a theological error or a personality deficit. It’s time we stopped treating it as though it was.”

Staying small because you don’t want your church to grow is wrong.

Using smallness as a tool to reach people that big churches may never reach, isn’t a problem. It’s a much-overlooked necessity.


So what do you think? What are your experiences with healthy, passionate, outward-reaching Small Churches?

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(Bonsai Tree photo from Kenneth F Andrade • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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6 thoughts on “Is It Wrong If I Don’t Want My Church to Grow?”

  1. So what is church growth? Too many see church growth as only in numbers of people coming and the amount of dollars they give. I see growth as a spiritual thing. Discipleship. Jesus said go and make disciples. He didn’t say go and make members. When a church disciples its people, they will go and spread the Gospel and disciple others. You may or may not see them in your church. And we need to keep in mind that the church is not one building, or one denomination. The church is the people who believe in God, all over the world. By making disciples, we create church growth in numbers and in spirit.

    1. I agree completely, Ray. We need to stop seeing church growth through such a narrow lens. A lot of Small Churches stay small, not because they’re not contributing to the growth of the kingdom, but because they’re senders. The church grows in all kinds of ways – not just numerically.

  2. I believe Jesus wants churches to grow. My thing is how about when small churches are out of today’s date and touch with these new generation. Our congregation is mostly 55+. Here is some examples music still played with piano and organ. KJV. We might get a new member but that person would most likely 60 or older.and our older ones is passing away to meet The Lord also.some people say we don’t have to change because God will send the ones that belong here basically. Just want to know your thoughts.

    1. That is a definite problem, Jesse. But it’s one that isn’t limited to Small Churches. I’ve been in some very big churches recently that match every description you just used.

      Here are links to some of my posts that might give you a few good ideas:

    2. Jesse food for thought…perhaps some churches, small, medium, or large, are intentionally designing ministry to meet the needs and expectations of older folk. I pastor a ten year old congregation of about 150 with 100-120 average attendance, and we intentionally designed our services and ministry for younger people, primarily families with school age children. However, a by product is some older folks simply don’t fit well with us and so choose to go elsewhere. We’ve accepted that and perhaps there are churches that accept the fact that younger people will go elsewhere in order to reach older folk

      1. Hi Ken. What you’re saying is correct. There are churches that, by their location, gifting, etc., are called to minister to a higher percentage of seniors. I have several friends in ministry who pastor such churches in very loving, outreaching and innovative ways.

        I didn’t perceive that to be the case in Jesse’s situation, though. His comment sounds as though the congregation is resisting needed change, instead of intentionally choosing to minister to that segment of the population. If I mis-perceived that, maybe Jesse can clarify it for us.

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