Myths about church growth are rampant because there’s a lot of discussion that goes on about church growth: What causes it; how to generate it, prepare for it, launch it, build it, cultivate it and even, to some degree, manufacture it. Many of the discussions are helpful, but there are a number of subtle beliefs that still creep up that aren’t healthy. In fact, they’re downright superstitious and, at times, dangerous to the church.
I’ve collected these myths about church growth over many conversations, coffees and lunches with church leaders and I’d like to share them with you.
10 Dangerous Myths About Church Growth
1. If You’re Not Growing, Something’s Wrong
If growth and a bigger crowd is “always” the result of obedience then some of the OT prophets will have some serious explaining to do.
Of course, if you’re not growing—or you’re declining—I think it is cause to evaluate what you’re doing, but it’s not a given that something is always “wrong.”
God could be doing something different—more Jeremiah and less Peter.
Also, while we’re at it, let’s stop using the Acts 2 passage as a normative prescription for every church today. It’s an amazing description of something special God was doing in history to launch his church, but it’s not a church growth manual. A casual reading of the NT will show churches of all different shapes and sizes, and never once is there a declarative statement that the church should be growing faster than it was—more obedience, yes; helping the poor, yes; staying true to the Gospel, yes; practicing the Lord’s Supper and baptism, yes.
2. The More You Grow, the Healthier You Are
We would love to believe this one. It certainly feels good to have a bigger crowd. There’s a built-in justification for ministry leaders when more people show up, I know. However, just because your church has more people attending doesn’t mean your church is completely healthy. In fact, it might be cause to closely evaluate the message the crowd is hearing.
Growth can be healthy, and it can be a very good thing—it’s just not an automatic four-stars for healthy spirituality. Large numbers are no more an indicator of health than great wealth is an automatic indicator of wisdom. You can be wealthy or impoverished and still be wise or a fool. The same goes for church growth. You can have a lot of people or a little and still be healthy/unhealthy. Health deals more with what’s going on below the surface. Growth tells us something’s going on, but whether it’s good or bad, that’s another issue.
3. Contemporary Music Will Save Your Church
It can help at times—depending on the community and the people you’re trying to reach—but it’s not always a help. In fact, sometimes it’s an obstacle.
Changing your music and the feel of your worship gathering should have a reason bigger than, “We want to reach young people!” or, “We want to stay hip.” Hopefully, the music you sing is an authentic expression of your distinct makeup as both a church and a community and not a grasp at straws for church growth. Bottom line: Contemporary music is not the salvation of the American church.
4. Church Growth Can Be Manufactured
I admit, on the surface it does seem like we can manufacture church growth—through events, strategy, planning, etc. However, what I mean to say is true church growth is a work of the Holy Spirit—a byproduct of our obedience intersecting God’s sovereignty.
True church growth is not due to our efforts alone. You can spend money and market an event and draw a crowd. That’s not hard if you have the resources. But church growth—growing the actual Body of Christ—is a supernatural accomplishment that only God can complete. This should temper our planning, strategy and vision for growth.
5. If Your Church Grows, Your Leader Is “Anointed”
OK, this one I hesitated to put on the list because I think it’s common sense. We’ve all seen the carnage from large church leaders who hide ongoing sin. Would we call them anointed? Probably not. Leading a large church doesn’t make you “anointed” by God and the flipside is true as well—leading a small church or ministry doesn’t mean you lack it.
Of course, I do firmly believe God puts a special anointing on specific leaders to do something of great magnitude for the church at times—D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, etc.—but we should be careful about how we use the terminology or draw conclusions about just what it means to be “anointed” in ministry.