8 Reasons Why Most Churches Don't Break the 200 Attendance Mark

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All churches want to reach more people, but why do some end up staying small?

While social media, and even traditional media, are still preoccupied with megachurches and multisite churches, the reality is that most churches in North America are quite small.

The Barna group pegs the average Protestant church size in America at 89 adults. Sixty percent of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2 percent have over 1,000 adults attending.

Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with being a small church. I just know that almost every small church leader I speak to wants his or her church to  grow.

I get that. That’s the mission of the church. Every single day, I want our church to become more effective in reaching one more person with the hope that’s in Christ.

So, why is it that most churches never break the 200 attendance mark?

It’s not:

DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people.

A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer.

LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know.

Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places.

Let’s just assume you have a solid mission, theology and heart to reach people.

You know why most churches still don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance?

You ready?

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

Think about it.

There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything. Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the director of marketing? He’s at the cash register.

Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow.

But you can’t run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There’s a produce manager and people who only stock shelves. There’s a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more.

So what’s the translation to church world?

Here are eight reasons churches who want to grow end up staying small:

Carey Nieuwhof Carey Nieuwhof is Lead Pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada, blogs at www.careynieuwhof.com and is host of The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast available for free on iTunes.

More from Carey Nieuwhof or visit Carey at http://careynieuwhof.com

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  • Barry

    Excellent summary of the key church growth obstacles!

  • MyoungSr

    I, too, think this is a very good summary of church growth obstacles. But, here’s the ‘rub':
    1. “The pastor is the primary caregiver”. Pastor’s are supposed to pastor. People are important as individuals, not just as “groups”. People are not ‘human resources’ or ‘people groups’ or demographics. The BIBLE calls us God’s people, His Children, Lambs, the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ. Jesus dealt with groups. But His emphasis was with the individual.

    2. “Leaders lack a strategy” and “True Leaders aren’t Leading”. This is a favorite of mine. Please show me the ‘strategy’ of Jesus and just a few of His words from his LEADERSHIP MANUEL. He is a SERVANT!

    We are to be servants.

    Pastors are to be servants.

    They will lead – but from the perspective of their view of that role. When a person/pastor has a contemporary view of leaders and leadership, they will lead as a CEO, President, ruler, etc.

    We are to be “DOULOS” (from the greek word servant). Look it up.
    The last 4 points are, in my opinion are on the mark.

    The calling of Pastor is the highest of callings and the most difficult of Spiritual gifts. The cost is the same as it was to Jesus. His Life for the lives of others.

    • Andrew

      I don’t want to argue with you, but there are some things you should think about.
      There is a difference between a senior minister and a pastor. if you want to grow, the senior minister needs to be free to do things like study and preach, while the elders do the pastoring. it’s not an issue of servanthood but of time and resources. And since you mentioned the ministry of Jesus, he himself only “pastored” 12 guys and let them “pastor” everyone else. Jesus did the preaching they did the “pastoring.”
      Also i hate to nitpick but if your going to use greek use it correctly. DOULOS means slave not servant.
      And nowhere in the bible does it say Pastoring is the most important spiritual gift.

      • Patricia

        Why are you so negative??? And with such a superior attitude??? Maybe try a little of that ‘humility’ the Bible talks about.

        • MyoungSr

          Thank you Patricia. Thank you.

      • MyoungSr

        Good points. But, I do feel you are nitpicking. I appreciate the spelling correction. Fast fingers, but I miss important keys.

        Jesus pastored vast crowds PLUS the 12 men. Read it. He healed and ministered to so many that in some places the bible says “…and He healed them all”. He even had to take breaks from the heavy ministerial load.

        I guess I am tired of the shennanigans and whining of so many of the pastors I know and read about. Being a pastor is a tough calling and very costly. And it is my studied opinion that pastoring is a high calling and it is my feeling that it is the most important of spritual gifts. You are right that it is not spelled out that way in scriptures, but it is how I feel about pastors, the office and the calling.

        Now, on to DOULOS. Yes it means slave. AND it means servant: From Strong concordance #1401 δοῦλος doulos doo’-los

        from 1210; TDNT-2:261,182; {See TDNT 199 } n

        AV-servant 120, bond 6, bondman 1; 127

        1) a slave, bondman, man of servile condition
        1a) a slave
        1b) metaph., one who gives himself up to another’s will, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men
        1c) devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests
        2) a servant, attendant

        For the word Servant from matthew 12:18 as another example 3816 παῖς pais paheece

        perhaps from 3817; TDNT-5:636,759; {See TDNT 581 } n m/f

        AV-servant 10, child 7, son (Christ) 2, son 1, manservant 1, maid 1, maiden 1, young man 1; 24

        1) a child, boy or girl
        1a) infants, children
        2) servant, slave
        2a) an attendant, servant, spec. a king’s attendant, minister

        So, how about calling a truce and let’s use these sites to state YOUR own views, opionions and thoughts, without discrediting others.

