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« Do We Have Repentance Wrong? | Main | Growth Expectations »

Growth—or No Growth? What Do You Say?

As district superintendent, along with our Ohio North American Missions director and other pastors who are deeply invested into church planting, we continue to wrestle with growing the Kingdom.  Lots of things come out of these wrestling sessions; some of them are productive, some not so much, but all of them pique our interest.  I hope you are not offended by these questions and statements, but we have to get them out there to chew on.  Here goes:

Our General Superintendent continues to press us to establish a culture of growth.  As I look around the country, I see entire districts that are consumed with planting churches, starting daughter works and establishing preaching points.  Where is the Ohio district in this mix?  Ohio is an old, established district.  The problem with this profile is that we tend to be maintenance minded, custodians of the status quo, and, perhaps, too comfortable with the plateaus we’ve reached.  WARNING:  This cannot be sustained!

Envision a large conveyor belt that continues to move forward.  Whatever is on the belt eventually falls off.  That’s what it is designed to do.  Without new items placed on the belt, it will eventually be empty.  Translation?  We have aging congregations that have been marvelous in the past, but are losing their stamina because they are getting older.  If we are not reloading the conveyor on the front end at the same rate that souls converted many years ago are completing their journey at the end of the line, it ought to be evident what is going to happen.  Mainline denominations are experiencing this at an alarming rate even as we write.

Do you REALLY want to grow?  For some, it is just a wish; for others, it is a passion; for those who can chart real growth, it is ingrained in their leadership.  Can you name four or five actual, concrete steps you’ve taken in the last twelve months to make that happen?  Have you allocated any money to fund your efforts? Will 2015 be any different from 2014?

Do you preach about your vision for souls?  Do you teach about it?  Do you train your people to catch your vision and put it into action?  Pardon me for putting it like this, but is it more saying than doing?  Some preachers say things just because it sounds good to the audience.  It is much more important to articulate your vision in a believable and impactful way.  Please forgive me, but if I were to sit on your church pew for six months and listen to your messages would I be convinced of your vision for growth?  I know this is crude, but sometimes we have to get down to brass tacks.

If you are a pastor, do you agree with the following statements?

  • I need to cast a vision for outreach to my people.
  • I need to understand more about church growth.
  • I need to address any fears I have of church growth.
  • I need to concentrate much more on winning the lost.
  • My vision for the reaching the lost needs to expand.
  • I need to rethink my philosophy about church growth.
  • I need to bring in someone who can help us to grow.

Many pastors actually harbor fears about growth.  Have you addressed your fears?  Are you worried that if you get too aggressive in outreach, you will redirect the loyalty and vision of your people away from the mother church?  Are you afraid that you will lose people?  Are you afraid that outreach will cost too much and will siphon money off of your church budget?  Are you worried that you cannot sustain an outreach program, so you would rather not start one and have it fail?

What is your take on the “Great Commission?”  Is it a priority?  Is it a part of your vision statement?  Do you feel any personal or local church responsibility to evangelize the world?  Do you tell yourself that you are doing all you can just to survive as a local congregation?  Do you believe that outreach is a corporate responsibility of the UPCI or Ohio District, or does that responsibility belong to the local church?

  • What about neighboring communities? 
  • Have you organized an outreach into those areas? 
  • Have you considered a preaching point? 
  • Have you at least thought about a daughter work?
  • Have you ever seriously established an outreach department?
  • Have you set up training programs to develop soul winners?
  • Have you addressed your goal to reach ethnic communities? 
  • Are you giving to ONAM so that we can help home missionaries around the district?

How do you feel about other churches that are growing?  Do you admire them, support them, emulate them or dismiss them?  Would you like to grow, but believe that you do not have the right people to make much of an impact?  Are you too busy doing other important things in the kingdom of God to put a lot of energy into church growth?  Do you point to growing churches that have failed or have run into huge problems because of their growth?  Have their problems discouraged you from growth in your local church?

