Ninety-four percent of churches are losing ground against the population growth of their communities. In 2050 the percentage of the U.S. population attending church will be half of 1990. [ref] I’m crazy enough to think that your church should be growing. I think healthy things grow. I am obsessed about seeing the gospel of Jesus expanding in our day. I believe that the best is yet to come in the local church. I see signs of life all over the place. But I also see church leaders kidding themselves and their community by saying that their church is growing when, in fact, it isn’t.
I know that counting weekend service attendance isn’t a comprehensive metric for discerning the impact and effectiveness of your church, but it is a starting point. If we can’t get people into our weekend services, we are unlikely to see them in any other environment.
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. Making it clear what is really happening in your church with your leaders is the first step to making an impact in your community. I’ve seen many church leaders try to convince themselves and their people that they are growing, which is dangerous because then you won’t be motivated to change or do what is needed to reach the people God is calling you toward. Let’s be honest…do you sense that you’re trying to convince yourself you’re growing when you really aren’t?
Is Your Local Church is Growing? 5 Ways to Fool Yourself
1. What It Feels Like.
We stand on the platform and it looks like there are more people attending then there was last year. We never had parking lot issues but now it seems as if we’re running out of space all the time out there. The church used to clear out in five minutes after the service but now people are still trying to get out after 20 minutes. All of these “metrics” can be explained by something other than actual attendance growth. Often, we look at the evidence which helps us feel like we’re making a bigger impact than we actually are. Church growth isn’t a feeling; instead, it’s a metric.
2. Funny Attendance Math.
There is a popular trend within many church leadership circles to count attendance in some funny ways to make us feel like our ministry is having a bigger impact than it actually is. Here are a few examples:
- People are coming to church 30 percent less than they were 10 years ago so our local church is really 30 percent larger than the number of people who attend on any given weekend.
- We look the other way when we know that our system is double counting volunteers, effectively boosting our numbers by 10-15 percent.
- We change the way we count so things look better now than they did previously. For instance, we never used to include the student ministry events in our attendance but now we put those numbers in to boost our overall attendance picture.