        I appreciate your points and views.

    • Paul

      To MyoungSr
      Acts 6 …“It is not right that we should give up preaching
      the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” *** 5And what they said pleased the whole gathering,

      Eph 4 11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up
      the body of Christ,

      My “opinion” is that too many [of us] Pastors try and DO everything or try and DELEGATE everything. I believe the biblical reality is somewhere in the middle.

      Yes Jesus was a servant, but I believe “servant leader” is a more accurate term. He spent time with everyday people, but the lion’s share of His time and teaching was spent with the 12 who He taught to …equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

      As for the “Pastor/Primary Caregiver”, if the Pastor is the only one who can visit the sick & needy that’s a sign of poor biblical teaching on the Pastors part and immaturity of the church members. We are “all” called to; care for , love, build up, encourage, . . . one another – not just the Pastor.

      The Pastor is “commanded” to – equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

      As for you obnoxious “strategy” comment, Acts 6 & Eph 4 are two of MANY strategies throughout the New Testament.

      • MyoungSr

        You make a good point. But, it is my understanding that this article is talking about small churches. One pastor can pastor a small group. The scripture you quoted referred to a large and growing church. But, I don’t think that is an excuse to neglect pastoring or giving ‘care’, even if you need to elect elders or deacons or other pastors for help.

        And, on a secondary note, why do you find it necessary to call my comments “obnixious”? Are you being hateful? Because that remark sounds and feels hateful.

        And your following reference has put me in my place…thank you for that. I am grateful for your apparent vast understanding and strict insistence toward these matters. You attitude and tone are helpful to obnoxious people like me. So, you win. Feel better?

        • Paul


          My reason for “thinking” you were being a bit obnoxious was;
          [Please show me the ‘strategy’ of Jesus and just a few of His words from his LEADERSHIP MANUEL. He is a SERVANT!]
          your use of capital letters and exclamation point..
          My understanding is when someone types in capital letters and then uses an ! it normally implies yelling and emphasis.

          With that I apologize for my misunderstanding of “how” you said it. However, I still stand behind what I said.

          This isn’t about winning and losing, it’s about having open dialogue and making sure we all [my self included] apply God’s Word in context and correctly.

  • alhatesreligion

    Great article, in fact I’m going to share it with our leaders this week. The only thing I would say about Mom & Pop they take a personal interest in their store, the clerk at the Supermarket only works there. I suggest training the clerk to take ownership of his job and to do the same with the leaders in the Church.

  • i12know

    I was surprised you didn’t mention more about evangelism …

  • Bishop RC

    Good summary. You mentioned that nearly all pastors want their church to grow. However, in churches under 200 most of the members do not want their church to grow. They are comfortable with the intimacy, leadership structure, and/or power distribution of the small church. Having a membership that desires to grow is another key factor to breaking the 200 mark. If members aren’t inviting and welcoming others, it’s not like that the church will experience significant growth.

    The real secret to growth is new believers/new members. They are the ones most likely to invite their family and friends to experience their new church. New believers also have not exhausted their pool of friends and family members.

    • Brian

      But isn’t that essentially a leadership/vision issue? The church membership is that way because the leadership doesn’t make evangelism and discipleship a priority. If the church focuses on reaching the lost, then the church membership will either accept that vision and run with it, or those people will leave to find a more “comfortable” church…

      • Bishop RC

        Yes, it is a leadership issue. Even when people acknowledge that evangelism and discipleship is their responsibility it is hard for them to actively follow through when they have conflicting values-like growing the kingdom vs. keeping my church the way I like it.

        The challenge is for the pastor of the small church to risk making a smaller church by letting the resistors leave in hopes of eventually growing it with those that have unselfishly accepted the vision. It can be done, but most aren’t willing to take the risk. I believe most pastors of small or stagnant churches aren’t real risktakers.

        • Brian

          Very true. I think a good way to look at it is to “choose whom you will lose”, because you WILL lose people. Either you will focus on the lost and risk losing those in your current congregation that only desire the status quo, or you will focus on those you have, and lose out on the multitudes of lost souls in your given community…

          • PJ

            Most, if not all, churches are structured precisely for the size they are. Mine included. As a church plant we grew relationally which was awesome. However, relationship won over everything else, including mission and vision. We we fluctuated between 90 & 120 for a season, frustrated that we could not break through to greater growth. We recently took the risk of saying no to things that were using resources and energy that were not fueling mission, and saying yes to things that fueled mission even when the “resisters” would be mad.

