5 Words which Can Keep a Church From Growing

Abandoned buildings in the mining ghost two of Bodie, California.

I’ve spent some time studying church growth – and church decline. I am frequently asked, especially by pastors in declining churches, what keeps a church from growing – what causes a church to decline.

I have shared similar thoughts before, but in my observation, talking to dozens of pastors who struggle to get their church growing again, there are some common issues among them, of which I think we can all learn.

Here are 5 words which can keep a church from growing:

Entitlement

When the body begins to think “this is my church”, it will soon start operating outside the complete power and utter dependency of the rightful owner. It will then lose the Spirit’s power.

Energy

A lack of energy stagnates a church. This is not referring to worship. You can worship to your taste, but energy is a part of any movement of God. The church is the body of Christ. Don’t forget – our God is not dead – He’s alive! A church is revived and reenergized when it renews its vision. As a church grows closer to Christ, and introduces others to Christ, it create more energy for the body.

I know this in my personal life, also. If I ever lose energy for ministry I have to get back to what God called me to do. I have to hang out with lost people – with people who are hurting – with people who need to better understand the grace of God. It energizes me.

Excitement

If you can’t get excited about the Gospel, you’re not looking at Christ close enough. Anyone who can raise from the dead, forgive sins, and reconcile us to God – wow, talk about exciting! When the people who regularly attend the church aren’t excited anymore, visitors aren’t likely to be either. When a body becomes comfortable it often becomes complacent, and it loses the excitement it once had. It is then no longer attractive to outsiders.

Engagement

The body needs all its members. When a few people do all the work burnout is soon to follow. The church shouldn’t depend on paid staff to do all the work, nor should ministry be limited to those with a volunteer title of some sort. If people always have to wait for assignments to be made before people are freed to do the work of the church, over time, the harvest is plenty, but the workers are few. In other words, getting more workers in the harvest means casting good visions – helping people know what the mission of the church is – and then releasing people to do the work of the church. Jesus did this – and called it discipleship. (And, told us to make disciples.)

Efficiency

When programs are so structured even God couldn’t introduce change – decline is imminent. Growing churches are always thinking how they can improve. The cliche is true, the message never changes, but the hearers do. Finding new ways to reach a changing culture with a Gospel never changes is part of a growing church’s responsibility.

Obviously there are many other reasons. These are just a few I’ve observed. Whenever I work with a church in decline, I will first look for one of these areas as a solution.

Feel free to share your own experiences.

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21 thoughts on “5 Words which Can Keep a Church From Growing

  1. I loved this article and passed it onto our leadership team! Thank you! Can you help me understand the following sentence under the ENGAGEMENT segment: "If assignments have to be made before people are freed to do the work of the church,over time,the harvest is plenty,but the workers are few." We will be discussing this soon and I'm just having trouble grasping that sentence. Thanks!

    • Well, it didn't make sense to me either when I read it again. 🙂 I just updated that section. See if that helps.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  2. Thanks for the post. In my first month of being church secretary I had an elderly lady come to my desk and tell me this was “her church” because she paid for it. Besides a response of “oh wow, I thought this was Christ’s church”, what can you do to address the entitlement problem?

    • Some people will never change. If that's the nature and dominant voice of the church it will be hard to grow the church. If it's only the voice of a few, then you lead around the few. Not easy, but necessary. 
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  3. I know this is an older post, but I would like to add my 2 cents as well 🙂 I think a church has to focus on discipleship, true growing of believers. Excitement is so important, but cannot be all of it. People that are won with excitement alone are like a firecracker. There’s a big bang, but fizzes out quickly. At the first sign of a test in their life or the church, they are out. Excitement about the Gospel is fantastic! If anyone has something to be excites d about, it’s us! But excitement for excitement’s sake will always lead to disaster. Our poor little church is going through a time like this. We are only 15 years old, and we are on life support. But God is still in control, and is still good as well!

  4. Entropy – the energy and effort that should be focused on the mission is diffused and scattered throughout a variety of program maintenance activities in random fashion. The net result is loss of mission, mindless focus on the baby birds in the nest ("feed me! feed me!") and a draining of vitality from the pastor's reserves.

  5. I would also add another Growth Barrier : (Self-Development)
    When a pastor isn’t growing:

    Growing churches are led by growing leaders. So, if you’ve stopped progressing personally, your church is not far behind

    • The sermons are stale.
    • The congregation’s passion for ministry wanes.
    • The staff stops growing.
    • The church stops growing.

  6. Great post Ron! You are right on… not sure if I can add much more but to keep in line with your E's, I'll add:
    Expectancy: When the church body expects someone else to meet their needs. Don’t get me wrong, all of us have needs that can be met through the church family but I believe our focus should be on serving others instead of being served. We should be relying upon the Holy Spirit to meet our daily needs and through the work of the Spirit the church will thrive. But through the flesh the church will keep doing what it’s been doing… going through the motions without having much impact in the lives of others! Expectancy & Entitlement are very similar.

  7. I don't know if this has a place in any of the categories mentioned above, but I wonder if an inability to "stay current" or "relevant" might be a factor in lack of or limited impact (thus affecting growth). I am not suggesting relevance for relevance sake, rather, how the gospel breaks into this world in relevant ways to being new creation, and our responsibility to live that out.