Several years ago I was invited by a small congregation to help them discover why they
had stopped growing. The church was about a dozen years old, membership about 60;
attendance around 30. They hadn’t had a baptism in three years; most of the
incremental growth they had experienced was from members moving to the area and
transferring their membership from other places.
Not unusual numbers, really. A high percentage of the congregations in our faith group
are a hundred members or less and attendance tends to run about 50%. So this group
wasn’t all that unique; neither was it all that healthy. Living things that are healthy tend to
Often when I raise that issue with a congregation a response will be something like this:
“Pastor Don, you don’t understand…this is a hard place.” I have yet to find an easy one.
But Jerusalem was a hard place, too. (You can refresh the story in your mind in Acts
2:43- 47,) Yet the young church didn’t use that reality as an excuse. They simply
reasoned that since their heavenly mandate was that they were to tell His story and He
would give the increase. So they did and He did.
When I’m working through this process with a church I listen a lot. I listen for evidence
that they’re serious about their assignment. I listen to what they say and what they don’t
say. I try to listen for their motives since that helps me understand what drives their
mission. Are they looking for new members to help them reach their church expense
goals, or are they deeply concerned about those they know who, unless there is a
commitment to Jesus, will likely not spend eternity with Him?
The church I mentioned in the first paragraph had built a new building, and recently paid
if off. Great accomplishment for the first dozen years of its existence. They were
justifiably proud. But as I listened I began to sense that maybe the real estate had
become their focus. Someone timidly asked, Would a Community Service Center (aka
Dorcas) attract the wrong kind of people’?’
A little later I attempted to answer that question with another: “lf we determined that
selling the church and buying a building in a different part of town could enhance our
impact on the city would that be an option to consider?”
That question created quite a stir. I didn’t suggest selling, l just wanted to measure
whether they had a “whatever-it-takes” commitment to mission. Selling is seldom a wise
strategy. But it might be. Are you willing to ask it? Or to consider planting a new branch
Bible Study group across town? Or a second campus where you can live stream the
service from the first church?
What are the best strategies for growing a church? That’s a topic for another blog, but I
do want to remind you that the early church discovered that their successful strategy
started on their knees.
By Don Jacobsen