            We are now smaller than ever, but structuring and building on mission. Poised better than ever for growth. We have found that relationship happens around mission, vision, and values, but not necessarily the ther way around (in some cases it happened on accident, thank God).

            I hope to chime in a little later saying it was worth the risk and the pain of pruning. Pray for us!

  • Old n’ Rich

    May I suggest that you follow up this brief list of negatives with an equal or greater list detailing positive traits, habits, strategies, or what-have-you, of effective pastors of average sized Christian churches. Help your brothers and sisters, Nieuwhof; don’t stop at telling their faults. What if you could author a growth strategy approach that manages to net a 10% per year attendance/effectiveness increase in the average community sized church? Why, that book would sell hundreds of thousands of copies annually for a generation or more.

    • Old n’ Rich

      It’s a good, well intentioned article. But it needs to go farther. Apologies for my natural cranky curmudgeoniness. It’s probably one of the things that keeps me from surpassing the 1500 barrier.

  • Pastor Pat

    Wow, If we got caught up in numbers we would have quit our new assignment the first year. What we do have is a solid core of very strong disciples who know the Word, can stand up and fight as an army. We also have a strong core that will bleed to make sure their church family is taken care of. What we dont’ have is gossip, backbiters, and superstars. What we do have to offer is a family that will love you work with you and teach you. What we can offer is guidance, love and comfort that is deeper than a surface relationship. What we do have is a group of committed believers that hold each other in a covenant relationship with God that means we hold each other accountable. For all others there are the large churches, so if we never break 200 then that’s ok. If we do then that’s ok too! Cause you see we are just humble servants willing to risk it all for 1 and leave the other 199 to fend for themselves.

  • Vance Willis

    Being land-locked and not having enough parking is also a primary reason for many churches.

    • Bishop RC

      I would have to kindly disagree with you. I pastor an urban church that is considered land-locked and without off-street parking. We are also next door to a very large Catholic church. If God has a plan for a church to grow beyond 200 He has given it the resources to do so. The key is to reframe our thinking from seeing the situation as a disadvantage to seeing it as an opportunity.

      If the facilty can only seat 100 people then two worship services will accommodate 200 people. Three services will allow for 300 people; significantly breaking the 200 barrier. The more growth that’s desired the more services that can added-Sunday morning, afternoon, evening, Saturday and weekdays. This requires musicians, worship leaders, and other leaders to work multiple services to grow the church beyond its perceived barrier.

      We presently have two Sunday morning services and have been considering adding a third. Because we share the streets with another church we have to structure our worship times around their two services. We maximized our parking situation by offering valet parking and by double-parking cars on the main street. Though its a major road, the police will not ticket cars if no one formally complains. Also, double-parked cars are a major advertisement for the church and valet parking is a major draw. However, this all requires a parking team willing to arrive before 7:00 am to make this happen.

      With vision, ingenuity, and God’s grave there are no unmovable barriers. I hope this helps.

  • Lauren Mullen

    You have got to be kidding me. Why in the world would a church be seeking to go past two hundred members? Honestly, around 150, you’re already beginning to push it. Churches should not be concerned about numbers; they need to be concerned about spiritual growth and evangelism. When you get so obsessed with numbers, pretty soon all you want is bodies to fill pews, not actual believers who will be dedicated to the church.

    • Kyle

      But what is the true meaning of church if not to make disciples? What do you want people to be dedicated too? Our job as Christians at its basis is to go and make disciples. Numbers are important because they are numbers of souls that aren’t dying and going to hell.

      • Lauren Mullen

        No, they’re not. For example, say you have 800 members in your church. There is absolutely no way that you are going to be sure that all 800 are souls not going to hell – in fact, as horrific as it is to say, many of them probably are. If we define “souls saved” as saying a little prayer one time or showing up for church every Sunday, we do not have a proper view of the Gospel.

        • Heath Clark

          Apparently you didn’t read the article and you organize our church to stay small. (One or two people doing everything)

          If you organize and equip people to do the work of ministry (Eph 4) which is the responsibility of the pastors (equipping others for ministry) you absolutely can tend to the needs and hearts of more than 150 members.

          In fact the church of Jerusalem in Acts was a mega church and they were tending to the flock.

