Recent Thoughts On Church Growth

Recently I’ve been thinking about the state of the church, growth patterns and true effectiveness.

It seems like there is no rhyme or reason to why certain churches explode while others fail or stagnate. Why some seem to have limitless coffers and others are either in debt up to their eyeballs or go week to week checking to see if there is enough to keep the machine running.

I’m sure countless books have been written on this subject and I’m in no position to add to this wealth of knowledge, but I think I’ll at least try. I’m wondering if these three things might not have a significant impact on the growth potential of a church:

Location Saturation

Could it be that in any given area there is a level of saturation that exists when it comes to spirituality or religiosity? A percentage of the total population in an area that will be open to and engage in the process of finding a church? This would account for differences in church size in given areas. For example, if the percentage is fairly consistent, a church in rural america would have a smaller chance at growth than say a church in a major metropolitan area.

Sure this is simple thinking. I understand that there are numerous other variables at work. But I’m less interested in those. The truth of the matter seems to be that if you live in a community with 5,000 people, your church growth will be limited at some point based on the size of that community.

This does NOT mean you stop trying when you see your numbers level off! The Bible is clear that God isn’t interested in percentages or saturation models:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

Size / Potential for Connectedness

As a church grows, one of the biggest challenges it will face is the fact that is is growing. At some point you look at your church and say, “Wow! We’re a pretty large church. I don’t even see the Smith family anymore – wonder if they go to a different service?” And that’s when you realize that size can be detrimental. People start feeling disconnected in the crowd. They realize they can’t just walk up to the speaking pastor and expect that he will recognize them. They feel like they are just a number amongst a sea of other attendees.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Churches that understand this phenomenon set up structures and processes to meet the needs. Everything from small groups to targeted educational and care groups to niche groups based on common interests help generate the relationships that can provide connectedness.

However, fail to understand this and it can potentially block future growth.

Environmental & Social Temperature

The last area I feel has a huge impact on growth is the location you find yourself in socially. Not necessarily the size as discussed earlier (though this has a big impact on it). This is more the following:

  • Socioeconomic level: It’s obvious that money is a factor. The Bible explains: It’s harder for a rich man to get into heaven than a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle. So money can probably stunt church growth as well. People who have a lot tend to feel like they are in control of their own lives – thus making it more difficult to see the need for God (not an absolute fact – but happens quite often).
  • Spiritual threshold: Let’s break this down into three environments: evil/sinful, moderate and morally upright. My suggestion is that the best environment for church growth is probably the moderate environment. Here’s why: In the evil/sinful environment where evil just seems to permeate the city/country it has traditionally been difficult to make headway. Look at the story of Lot in Sodom and Gamorrah – slight inroads but the city ended up being destroyed based on the lifestyles of its inhabitants. On the other end of the spectrum you have the environment with upright Biblical values and a very low crime rate where people feel good about themselves and others. Similar to being rich – it seems like people in these environments may not see a need for God in their lives since they are living such “godly” lives already. The moderate environment pulls in all levels of spirituality, evil, crime and good behavior/right living. In my estimation this provides the best environment for church growth (not that you only attempt to reach certain environments – just making inferences on growth potential).
  • Level of persecution/freedom: And finally – it appears that the level of freedom versus persecution plays a HUGE factor in the growth of the church. There are examples throughout history, but just look at the world we live in today. The church in America and in Europe is stagnant, dying or growing at fairly low rates. The church in China, India and other areas is growing exponentially. It would suggest that there is a correlation between growth and the level of freedom you enjoy (of course in these countries you also must factor in the socioeconomic levels and the spiritual threshold).

Like I said earlier – I’m not an expert on this topic and could easily be convinced that parts of my thinking were not entirely well thought out.

I just figured I’d write down some of the things running through my brain and see if it made sense on paper.