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 grow.
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