        • Kyle

          True and I agree that this is a misconception that bodies in the pew equals Christians. This is false. However I would rather have 800 people doing life together and fellowshipping together as believers because our surroundings effect our outcome. So yes make disciples make as many as you can and if the church is doing what it is supposed to do, preaching the truth, showing the love of Jesus and creating a community to do life together with as Christians then the great commission is being fulfilled and legitimate Jesus change is occurring.

    • Lerato

      Jesus said we should go and make nations His disciples… the great commission itself talks about nations. How can you be satisfied with 150?!

      • Lauren Mullen

        So if all that God gives you is 150 members, are you going to be able to be satisfied with that, or are you constantly going to be complaining about how you don’t have enough members? I am not saying growth is a bad thing nor that you cannot have Biblically sound churches that are also quite large. All I am saying is that in the current evangelical church of America, there is an unhealthy focus on numbers, as if how many people show up on Sunday determines the spiritual health of the church when that is the furthest thing from the truth.

        • Philip A Locke

          There is another unheathy focus that does not focus on numbers

          • Lauren Mullen

            which is what? Too much of a focus on the Gospel? Because that seems a bit disturbing.

    • Zach

      But…doesn’t evangelism lead to numbers?

      • Matt Stout

        Evangelism doesn’t necessarily lead to numbers. I want as many people as possible to respond to the Gospel, but they don’t all have to go to my church to do it. They’re welcome to, but after we get to the point that we’re too big, we can plant a new church to handle some of those people and stay small. I’d rather have more small churches than fewer big churches.

      • Lauren Mullen

        That wasn’t the point I was trying to make . . . there is a vast, vast difference between evangelizing for the sake of obeying God’s Great Commission and evangelizing just so you can get another body in church, another little prayer prayed, and another membership card filled out. My entire point is that focusing on numbers alone, and defining that as success rather than the congregation’s spiritual growth, completely misses what church is supposed to be about.

    • Final_Word


      Maybe if churches were more concerned about growing new pastors and planting churches instead of trying to grow as big as possible there wouldn’t be so many problems.

  • Rob

    Hi, can’t believe the amount of negative feedback, I am a pastor of a church of an average attendance of 80 on Sunday. I want to break through the 80 barrier, the 100 barrier, the 200 barrier. The church wants to break through, the leaders want to break through. I am a lot further down the process of putting strategy together for growth and Ps Carey’s comments cement a lot of what I have been garning together. Our church prays, our church gives (we have just bought land, 2 and a half acres, in the middle of town) and we run a charity that has great respect in our city (it has 80 volunteers from the community helping run it), so why can’t we grow. A lot of what Ps Carey says some of the reasons why. Great article Carey.

    I think those who are saying that churches should not be concerned with numbers are just trying to justify the smallness of their churches, the church started with 120 in the upper room and after one sermon grew to 3,120 and then continued to grow and multiply. Churches are meant to grow, come on guys, wake up, God wants the church to grow, the only thing Jesus said He was going to build was the church. I love how the Message translation paraphrases it “… I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.” Lets grow and and lets deal with every issue that restricts the church.

    • Final_Word

      ” the church started with 120 in the upper room and after one sermon grew to 3,120 and then continued to grow and multiply. ”

      Really? 3,120 all started to go to “church” at the same place at the same time from then on?

  • Lerato

    It scares me that some people here are pastors. How can you be so negative towards church growth? We are meant to populate heaven! The smaller we are in churches, the less impact we are making. The Gospel is meant to be spread and it must reach people beyond our comfort zones. This is a great article! If we can take note of what is being said here and apply it, we would advance God’s Kingdom as we should. Jesus was followed by crowds, the disciples also. Mega churches are modeled in the Bible.

  • Florencia Clerval


  • http://www.charlielyons.ca/ Charlie Lyons

    Well said, Pastor Carey. A good summary of things to consider. Thank you very much!

  • I am sent

    Hmmm….can’t see Jesus’ disciples sitting around worrying: ….”Why isn’t this thing growing?” or “let’s strategize: what can we do to make this thing bigger”? (That wasn’t
    their role or concern)….They just obediently keep re-deploying themselves –
    out from their huddled times of prayer, spiritual growth, fellowship etc – to keep
    making NEW disciples. (Which is what Christ told them to do!)

