Every pastor that I talk to wants to grow their church. When looking for advice on how to grow your church, you’ll likely find a ton of people each telling you something different to focus on. It’s overwhelming and tends to discourage you rather than encourage you.
In this post, I’m going to be as practical as possible and share with you real, actionable items that you can implement to grow your church. With that said, I want to be up front. If you are looking for a fast fix that is growing to grow your church by 10% in the next month, you need to move onto the next article. Growth is not going to happen overnight. It takes patience, endurance, and commitment.
We will walk through a lot of different areas and ways for you to grow your church in the blog, but it’s important to not try to change everything at once. Instead, work your way through each area over however long it takes. Don’t try to rush it or do it all by next Tuesday.
A lot of the ideas that we will talk about will focus on improving the current health of your church. Remember, we’re not looking for a big growth increase only to have it fall away quickly. We want to establish healthy systems within the church so that when growth does start to happen, it will remain. Our goal is for you to be the pastor of a healthy growing church.
What Is Your Mission and Vision?
The first step to church growth is reframing how you view your mission and vision. Before we dive in, let’s start by defining the terms. A mission statement is a short phrase that communicates why your church exists. A vision statement is a slightly longer paragraph that communicates where you picture your church going in the future.
These two statements are different in function while being intimately connected. If you’re like the majority of churches, you likely have a mission and vision statement that is written in your church bylaws but is rarely spoken about and it’s likely that most people who attend your church have no clue what these statements are. This is one of the most fundamental mistakes when it comes to church growth.
Your mission and vision statements should fuel every single decision that gets made in your church. Every leader and member of your church should be able to recite these statements by heart. By Integrating these statements in your decision making, preaching, and weekend services, you will find your people get more excited for what is happening. People want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. A well articulated mission and vision statement is the starting point for people to rally behind what God is doing at your church. Carey Nieuwhof says it like this, “When you keep the true mission of the church central, people rally!” We’ve developed a great free resource to help you craft your own mission statement here.
After you’ve developed a mission statement or started to rally people behind that mission statement, it’s important to spend some time crafting your vision. I believe that the best way to think about vision is to answer the question, “What do you want your church to accomplish in the next five to ten years?” This is an exercise that I encourage you to do with your staff team and key volunteer leaders. Your vision should be a lofty, yet attainable goal that shares real objectives that you can measure. Your vision statement may read something like this:
Our vision is to see 2,000 people in our community receive salvation by the year 2025.
By the year 2030 we will launch 3 new locations in the cities of Denton, Lewisville, and Carrollton.
Tony Morgan, founder of the Unstuck Group, says that “if people aren’t attracted to your church, your vision either isn’t strong enough or it hasn’t been communicated clearly.” A clear and compelling vision is a rallying point for current and future church members. Current members know that they are working towards a clear goal and get excited for what God is doing and what He is going to do. Future members will know that your church is for them when your vision aligns with their heart for your city, their love of God, and the mission of your church.
Are You Raising Up Leaders?
Have you ever heard of the man of God syndrome? It is something that is present in most churches in North America. Man of God syndrome is where the pastor or paid staff members are responsible for doing all of the ministry within the church. Instead of the staff members raising up leaders and giving away ministry, they are expected to do everything. The blame for this is on both the congregation and the pastor. If you serve in an older church with a limited staff, it’s likely that this has happened since inception. It will take some hard conversations for this to change.
Raising up leaders within the church is not about people who possess titles, it is about people who are actively serving in order to fulfill the mission and vision of your church. See how all of this is related? In order for your church to grow, you need to develop a culture of leadership development that creates high impact volunteers. The truth is that people want to be involved. They want to work hand in hand with others in their church to see God glorified and people saved.
If you’re in a church that currently suffers from man of God syndrome, you’ll need to start by having a conversation with the elder board. You will need to begin by laying out the mission and vision that God has given you for the church. This sets the tone for the conversation. Remember how I said that these two things will fuel everything that you do? After you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to lay it all out on the line.
