I’ve had the privilege of preaching at churches from coast to coast over the last 25 years of ministry. In the process, I’ve talked to countless pastors, church leaders and youth pastors about how their churches are doing when it comes to growth and the reasons for it. On one side I’ve seen churches that thrive. They grow every year both deeper and wider.
These are not always the “megachurches” but, in my book, they are the “mighty churches,” because whether they number at 200 or 2,000 they are truly Gospel Advancing on every level. These churches have that “new believer smell” in that there’s always a little edginess in the foyer because it’s usually peppered with people who don’t necessarily look like they should be there.
After having co-planted and co-pastored a church for 10 years in the Denver area, and having preached in churches across the nation, quietly evaluating what makes them work (or not), here is my list of non-scientific reasons why some churches don’t grow.
1. They’re not friendly enough.
There have been far too many times I’ve walked through the foyer of a church and NOT been greeted or said hello to or helped to find my way around. I’ve felt like an outsider floating in the midst of a group of insiders. Even if somebody just said “hello” and pointed where the auditorium, the nearest bathroom and the closest escape routes are (in case the service really goes bad), I’d feel more at home. On the other hand, when I walk into a church building, am warmly greeted and engaged, my defenses go down and I immediately feel more at home (and that’s important because usually I’m there to do the preaching that day!).
There’ve been many times as the visiting preacher I’ve seen a person or a family with that same deer-in-the-church-lights look meandering in a large church foyer, trying to find their way around. There have been many times I’ve greeted them, welcomed them to the church and said, “Let’s find the auditorium together,” or “Let’s talk to somebody who looks like they know what is going on and we’ll get your kids in Sunday school…if they have one…I don’t know…but welcome!”
By the way, the guest preacher shouldn’t be doing that job!
Churches that are friendly have a much higher chance of growing than churches that are not. First impressions matter.
2. They’re not intentional enough.
I’ve talked to many pastors who have assured me that they want to grow with new believers but they have no plan to make it happen. They tell me of their vision and their new sermon series and their exciting Easter outreach. But these three things are like making a plan on “How to have an effective huddle” in a football game. No, you need the actual plays you and your congregation are going to run day in and day out (not just on Sunday morning) if you are going to intentionally grow with new disciples being made and multiplied.