    In one of Christians’ favorite Christmas passages about Jesus and His Kingdom (Isa 9:6-7) the prophet proclaimed that there would be no stopping the growth of HIS Kingdom and Jesus himself proclaimed that HE WOULD BUILD HIS CHURCH so that not even Satan could stop HIS CHURCH…Certainly every “church leader” wants to witness and contribute to this expansion, …. so what’s the deal with stagnation and our meager efforts to reverse decline in our western churches? Maybe it’s because we tend to confuse our own roles and responsibilities – with God’s. David seemed to experience an inordinate amount of God’s anger when he did a seemingly understandable thing –
    He counted his troops before going into battle. But this revealed that in spite
    of David being a “man after God’s heart” he actually trusted in man’s ability in
    something he should have only trusted God’s – and David lost 70,000 men!!! (Talk
    about a decline in size – maybe God is serious about this!) Likewise Paul
    confirms the sad reality that it’s we Christians who can actually hinder the work
    of the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:29-30) when we begin to value our in-house agendas over
    the desperate need of lost people…..

    Lets face it, until Christ comes back, the primary work of the Holy Spirit is to bring Glory to God, specifically through redeeming an ever-increasing number of previously lost souls. And importantly He intends to do this through the conduit of His People – the
    Church (2 Cor 5:18-20, Eph 3:10, Col 1:27). So we must intentionally recognize
    and restrain ourselves from impossibly trying to be a reservoir, or redirector
    of God’s Spiritual Power onto any good, but secondary agenda. (Jer 2:13) If we
    don’t embrace our primary role as a straight, open “conduit” of The Spirit’s
    Redemptive Power into the lost around us, what ever lesser things we try to re-aim
    our efforts/God’s power onto, understandably, this begins to hinder His intent
    to reach people through each of us. God has an immediate plan to do this, and sadly
    He promises He might eventually choose to circumvent, prune or even cut off any
    unproductive conduit of His Life’s Blood.

    So its not an accident that the one activity where Jesus promised the combination of Maximum Power, Maximum Authority and Maximum Presence is…. NEW-disciple making (Matt 28:18-20). He wants us laser-focused on this. Although New Disciple Making should be related to, it is not accurately equated or interchangeable with measuring the size of a local church congregation. “Church size” can be influenced by, measured by, and even valued, completely apart from actual NEW-disciple making. On the other hand, if we are focused on the priority of “deploying” the local church onto
    the Christ-given mission of New Disciple Making, we’d never find ourselves worrying
    about filling or “growing” local congregations. In fact we might be better off viewing
    a lot of our well-meaning strategies to grow a church, is like supporting Uzzah’s
    effort to prop up the faltering Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:6). This was contrary to God’s immediate plan for His people then, just as its impossible for man to construct what only God can truly build. (Psalm 127:1). If we could get over human selves in this church growth thing, we might begin to witness a harvest of New Disciples being reproduced like we see in the New Testament. If that happened we couldn’t even begin to worry where we might warehouse our Christian meetings; we’d have learned to be more concerned with rapidly equipping and re-deploying new disciples back out onto the very mission that redeemed them! – Think about that!

    Jesus made another interesting “combination promise” (in John 15:1-11) stating that the activity of bearing “much new fruit” (making new disciples) is how we specifically would “bring much glory to God”, and that in doing so, we would also experience His OWN Personal Joy…[ WOW!! How much Joy is that?!] In another place (Luke 15-7)
    Jesus proclaims that making a NEW disciple is apparently the pinnacle of
    redemptive pursuits for us humans. Nothing else we do (even having an awesome “church service” full of Christians) facilitates an uncommon, supercharged, surge of
    Joy-partying in Heaven!!!! Think about that picture!!!! How important and how pleasing
    is this to God that He wants us to jointly-participate in THAT joy party –
    right here on earth!!! (When you bear new fruit – MY JOY will be in you!!! John 15:11)

    I hope you’re feeling like this right now: …humbled, excited, grateful, overjoyed, ready to self-delpoy and ready to call others to join you!!!!

    It makes sense that if the Bible never taught us to view local “church size” as something to ponder, build strategies for; spend time, energy or resources on – THAT WE DON’T!. As church “leaders” we need to personally return to and model the ONE
    pursuit that aligns us with bringing Much Glory to God; the ONE activity where
    we are positioned to experience Maximum Empowerment, Maximum Authority, Maximum Presence & Maximum Joy….because its the same activity which immediately kicks off radical Joy parties in Heaven – the eternal redemption of another
    lost soul!

    …… Our local “church size” may or may not be God’s concern – but its definitely not ours. We’re here to participate in the inevitable, unstoppable, imminent, growth of the
    Kingdom…..don’t miss out….lets get some JOY-parties started!!!!!

  • Pastor O O Abel

    Am so surprise that this wonderful article could be destructively criticised as matter of fact this is exactly what my church need and we would start working on it from this coming Sunday.

    • Arlin Edmondson

      Jesus never taught us to build the Church like a business.

      Neither did the Apostles. This is not a wonderful article but poison.

