Every week I hear from highly gifted Senior Pastors whose churches have grown in the past, but for some reason have stalled.
When I get permission to look under the hood and poke around a bit, asking questions and analyzing data and trends, I tend to hear the same response to my questioning:
“I don’t get it. We’re doing everything right. Our worship is excellent. My preaching, while not perfect, is really good. We seem to be doing all the right things but we just don’t seem to be gaining any traction.”
Does this describe your experience?
When Church Growth is Stalled
Here are two things I tell Senior Pastors when I hear this:
1. Many Senior Pastors don’t understand the actual mechanics behind what caused their past growth.
Therefore, when they try to repeat past behavior in an attempt to produce the same results in the future, they are wasting precious time, money, resources and energy “shooting in the dark” hoping something will come as a result.
What I mean by this is that many Senior Pastors confuse causation and correlation.
Causation = when an event or action causes a second event or action.
Correlation = when an event or action precedes or occurs simultaneously with a second event or action, but bears no responsibility for actually causing the event or action to occur.
For example, let’s say in 2008 a church of 250 hired a dynamic youth pastor, and the church grew by 100 people in four years. In 2012, that same church which grew to 350 loses that youth pastor and the church stops growing. Leaders think a logical thought: “We’ve got to get us another dynamic youth pastor, quick!”
Three years go by and it is now 2015, that church is still at 350, and it’s leadership keeps thinking that if they want to grow to 500, then finding another dynamic youth pastor is key.
What these leaders don’t realize is that hiring that youth pastor probably had very little to do with their past growth.
I know that because in most situations hiring a youth pastor before hiring a paid worship pastor and a paid children’s pastor actually hinders growth. (Note: I would highly encourage you to read my article The Three Buckets on this matter).
In churches under 400 in size, youth pastors do a good job retaining churched families who are already committed to the church, but contribute very little to helping the overall church reach new non-Christians.
The reality is while hiring gifted staff is absolutely a key to growing a church, especially a gifted youth pastor; there were quite possibly other factors at work in that church’s growth from 2008 to 2012. The presence of the youth pastor was a correlation (occurring simultaneously with the church’s growth), but it wasn’t the causation of its growth.
The point I’m making is you can’t move your congregation forward by trying to replicate things you’ve done in the past, especially if those things didn’t cause your growth in the first place.
2. Many Senior Pastors don’t understand the mechanics behind what will cause their future growth.
I’ve identified ten key aspects that make up the core contributors to how churches actually grow and will be writing about them soon.
Let me briefly share just one of them here.
Why Sunday Visitors Matter
Now, when you read this you’re going to be taken back by how mysterious and complex this insight is, so hold onto your seats.
Are you ready? Here goes:
Churches grow when new people visit their worship services and decide to come back.
Now before you click off and stop reading, let me say this: every Senior Pastor gets this in theory, but few change their behavior, their staff’s behavior, and the congregation’s behavior to capitalize upon this reality.
What I mean is that most Senior Pastors oversee an endless number of seemingly important aspects of their church’s life that have absolutely no ability to bring people through their doors.
We all know that church attendance is not the point of the church; the Great Commission is. But the reality is in America the average person starts their journey towards full devotion in Christ with a person inviting them to a corporate worship gathering. Therefore, Sunday visitors matter.
The Mathematics for Church Growth
Understanding that Sunday visitors matter, let me ask a question:
How many people do you feel God wants your church to grow by in the next year?
Let’s say you’re a church of 400 and you want to grow by 100 in the next 12 months.
That’s an admirable goal.
As an aside, my suggestion when attempting to come up with such a goal is to focus on the percentage of growth you want to see, not the number of people per se to be added.
Churches that are killing it year over year grow no more than 10-25% a year (if they are focusing on conversion growth and not transfer growth).
The question, then, for a church of 400, is to think through what percentage of growth they think is realistically possible:
10% solid growth?
15% rapid growth?
20% insane growth?
25% get yourself a prescription for Xanax growth?
I’d suggest focusing on crafting a strategy that produces 10% growth per year, then ratchet it up from there until you hit 15% growth and keep it at that level. That’s remarkable, but sustainable growth year after year.
For the sake of argument let’s say you’re a glutton for punishment and have the hutzpah to make it happen – you and your church leaders believe that God wants your church of 400 to grow by 25% over the next 12 months.
If you are a church of 400 and grow by 25%, how many new people will you need to attract? You guessed it: 100 new people.
Now here’s what many Senior Pastors and leaders on their governing boards haven’t thought through:
How many NEW people do you need to have come through your doors in the next 12 months in order to retain 100 people?
Hint: it’s not 100. You aren’t going to keep 100% of your new visitors. You know that, right?
Now before you answer that question, let me ask another question that will help:
If 10 people come through your doors, how many people will come back?
In my experience as a Senior Pastor and as a coach, I’ve found (and had this confirmed this past year as I’ve personally visited 30 growing churches) that…
Only 10% of the people who come through your doors will come back and become fully functioning participants in your congregation. If ten people come through your doors, only one will stick.
This rough approximation takes into consideration the people who leave each year, and the behavior of the new people exploring for the first time.
That said, I have one more question, and I promise it will be my last:
If you want to grow by 100 people, and you know only 10% of your visitors will return, how many new people do you need to bring through your doors in the next 12 months?
If you said 1,000 new people, you win the prize.
Churches that will grow by 100 people over the next year will have brought through their doors 1,000 new people and retained 10% of them.
And that, my friends, is something church leaders either don’t understand, or don’t plan for.
Listen, we both agree that there are a whole bunch of important things that must be in place for a church to be a God-honoring, healthy, growing congregation:
- Sound doctrine
- Strong biblical teaching
- Healthy leadership
- God-honoring worship
- Authentic community
I could go on and on and on.
We agree on all of that.
But what I’m pointing out is that a lot of churches out there have all of that in place and are still not growing.
The simple fact is you need to bring in 1,000 new people through your doors if you want to grow by 100 people in the next year in addition to the things listed above.
Creating a Plan for Growth
If you are serious about making this happen, here are two things to consider:
1. The average evangelical church will see 25% of it’s new visitors on Christmas Eve, 25% of its new visitors on Easter, and the remaining 50% equally distributed over the 12 month period.
Here’s what this looks like for our hypothetical church of 400 trying to grow by 100:
250 new people need to visit on Christmas Eve
250 new people need to visit on Easter
42 new people need to visit each month (or 10 a week)
2. The average evangelical church doesn’t do the things necessary to hit these numbers; therefore they don’t grow.
If you’re flat-lined and want to grow, but you’re not actively reinventing yourself and doing the things necessary to bring in 250 NEW people on Christmas Eve, 42 NEW people each month in January, February, March, and then 250 NEW people again on Easter, you will not grow over the next six months. Period.
You have a desire to grow, but you do not have a plan to grow.
In the upcoming weeks I will be sharing a simple plan to make that kind of growth happen, but I don’t have the time to jump into that right now.
Suffice it to say that I believe given the right attitude and behavioral changes, any church can grow. I don’t care how long you’ve been flat-lined and what kinds of odds are stacked against you.
We need you to reach the people in your area, and I’m committed to helping you make that happen.
Until then, be bold but kind.