Recently on his blog Karl Vaters posed the question “why break church growth barriers?” The idea of his post is that church leaders often think about how to break growth barriers without asking why they should break those barriers. Karl Vaters always writes great blog posts that really help small church pastors, so follow his blog to stay up to date with all his content.
Rather than writing a critique of the blog post, I think it is a good post, I thought that I would answer the question posed in the blog post. Here are a few reasons why your church or ministry should think about breaking church growth barriers:
- Grow to make more disciples– as many bloggers and church leaders have stated the reason that a local church should grow is that you want to keep the disciples that you currently have and make new disciples. If your church remains at the same size it currently is and but is making new disciples then it must be loosing disciples. This might happen due to people movement out of your neighbourhood rather than people walking away from the faith. However if you find that most of your current church members have been in the church for a long time, then you need to look at barriers that prevent new people joining your church. Sometimes when you remove these barriers you naturally grow. As new people are invited to your church they stick around because you have removed some growth barriers.
- Grow to move out of the family style – a family style church is a small church that operates more like a large extended family where everyone knows everyone. Often the only way into a family style church is to be born into the church. We might also refer to this style of church as having a “club mentality” where you are either in or out of the club. This growth barrier is not a numbers barrier as much as it is a growth barrier created by cliques. A family style church is often uncomfortable with change or new people and it becomes exclusive. Whilst your church might not be called to grow larger numerically it is called to be more inclusive. If you break down the exclusive style of your church then once again visitors might come back and your church might grow.
- Grow to offer more programs– the small church is not as program driven as bigger churches. The bigger churches in your neighbourhood attract more people because of the programs they offer such as kids ministry and youth ministry. If the saying is true that “like attracts like” then offering a few additional programs might attract more people. However it is important to introduce these new program one program at a time rather than stretching your small church too thin. Also have the courage to recommend visitor to another church in your neighbourhood that offers the programs they are looking for.
- Grow awareness of your church in the community– this is not so much of a numbers barrier but a market or community engagement barrier. Many people look for a church that is either well known in the community or someone they know attends that church. So how can you grow the awareness of your church in the community? Perhaps on a small church budget you need to check out the advice at Prochurch Tools “how smaller churches can dominate social media”. Removing this growth barrier will not only help your church be more well known in the community but also more engaged with the community.
- Grow to secure your funding model– the economic reality of many small churches is that there are a high number of regular financial partners moving to a low income fixed aged pension. The people who may have given to your church for decades now live on a modest pension that they have to stretch for the rest of their life. You will need to either shrink the expenses of your church to the size you can afford or grow your income to a size that helps you maintain healthy ministry. Perhaps you could ask people to give more or you could ask more people to give. Growing your church will hopefully lead to more people bearing the financial burden of running a church. The reality of maintenance costs on old church building means that growing your number of financial partners is a far more sustainable model that reducing expenses. Breaking this funding barrier is one way to secure the future ministry of your church.
- Grow to increase diversity– again this is not a numbers barrier but could be a barrier established by the lack of diversity in your members. Growing the generational diversity of your church will not only future proof your church but may help you represent the diversity in your community. How many generations are represented in your church? A small church of 50 people who are all seniors is a lot different to a church of 50 people with four generations represented. How many ethnic groups are represented in your church? Increasing the cultural diversity of your church to represent the cultural diversity of your community is a healthy thing to do.
Whilst a particular church might need to think through some growth barriers at their church, there will always be some barriers that limit the growth potential of a church. In these cases the leaders need to work within the growth barriers rather than trying to be something else. Here are a few reasons why your church should not try to break a growth barrier:
- Limitation of buildings: there are lots of stories of mega churches who sold their small church buildings to build bigger facilities, but what about the church that feels called to keep a church presence in their particular location? There are some churches that were built when people would walk to church, so there are lots of small church buildings in many locations throughout the neighbourhood. These small church building will limit the growth potential of your church. Rather than selling your church to go to a new building perhaps you desire to keep the church doors open as a sign that the Church is not dead but alive and well. If your facilities are a barrier to your growth then consider planting a new church or creating a multisite church rather than building a bigger building.
- Limitations of finance– some churches are located in areas where the community doesn’t have as much income as other areas. Whilst I know churches in low-income areas that give generously, the amounts don’t add up to the income levels of churches in high income areas. When looking at growth barriers consider the finance of new staff and new facilities would add to your congregation. Some church growth writers suggest that you need to staff for growth, however Tony Morgan at the Unstuck Group suggests that growing churches have more volunteers and less staff. Perhaps instead of trying to break a growth barrier work on engaging your volunteers in ministry, it might lead to growth but it won’t cost more money.
- Limitations in your style– Sometimes your church offers something to the community that no other church does. Rather than copying the larger churches with their diverse programs perhaps you just need to offer what you offer and do it really well. If you feel that your facilities are under utilized then consider a partnership with another ministry rather than growing your own church. Could you partner with a church plant that is looking for a start up location? Is there an ethnic church that reaches a different migrant group in your community? Consider partnerships to use your facilities rather than changing your style to be something you aren’t.
It is a good and healthy thing for your church to growth in health, size, influence and community engagement. Not all the growth barriers in your church are numerical. Perhaps what you need is intentional thinking about why barriers exist, if you should aim to remove or break those barriers and then how you might achieve the growth.
Please leave a comment on why you think your ministry needs to break a growth barrier
Post image – by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash
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