      • Stevie Macca

        Hmm… Christ commissioned and sent some out as individuals and some as teams. Then the apostles organised a team to look after the everyday stuff (looking after the welfare of those in need – widows etc). By any description this type of church organisational activity is EXACTLY how many successful businesses are strategically run.

        Why do so many immature Christians get suckered into buying the simplistic”business is bad and unspiritual” falsity?

        Your Statement “Jesus never taught us to build the Church like a business” is not true to the scriptural examples outlined and your description of the article as poison serves to betray your own prejudice and hurt.

        Organisation, planning and strategy that has Christ at the centre and remains organic in nature is the model of the early New Testament church communities that we encounter in scripture.

        I know BOTH church-organisation and business-organisation that can be described as exhibiting bad and sinful traits. Similarly there are BOTH businesses and churches that can be described as good, healthy communities of positive growth.

      • Dale

        Obviously, you just come and sit in church and do nothing else. If you did, you would know that there are business models for church that are important to see growth and manage growth. If they were not applied, you would have nothing more than small group fellowships for 11 people.

      • David

        The church has the most compelling message in all of humanity. The church’s inability to grow with this message is more of an indicator of the potency of the messenger, rather than the message. Refusing to use the tools before us to communicate the message – because successful businesses use them – is the real poison.

  • Navy Mom13

    It’s hard to grow a church when so many people are fleeing church and “religion”. Most churches aren’t growing, they’re consolidating. And forgive me for being so blunt, but they only have themselves to blame. Most of the non-believers or non affiliated believers I speak with make it clear that aligning themselves with today’s Christians isn’t a positive thing and as much as it pains me to do so, I agree with them. I can no longer keep track of the number of believers i speak to that have left church and organized religion because of the way they were treated. It’s becoming an epidemic.

    Take a moment and visit the news thread or Facebook thread of a “Christian” where politics or social issues are being discussed. It’s DISGUSTING. Those who claim to be ambassadors for Christ are failing DISMALLY in their representation of Him and I cannot express the DISMALLY part enough. The hate, judgmental attitude and hypocrisy that flows from today’s Christians is unacceptable. And God help you if you try and point that out to them… In my opinion, many “Christian’s” are more caught up with being religious than they are being Christ-like. That might be a hard pill for many church members and especially church leaders to swallow, but when you stop sugar coating what you WANT to see and actually view things as they are… the picture isn’t pretty. Why would ANYONE want to participate in something has become so filled with hate, fear, and anger? There is nothing at all Christ-like about it. Nothing.

    My ministry which deals with those leaving the church jumped from 70,000 online members to over 250,000 since 2011. The most common reason I hear is that they left because they couldn’t take the hypocrisy and hate speech coming from the pulpit and the second most common thing I hear is that the people drove them away. Churches can only recycle so many members, eventually church leaders are going to have to address the problems related to people leaving. In the meantime, those that leave will continue to flow towards communities that truly want to represent Christ-like living.

    • Dale

      Seems that those people who left and have issues, as legitimate as they are, are not focusing on their relationship with Christ but instead on fallible human beings and judging Christ based it that instead. The problem is that sin is sin and they are not willing to call it for what it is. That’s not hate, that’s reality.

      • Charlette

        Leaving a church doesn’t mean leaving Christ. Sometimes, we have to leave to see Christ more clearly. There is hate in the Church and fear too. There are misunderstandings about who “deserves” to be shown love and how much they should receive. This is also reality, sad but true. Sometimes healing and growing closer to God has to happen away from organized religion.

      • DMA

        In my experience most that leave are not leaving God but they often leave church and God because they never learned what a real relationship with God looked like so they whither away. That was me.

  • Don

    Ninth reason: Preachers sermons are boring and too lengthy. Most 30 minute sermons can be condensed to about eight minutes and say all that needs to be said.

    • Dave T

      Two things will build a church:
      1. Good preaching
      2. Love
      “nough said.

    • Dale

      Wow, if you experience a 30 minutes sermon that is boring and can be condensed to 8 minutes, go to another church where the pastor is biblically teaching. Cause 8 minutes is a homily that just gives you warm fuzziness and little more

      • Final_Word

        How long were Paul’s sermons?

  • Dave Stewart

    Right on!!

  • Arlin Edmondson

    This is a false ecclesiology.

    Scripture never instructs us to run churches in this manner and much of Pauls writings to Titus and Timothy, and the Church of Corinth would entirely contradict this material.

    The local Church is not a big business enterprise, it is not a grocery store, it is not a small business.

    • Mwidman

      Actually, the church is a people business. We are in the business of reaching people for Christ. Really don’t see how his strategies presented makes the church a grocery store, but it definitely is and should be big business, it’s big business to God.

