Note to Pastors: The Size and Growth of the Church is Not Up to Us


No, I don’t actually have a note on my desk reminding me that the size of my church isn’t up to me. But maybe I should. Maybe a lot of us should.

I know one thing for sure. If the size of my church was up to me, it would have been a lot bigger a long time ago.

And yes, I know the drill. Just preach the Word, train disciples, reach people, remove obstacles and the church will grow, won’t it? It’s inevitable, right?

I’ve already written several articles refuting that false belief, (check the end of this post for some of them) so I won’t do it again here.

But in spite of the fact that I know it’s not true, sometimes I still want it to be true.

After all, it just makes sense. How can a church be healthy and strong, but not grow numerically? It seems counterintuitive and … I don’t know … wrong somehow.

But that’s reality. A lot of healthy churches don’t grow numerically.

No matter how many right principles we follow, how well we preach and promote it, or how many obstacles to growth we remove, some churches Just. Don’t. Get. Bigger!



Previous Growth Is No Guarantee of Future Growth

For example, a couple years ago I met and became friends with a pastor of a church near mine. He was previously on staff at a megachurch, where he led a huge youth group and participated in some well-known Christian music projects. He’s especially good at graphic design and promotion.

When he started pastoring, he faithfully applied the principles that had previously worked for him and that he’d seen work for the pastors he’d worked with. But, while his church is great, it has stayed small.

As he and I were talking about this a while ago, comparing his previous successes to his current frustrations, he blurted out, only half jokingly, “It ticks me off that my preaching and graphics won’t build a big church!”

Me too, I told him. Then we laughed at our own stupidity.


I Can’t Make Growth Happen

I want to make my church grow.

There’s just one problem with that.

It’s not my church to grow.

I have to remind myself of that all the time.

It’s Jesus’ church. Not mine.

The church existed before I came along. This church – the one I currently pastor – existed before me, too. And both will long outlast me.

So I have to keep learning this frustrating truth.

Some things are beyond my control.

There. I admitted it. That should make me feel better. But it doesn’t.

Because I want to be in control. Or, at the very least, when I surrender my control to the control of the Holy Spirit I want results that make sense.


The Wisdom to Know the Difference

I keep learning to relax my grip and surrender to Jesus. To give him control and to be OK with what I can’t control.

If only someone would come up with a short, memorable prayer about knowing the difference between the things I can and can’t control and what to do about it. (Insert sarcasm emoticon here. If that’s not enough, click here to read the Serenity Prayer.)

So I have to live with this reality.

The numerical growth of the church is beyond my control. I have no say in the outcome of my efforts. The only control I have is whether-or-not to stay faithful.

Preaching the Word, training disciples and ministering to the community may or may not increase the number of people who sit in front of me from Sunday to Sunday.

But it will produce a healthy church.

If I am faithful, God may sometimes bring numbers, but he will always bring health.

I’m learning to be OK with that.

Because healthy matters more than big.


Here are some of the posts I mentioned earlier:


So what do you think? Do you sometimes get frustrated when your best efforts don’t bring the expected numbers?

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(Relax photo from Sarah Reid • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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11 thoughts on “Note to Pastors: The Size and Growth of the Church is Not Up to Us”

  1. I came across this site about a week ago. I pastor a small rural church and I love pastoring in the rural community. This is a timely article and the site was a timely find which I am thankful that an on-time God directed me to.

  2. robbuchananepc

    I constantly go back to I Corinthians 3:6-7 “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” None of us is “anything” – only God is “anything” for He is “everything!” (What does that say to us when we’re tempted to think we’re “something”). The small church pastor isn’t anything. The large church pastor isn’t anything. Yes, we plant and we water, but who enables us to plant and water? God. Only God makes things grow, period. Only God is anything.

  3. I think I mentioned this last week in a similar post: I remind myself almost everyday, and especially every Sunday, “It’s my job to be FAITHFUL; It’s God’s job to be FRUITFUL” when it comes to this subject. I don’t know if I made that up myself or heard it somewhere, but it has helped me through some frustrating times. I am glad your article today expounds on this idea – thanks!

  4. Pastor Karl, I hear what you are saying, but don’t we look at growth as a product of the character of the leader? I mean we can look at a leader and say she has a lot of charisma, no wonder that is a big ministry. I so want to see church exclusively as God’s but so often see it as a product of the leadership.

    1. No question we do that, John. And no one does it more than pastors ourselves. It’s a mindset that leads to pride when the church grows and feeling humiliated when it doesn’t. Neither are good.

  5. BAM! Another home run, Karl. I would also add that a danger of being passive. Some Christians interpret Gods sovereignty in growing the church as doing little or nothing to reach out or build up thier people for ministry. I love the word Jesus used to describe how there were to prepare for the Holy Spirit. He said WAIT. this is not a passive word but a verb encouraging them to worship, anticipate, expect and trust
    God to fulfill His promise.

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