Home Pastors Pastor How To's Here’s an Idea: What If We Leave Church Growth to God?

Here’s an Idea: What If We Leave Church Growth to God?

Imagine all the time, money and resources that have gone into teaching church growth in the last 40 years or so.

I know it will sound naïve, maybe even heretical to many church leaders, but has anyone thought about what the world would look like today if all that effort had been invested exclusively in church health instead?

Is it possible that if the church had prioritized health, not as a means to growth, but as an end in itself, we would be in a greater position to represent the Gospel to the world?

We’re often told that one of the reasons so many churches remain small is lack of faith. But I wonder … could it be that the reverse is true? Might our obsession with bigger and bigger churches be rooted in a greater lack of faith?

Have we been afraid that God might not do his part (Matthew 16:18” href=”http://www.biblestudytools.com/matthew/16-18.html” target=”_blank”>building his church) if we’d simply be faithful to do our part (Matthew 28:19” href=”http://www.biblestudytools.com/matthew/28-19.html” target=”_blank”>making disciples)? Is it possible that the glut of church growth books, seminars and classes in the last few decades has been our attempt to help God do his job?


This article was originally posted on May 6, 2013, when we had less than 20 percent of today’s readers. I think it’s worth a second (or first) look as one of the overlooked #BestOf2013.


If you’re new to NewSmallChurch.com, I need to restate that I’m not against big churches and I don’t idealize Small Churches. I’m just wondering out loud if all our church growth strategies, instead of producing more big churches, have diverted our limited resources away from what should be Our #1 Priority—making disciples who produce healthy churches, no matter what size they are.

Health Isn’t Easy

And no, this is not me naively thinking “just preach the Word and the seats will be filled.” First, I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that a healthy church takes a lot more than good preaching. And second, I’m not saying health will bring bigger numbers to individual congregations.

What I’m saying is that we need to prioritize discipleship and church health. And I wonder if we might be able to do that better if we put all our energy there instead of worrying about how big the church is. 

Healthy churches are hard work. At minimum, a pastor has to:

  • Manage, if not master a wide variety of leadership skills
  • Keep them coordinated within a small margin of error
  • All at the same time
  • Over a long period of time
  • With volunteer labor

Many pastors are asked to do all that and more, often as a second job, sometimes with no permanent facility. And even if they manage all that, they’re still considered a failure by many people if the church doesn’t also hit certain benchmarks for consistent numerical growth.

It’s a burden few people can bear. No wonder the burnout rate for pastors is so high.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.