    • David

      By that logic, we would have no Trinity. While much of Paul’s writings address areas of maturity, all of his writings, including those addressing issues of maturity, are focused on a spreading gospel, and a growing church.

  • George

    Just gotta love the same old attendance worshiping that goes on here.

    • J

      Just like you George.

      • George

        Thank you for making sense.

    • David

      Just gotta love the same old non-growth worshipping that goes on elsewhere…

      • George

        Not worshiping attendance numbers does not equal non-growth. And increased attendance does not automatically mean real growth. Luring people out of other churches – which accounts for 95+% of the attendance growth of these mega-churches, is not Kingdom growth. It’s nothing more than a slightly Christianized version of what Walmart does.

  • Geoff

    Wow – I’m not against debate, but people here need to learn to graciously disagree. I have to say the principles here are reasonable – interpretation can vary, but won’t they on every issues shucks to church? pastoring in Northern Ireland our biggest issue is getting congregations on board with these principles, especially the first. As a pastor I can expect to preach twice on a Sunday, an hour long bible study mid week, a children’s address and visitation – plus any weddings and funerals that come along. That’s part of the job here. Burn out is a risk…..but being on fire for god will always give you that risk.

  • guest1

    Never again will i make the mistake of reading comments below… and we wonder why people out of church look at church leaders as they do…. we fuss way to much!!!!! Great article!

    • David

      Please continue to make the “mistake” of reading below. Engagement is key to effecting change. Disengagement means no change, no improvement.

  • longk9

    Amen guest1. If the dissenters believe that the author’s ideas are unbiblical, I’d be excited to hear the biblical justification FOR long meetings, too many programs, etc. It’s true that the bible doesn’t address every issue in this list, but neither does it command us to do the opposite of the things the author proposes.

  • Rachel Stocker Allen

    wow, wow, wow… I am so disappointed in the many people who in the comments below really missed the point and show such a fussy, nit-picky nature… it kinda clears up and proves the author’s points, though LOL … This article is AWESOME! It is so true, every word of it – if we wanna reach souls at a time we believe to be the LAST DAYS, then we SHOULD be going after numbers!!! Church on Sundays: is it about keeping and encouraging people who are already Christians OR is it about bringing people who don’t know Christ into a Holy Spirit filled place where Christians join together to receive them, love them, and disciple each other in Jesus? I think, according to Scripture, that it’s supposed to be ABOUT BOTH. So why should the world have more excellence, better programs, etc, than US? By the way, many historians note that Timothy was a young pastor to a VERY LARGE and cosmopolitan church – aka, a super-mega church. Is that bad? Does that color our way of thinking about him or about Paul’s instructions to him? hmmmm, I kinda hope so – it should tell us that the most important thing is reaching the lost and discipling them with REAL SCRIPTURE, REAL HOLY SPIRIT WORKING, REAL TRUE REPENTANCE, REAL SPIRITUAL GROWTH… that is the main thing, right? If cutting some programs will help a church grow, cut the programs! If empowering volunteers so that our pastoral staff doesn’t have to do everything will grow our church, WELL HELLO! Let’s empower our volunteers! If some people get upset by the growth, don’t like the way pastor is cutting some things and starting others, … well, let them go. I really don’t see a single un-Biblical thing in this article, but unfortunately, I DO see some un-Biblical, un-Christlike stuff in these comments here below. We gotta stay focused and stay the course, guys – it’s about souls, it’s about discipleship, and yes, it’s about NUMBERS – each person is a number, each person matters to God, so each person matters to me… “that none should perish”

    • Peter muturi

      Rachel I totally agree with your comments. It’s about both, we are called to make disciples as well as encourage believers. Our church in Nairobi Kenya has been under the 200 membership barrier for many years but this year we have purposed to break and grow bigger. Every first weekend of the month we are doing house to house evangelism in our area that’s bringing a great harvest in the church. Bless God for Carey its a great article.

      Email: pastorcfckenya@gmail.com

  • P.J.

    Great article! These are tools that will allow us to continue to build the kingdom into something that’s much larger than we are individually. I am saddened by the ignorace displayed in some if the comments below. may God enlighten those who are blind.

  • Guest1517

    Numbers 4 and 5 are the issues I’ve seen most at small churches. The pastor wants to be involved in everything (because he is the one giving an account of his church to God) but because of this, anyone who serves is just following commands and never getting the chance to really have ownership in the church.

    The pastor picks the children’s ministry curriculum, helps pick the worship songs on Sunday, picks the book the women’s Bible study does, makes his wife the women’s Bible study teacher, reviews every application to serve, meets with every new member himself.