Do you feel like there is an “ideal” size for a local congregation, and any growth beyond that is counter-productive?  Have you reached that size?  What calculus have you used to determine that number?  Do you feel like the book of Acts is a proper role model for the church today?  Should we measure our efforts by the same numbers and initiatives in which the early church evidently engaged? 

The following statistics were compiled several years ago.  I believe they are as valid today as they were when they were gathered—probably more so. 

Interesting Statistics about Americans, Church and God.

1- In America, 3500 — 4000 churches close their doors each year. (from the Barna Study —
2- Usual Sunday church attendance has dropped from 1,606,00 in 1968 to 881,000 in 2005.(
3- Only 21% of Americans attend religious services every week.  (
4- The proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian declined from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001.(American Religion Identification Survey)

How does this relate to Church Growth? (From

Statistics tell us that 42% to 50% of all churches in America have a congregation of between 100 and 300 members, and 20% of American churches have fewer than 100 members. This is factoring in the mega church trend. There are many reasons why some churches grow while others remain small. One of the main reasons a church does not grow is that the church does not want to. The church has little desire for change; they are complacent and many tend not to take their pastors seriously. If a church does not like change, then calls a pastor into their fold who wants to change, the results will be one of two avenues. The first avenue is that prayer will become the focus and that church will capture a vision, surrendering themselves to the Lordship of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, they will grow and will be blessed. But, what typically happens is avenue two where prayer is ignored or superficial and eventually the church gangs up against the pastor and forces him out, as our data supports. Usually, this process is not overt or overnight-that is, they are not in his front yard burning down a cross or carrying torches. What a congregation tends to do is belittle the pastor, not respecting him or her; therefore, they do not have to hear what the pastor has to say, because it is irrelevant. After all, you do not have to listen to someone you do not respect. If you do not like the person, then obviously God is not going to use them to communicate the truth to you. Of course, this is unbiblical and pure nonsense, but most people believe it in their hearts, which because of our actions, undermines God’s work in changing hearts and using people.

It is imperative we understand that growth statistics are just one aspect of an indicator of a healthy church. True success is being obedient to what God has called us to do and realizing that although we are responsible to serve, we are not responsible for the results. Our surrender to the will of God over our will and desires equals success; we are called to have the focus that God has and the passion and prayer to follow through. These are the marks of a successful church leader.

Church growth statistics say that visitors in a church will decide in the first few minutes whether or not they will come back. So, the inference is that the visitor will be most impacted by how they are greeted, which will determine how they respond and connect to the rest of the church. Even if you have the best teaching and worship in the world, people will not stay where they are not welcomed. First impressions are critical. If the church does not have a friendly atmosphere, then it will slowly die from its unkindness. Kindness is a very important Fruit of the Spirit that must manifest itself from the parking lot to the restrooms, or you will be sitting in a pew or theater chair by yourself. When the church is infighting and the pastor is dazed and confused from the warfare, it is the visitors and potential members who become the collateral damage!

The bottom line is this: do not be shortsighted concerning your faith and the opportunities Christ has and will still bring for you. If we do not have a desire to pursue the will of God, we have to ask ourselves why and what is in the way. Mostly, if not all of the time, it is the desire of the sin of pride that blocks us. Sometimes, we may not recognize sin and will perhaps rationalize it away. This happens especially when solid biblical theology or teaching is “dumbed down” and shown as OK in the media and entertainment which are at our disposal. Our election is proven by our obedience, fruit, and growth in Christ!

We have to be on guard against the erosion of biblical values and damage to our beliefs and biblical mindset (Psalm 123:3; Mark 4:19)!

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:14-16

Remember, churches fail because we place our needs and desires over the Lord’s. It is His Church and we are His people. Let our focus be on the right target-that is, His and not ours! We are called to a higher purpose. We are not called to ourselves. Ministry is a dangerous thing because we are before a Holy God. Yes we have grace, but we have responsibility too!

Go with the power of the Holy Spirit and lead the church in your care into what you have been called to do there!

© 2007 (research from 1998 to 2006) R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development


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