The Barna Group tells us that the average size of the average church in America today is 89 adults, and that 60 percent of Protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance, while only 2 percent of the churches have more than 1,000 adults attending.
Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And yet today, it very well seems that the church is struggling to even maintain membership and in many instances, church membership is on the decline. Maybe you have noticed in your church, the majority of those who attend are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s and we seem to have lost the 20- and 30-year-olds.
Please understand, there is nothing wrong with being a smaller church, but as a pastor with a heart for lost souls, I would have to believe that other pastors would like to see their church grow as much as I would. So why is it that many churches never break the 200 attendance mark? What is holding us back?
I don’t believe it is desire. I believe, like I said, that most pastors and most church members would like to see their church grow. If a church is growing, it is reaching more people for Christ and that is our main goal. I do not believe it is because of a lack of prayer. Many small church leaders and congregations are incredibly faithful in prayer. Nor do I believe it is because of a lack of love. Some people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know. So what is holding us back? What keeps us from growing?
Could I be straight forward and honest with you and ask you this question: “Do you want your church to grow?” I know of several pastors who were actually fired because their desire was to see their church grow and after a few years of goal-setting and ministry planning, the people became dissatisfied with their efforts and asked them to leave. Apparently the “Us four and no more” attitude prevailed in those situations. So do you really want your church to grow? If so, your pastor and the congregation will organize, plan, lead and manage like a larger church.
What do I mean? If God sent you 250 people next Sunday and today you are running 100-150 people (or less) would you be able to handle such an increase in people? Would you be ready? Do you have teachers in place? Is your facility set up for 60 or for 200? You see, small-thinking will get us what we’ve always had — small results. If we can open our spiritual eyes and look to see what God wants for our church, we will begin to pray, think and act a lot differently than we do now. Ten years ago, I began planting a vision for a 500-seat auditorium here in London, even though, at the time we were meeting in a storefront. In a few more months, ground will begin being moved around and we will see that vision come to life.
The Bible says “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” You have to have a vision and everyone needs to be on the same page and then you can set out to accomplish that vision. Here are eight reasons that churches who want to grow, will end up staying small.
1) The pastor is the primary caregiver. If your pastor has to do it all, he is going to burn out. Believe me, I know that is true. He has to have help.
2) The leaders lack vision. Many churches are not clear on their vision. Pray about it. And then plan for it. Where will you be in one year? In five years? In 10 years? We planned for 10 years and our plans are soon to be fulfilled. Now, we are planning for the next five and the next 10 years. We don’t have Phase One up yet, but we know there will be a Phase Two and a Phase Three.
3) Leaders aren’t leading. It’s one thing to ask someone to fill a position in our church. It’s another for them to actually do what you have asked them to do. The pastor or department head must “Inspect what you expect.” Otherwise, things won’t get done. Everyone thought that someone was going to do it and no one did.
4) Volunteers are unempowered. Many times, we work with volunteer help in the church. However, if you give someone a position and ask them to do something, give them the authority to do it. At Crossroads, we give every team a budget and we empower them to make the decisions throughout the year. We do not vote on ministry at Crossroads. We just do it.
5) There’s always someone who micro-manages. If your janitor needs permission to buy paper towels or your Sunday School teacher needs permission to re-paint her room, you might have a problem, Houston. Once again, give people the power to do their job and let them do it.
6) Too many meetings. I know meetings are necessary, but they can be over-done. We do not have business meetings because our leadership team has been given the authority to make all the decisions for the church. It has worked for 10 years, why change it now. We meet once a month, decide what needs to be done, plan it and go. Every once in a while we need to call a meeting for something, but not very often.
7) Too many events and programs that lead nowhere. I have been in churches where they have been doing something for years and years and the program just isn’t working. Why would you want to continue doing something that doesn’t work? Focus on a few things and do them well. Crossroads brought UPWARD basketball to London (we will have it again as soon as our new building is up) as well as Family Fun Fest. We have started the largest Easter egg hunt here in London so there are three things we do and we do them with excellence. Our Family Fun Fest is larger and better than any, because after all the years we have been doing it, we know what to do. I am encouraged to see other churches have their Family Fun days too. It means that we did something right.
8) Don’t expect your pastor to please everyone and be at every church event. I know that is going to raise the hair on someone’s neck but believe me, your pastor cannot do it all. Pastor, if you try to please everyone, go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over that need. Today is a different day. You don’t have to do it all and you don’t have to attend every meeting the church has. I know of several things going on at Crossroads that I haven’t attended and guess what, they are doing great. They don’t need my presence or my “blessing” to succeed. I am not God and I learned a long time ago, I cannot do it all.
I hope some of these suggestions will help to get your church back on track. They might seem a little harsh but the church has a pretty deep problem on our hands and sometimes, we have to do things a little differently than what we have done before if we want to see different results. God bless you as you labor for His glory.
And that is Something to Think About for this week.
We’d love to have you and your family worship with us this Sunday. If you don’t have a home church, please check us out at 10:45 a.m. You will be glad you did.
Pastor Thad Gifford is the founding and lead pastor of the Crossroads Community Church, 62 E. Second St., London. He can be reached at 740-852-7800, email him at email@example.com, www.3C-Church.org or visit the church’s Facebook page at Crossroadslondon.