Share your heart on why you believe that God has called the church to raise up leaders. It’s a great idea to share scripture during this time. Ephesians 4:11-16 is one of the most powerful passages to help you express this.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Doesn’t that sound like a healthy, growing church? Our jobs as pastors isn’t to do all of the work ourselves. Instead, our job is to equip others for ministry. Most likely, your elder board is going to be excited for this new direction, but prepare yourself for the rogue elder who doesn’t understand. Jim Van Yperen argues that all conflict is theological, so remember that the dissenter likely isn’t upset with you, but is simply thinking incorrectly about the role of the pastor and the church.
After you’ve gotten buy in from the elder board, it’s time for the hard work. Likely, this is something new for you and your church. You may have had a few key leaders before, but a culture of leadership development sounds foreign. It can be tempting to go out in search of leadership potential or those people who seem to be charismatic. However, that isn’t the right way to go about leadership development. Simply having the skills, personality, or capacity to lead a team isn’t enough to be a qualified leader in ministry.
A proper leadership development framework for you church should have four steps: learning, modeling, discipling, and leading. Scott Magdalein and I did a whole podcast episode on this topic. You can listen to the full episode or read an adapted blog post here. In that episode we also discuss the three types of leaders: doers, equippers, and multipliers. The end goal is to develop leaders who develop leaders, but you’re not going to get there overnight. You start with doers who do the ministry, then over time you develop them into equippers who equip others to do ministry, then you develop them into multipliers who equip those who equip others. Again, you can learn more about these concepts in this post on leadership development principles.
Where’s the leak?
As you start down the journey of developing leaders in your church, you’ll likely realize that while things seem to be improving it feels like you’re taking a few steps forward only to lose momentum. You may improve on some things only to find other things pop up that you didn’t even know were a problem. That’s okay! This is a long process that is full of ups and downs. As you implement church growth principles it’s important to remember to look for the leak. If you’re in a boat that has sprung a leak, it’s easy to get distracted and try to bail out the water. But, that solution isn’t going to work and eventually you’ll grow tired and the boat will sink. Instead, you need to plug the leak first and then you can start bailing out the water. The same is true in your church.
According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, outside of things like location, style of service, and quality of sermons, the most important factors for people when choosing a new church are feeling welcomed by leaders (both paid staff and volunteer) and education for kids. These are likely the largest leaks in your church and something that you may not be able to easily figure out.
In 2018 I wrote an article about my experiences as a first time guest where I found some surprising insights that I didn’t expect. Ultimately, I found that despite looking like everything was done with excellence, I never truly felt welcomed by anyone that I encountered despite having multiple opportunities for the church to leave an impression on me. It’s likely that you have asked the question wrong before. You may have asked the question of, “how do I get more people to visit for the first time?” When in reality, the question that you first need to answer is, “how do I get more people to come back a second time?”
By focusing on guest retention before trying to increase the number of first time guests you’ll be able to more easily identify the leak. I’ve got another podcast episode for you where Scott and I discussed ways that you can get first time guests to come back to your church. Check it out here.
What Are Your Goals?
We’ve already established that figuring out how to grow your church isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a long journey full of ups and downs. There will be times where you feel on top of the world and other times where you feel defeated.
As a recap, let’s briefly go over the principles that I outlined above. #1: Keep your mission and vision at the forefront of everything that you do. Base every decision that you make off of those two statements. #2: Commit to raising up leaders who then raise up other leaders. Growth can never happen where all the ministry is done by the paid staff. #3: Find the leak before trying to bail out the water. Don’t focus on increasing numbers until you’ve strengthened your core ministries.
Finally, the last piece of advice I want to offer is to set real goals based on your vision. If you know that your vision is to see one hundred people give their life to Christ over the next two years, you’ll need to set up goals for the next three, six, and twelve months. These goals make it easier for you and your team to figure out the strategies needed to fulfill the vision. Not only that, but this also gives you practical check-ins for you to discuss the progress with your team so that you can make adjustments and keep mission and vision always at the forefront.
As you hit these goals, make sure to not only celebrate achieving the goal, but also celebrate all the hard work from your leaders that went into making the goal a reality. This culture of celebration has compounding implications by making everyone feel appreciated and dedicated to hitting the next goal on the list. What you celebrate will be replicated.
This journey certainly won’t be easy, but in the end it will be incredibly worth it. Don’t quit when things get hard. Remind yourself of the reason why you desire to see church growth and focus on faithfully executing on your mission and vision. If there’s ever anything that we can help with, please don’t hesitate to reach out!