Any small(ish) church pastor or ministry leader who’s been to a conference at a mega-church knows the feeling: a feeling of guilt that their church hasn’t jumped to over 1000 overnight, and a sense of despair that growth is out of reach. The conversations with these growing church pastors, however, offer us some reassurance and some challenges for us as a denomination.
The growth in these churches was slow, steady, and mostly organic. There was not one event or program or resource that brought a significant jump in growth overall. They experienced the same ups and downs in attendance that all churches do, but their averages kept increasing over time. One pastor noted that in the revitalization of his church getting the first 7 families to ‘stick’ was the hardest. After that he said the growth happened more naturally.
Once this growth took hold, it always initiated or led to more growth. This growth inspired the congregants, who felt excited and took pride in their church. Adult baptisms and stories of conversations encouraged people to keep reaching out and inviting their neighbors. This culture of invitation grew — church members were eager to invite their co-workers, friends, and family to attend church with them.
Given that growth in a church inspires more growth, what can our churches do to change the momentum in their churches? How do churches get those initial families to “stick?” Is a season of growth just waiting around the corner for every church if they can only get over the initial hump? These are the challenges we face as a denomination.
Of course, this growth also brings the churches many challenges. Among those mentioned was the need for a new leadership structure, growing of their worship space, lack of personal contact from the pastor to new visitors, hiring staff, and finding a balance between controlled structure and organic growth. A number of these pastors mentioned a desire to get help from the denomination with these issues. A few pastors also mentioned an interest in getting together with like-minded pastors to learn from each other.
How can our denomination direct its resources to helping growing churches deal with these growth issues? When we ignore them we lose the opportunity to encourage and sustain the growth momentum, but maybe we too often believe that if a church is growing they don’t need any outside help.
In all of this examination of growing churches, we need to hold up a mirror and examine our own stereotypes and pre-conceived notions of churches that are growing. How can we encourage and support the churches and pastors who have a desire to see God’s Kingdom on earth grow?