Is Your Church Stuck, Or Just Small?

Dead EndI spent a lot of years trying to unstick a church that wasn’t stuck.

I thought it was stuck because it wasn’t getting bigger. And I’d been told in virtually every church leadership conference and book that if my church wasn’t growing numerically, we were stuck.

I didn’t want to pastor a stuck church.

I still don’t.

So I went to all the conferences on how to get unstuck. I read all the books. I applied all the principles.

None of them worked.

Pastors of fast-growing churches are always writing helpful blog posts with lists of all the things churches must be doing wrong if we’re not experiencing numerical growth. So I read a ton of blog posts listing 10 Ways to Get Your Church Unstuck, then applied those principles to my church.

They didn’t work either. 

So I prayed longer and harder.


Then I starting reading stories of pastors and churches that stopped trying to grow, but just implemented the principles of church health. As soon as they did that, without trying to help God grow the church – boom! – the church started growing like crazy.

So I relaxed and stopped worrying about church growth. Our church worked on getting healthy instead and…

Nah, that didn’t grow the church either.

Finally, I left the modern church-growth movement behind and went back to the source. I read, re-read, preached and taught about the growth of the church in the book of Acts.

Still nothing.


The Question No One Told Me To Ask

Then I looked at my church again.

And I asked myself a question none of the conferences, books and blog posts ever suggested.

“If I took numerical growth off the table, would I call this church a healthy church?”

The answer was surprisingly obvious.


The church I pastor is one of the healthiest churches I know.

Which led to a follow-up question.

“If a church is healthy in every way but numerical growth, is it really stuck?”


It turns out my church wasn’t stuck at all. It was just small.

And if that’s the case – if a Small Church can be a healthy church – then maybe numerical growth isn’t the be-all, end-all sign of health we’ve made it out to be.

Maybe a healthy Small Church is an OK thing to be.

And, as I soon discovered, a healthy church that keeps working on health, gets even healthier.


Have You Asked That Question?

What about your church?

Have you been spinning in the same never-ending cycle of frustration I was?

Have you been trying to unstick a church that might not be stuck?

Is it possible your church isn’t stuck? Just small?

If you’re not sure, I encourage you to learn from my mistakes and do what I should have done all along. Look at your church and ask the question I finally got around to asking.

If you took numerical growth off the table, would your church be considered unhealthy?

If it’s unhealthy, get to work on fixing that, regardless of growth.

If it’s healthy, quit beating yourself and your church up for not getting bigger. That may not be what God is calling you to be.

Yes, you read that right. God may not be calling your church to grow numerically. Despite what we’ve been told, individual congregational growth is not a biblical mandate.

If a church is healthy, but not getting bigger, then it’s not stuck. It’s just small.


Is Your Church Healthy?

So, if we take numerical growth off the table, what are the signs of a healthy church?

Isn’t it strange that we even have to ask that question? Any church leader should know the signs of a healthy church, no matter what size it is. But we’ve been so inundated with a grow, grow, grow approach to church health, it may take a reboot of our heads, hearts and spirits to start looking at church health through a lens other than numerical growth.

I’ve taken a look at some non-numerical aspects of church health in previous posts. Here are a few of them:

If you want other ideas about how to assess church health, apart from numbers, here’s an idea. Do a Google search for “signs of a healthy church” or something like that. Then read some of the thousands of blog posts that come up. As you go through those lists (it’s always a list) ignore any points that have to do with numerical growth and pay close attention to everything else.

Is your church doing all or most of those non-numerical signs of health?

Then you have a healthy church.

You’re not stuck. You’re just small.


So what do you think? Have you ever considered that your Small Church might not be stuck, just small?

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(Dead End sign from Barbara Friedman • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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5 thoughts on “Is Your Church Stuck, Or Just Small?”

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

  2. Thank you for your encouragement. It seems more ministries are moving towards multiple campuses and smaller group model rather than trying to pack big buildings with many people. The issue that I have seen and struggle with is losing the people you have and getting smaller. But perhaps even that might be biblical in some cases.

  3. Pingback: How to Tell If Your Small Church Is Strategic Or Stuck |

  4. If a small church is intentionally small, what happens to the people that they evangelize and disciple? It cannot be a healthy church without evangelism and discipleship taking place, and therefore, new members.

    1. That’s a great question, Johnny. You’re absolutely right that a church must have evangelism and discipleship to be considered healthy. But, while that will result in new members in THE church, it doesn’t always equate to new members in that specific congregation.

      Some churches are in areas where the population is very transient (like a college town). They have to grow by 20% annually just to replace the members that move away. Some churches train people and send them out as quickly as they come in. Some are in communities where the soil is very rocky and conversions are rare. Some are in places where the church is illegal. Some grow by multiplying small congregations instead of growing bigger ones. The list goes on. As one old-time pastor said, “my fruit grows on other trees”.

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