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6 Reasons It Is More Difficult to Grow a Church Today

The conversation was both predictable and profound. It was predictable because I have been asked a similar question many times. It was profound because it represents the very nature of the challenges our congregations face today. “Thom,” he began. “I have been serving as pastor of my church for over 20 years. I have never had more difficulty leading growth in a church. What is going on?”

My pastor friend emphasized two points clearly. First, he was not looking for an excuse for the lack of growth. Second, he wanted information so he could address the issue.

The pastor was right. Growth is indeed more difficult today in American congregations. And there are some clear reasons why this reality is true.

  1. Cultural Christians are much less likely to attend. “Cultural Christianity” is really an oxymoron. I am referring to those people who once attended church because they saw it as culturally, politically and economically beneficial. That reality no longer exists for the most part. Congregations could be losing anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of their attendance with this change.
  2. More committed Christians are attending less frequently. When the most committed believers in a church decrease their attendance patterns by 25 percent (they go from attending four Sundays a month to three), you can expect a precipitous decline in attendance. And the greater majority of congregations are indeed experiencing this unfortunate phenomenon.
  3. An overcorrection to practical ministry. Many church leaders rightly became disturbed and frustrated by the fierce pragmatism prevalent in many churches. But, to use an overused phrase, many threw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s hard to reach people in the community if the church does not have practical ways to do so.
  4. Activities replacing ministry. Many churches have their members so busy they don’t have time to develop relationships with unchurched people and non-Christians. Meetings and activities have become substitutes for real ministry.
  5. Growing conflict and disunity in congregations. I have addressed this issue in a number of blogposts. When we are divided and at odds with fellow believers in the church, we are distracted from focusing on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
  6. Entitlement mentality among some church members. This issue was the thesis of my book I Am a Church Member. When church members see the church as a place to meet the needs and preferences of “me, myself and I,” you have a congregation who is inwardly focused.

Any one of these six issues will hinder the Great Commission outreach of a church and, thus, frustrate attempts to lead a church to growth. But many congregations have more than one of these factors present. That reality really presents challenges.

Where is your church with these six factors? What would you add? I would love to hear your perspective.  


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Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.