    He will not let others make any decisions or fill any positions where they could mess up. This reveals that the pastor feels highly of his own judgment and little of the judgment of others. And knowing the pastor only really trusts himself takes the life out of his church.

    • David

      What you have described is a Babysitter, not a Pastor. The Babysitter is concerned with maintenance, comfort, and self-preservation. The Pastor is focused on personal, spiritual, intellectual, and numerical growth. The Pastor does this by equipping people to serve, for the purpose of building up the church in unity, faith, knowledge, maturity, and stature, which are found in Christ. The Babysitter finds this dangerous and offensive, as it requires the sacrifice of self-preservation and comfort, and requires true leadership, courage, faith, and commitment to God and his purposes, and to one another, for the carrying out of his will – much of which is beyond any of us as individuals.

      • Jeff Latham

        1 Corinthians 12:18 takes care of all this fleshy church work. We forgot about our first true love on this discussion.

    • Randymci

      The only way the pastor should be picking the children’s curriculum is if he’s teaching it also. The only way the pastor should be picking the worship music is if he’s a musician/singer and playing in the band. Same with the women’s book study,,,,, no wonder our pastors burn out. Elders! Step up!

  • http://www.turnaroundpastor.com/ Bud Brown

    You’ve given everyone real value in this article, Carey. Thanks for that.

    There is one item I’d add, but bear in mind that I come at this as an intentional interim pastor. I’m always scanning for problems.

    The “church boss” often causes the “lid” on a church’s growth. The majority of churches have them, regardless of how big the church is. But in smaller congregations it’s harder to outmaneuver the church boss, so he becomes a hindrance to growth.

  • pastor in training

    Good article but I agree us as pastors cant and should not go to everything. but eith weddings and funerals, most if not all people want Pastor “Bob” not elder “John” officiate there service

    • empower lay leadership

      They may want elder “john” to officiate their service, it the eldership is leading and involved in the lives of the people more than just being a governance board. It’s about encouraging lay leadership to actually lead and get involved

      • pastor in training

        Did you not catch or read that it was a good article? Did I dispute anything other than most people want their Pastors to do marriage and funerals? I in no way said or implied anything different

        • J

          Not so. You are in denial.

          • pastor in training

            Maybe so, just never seen where most funerals and weddings are done by elders instead of pastors.

    • j

      We’re you drunk when you posted? Your response made no sense

      • Tom

        Relax bro – if you change “eith” to “with” it makes perfect sense what he’s saying. You don’t have to agree but you should at least be civil and intelligent enough to read through one missed letter.

      • Nigel Black

        j, Tom got you there. He’s right.

  • Final_Word

    Why should churches WANT to be more than 200?

    • Nate

      It shouldn’t be a question of size but effectiveness.
      Is a church less than 200 because there are problems like those addressed in the article? Or is it less than 200 because it’s very young, it’s in a small community, or it’s planting other churches at a rate that keeps it small, etc?
      Is effectiveness always reflected in numbers? Well, it’s the will of the Father that not ONE would perish. The parable of the banquet makes in clear that God wants a FULL HOUSE. And God places the solitary in families. If churches NEVER grow we should wonder if they are leading anyone to Jesus. Are they welcoming people into His house? Are they fostering a church family environment that welcomes AND keeps the solitary?
      So, in answer to your question, according to the Bible, we should WANT people to come to faith in Christ. We should WANT His house (as He does) to be full. We should WANT a healthy church family that can close the back door out of which people commonly leak.
      We should WANT churches that grow, in proportion to their age, the size of their community and their rate of reproduction. We should want to effectively join Christ in the building of His church.

  • Philippine Pastor

    Great points! If i may add tho, many churches dont grow to more than 200 is because… It is God’s design! God said we plant & water but He makes the increase! In my country, when churches grow bigger, they split! I think we can only manage & maximize our churches when it is small, thoug this isnt saying we should not multiply. I believe our small groups should reproduce more small groups :)

  • Tim Davies

    I think that we have become a culture of “Mega Church” thinking. I moved away from one of those giants because it had become corporate (it could not help it). There was difficulty finding fellowship even in service – at least true fellowship that went beyond Sunday.
    I feel that, as pastors, we need to lead a flock, not drive the herd. I am all for church growth but my personal feeling is that when we grow, wouldn’t it be nice if we recognized someone that God has their hand on and we created another flock?
    In this time of complete disconnectedness (if that is a word), we need to reconnect. I do not see that as trying to get as big as possible where you have to delegate the sheep to underherders (probably not a word either, but conveys my thoughts) is helping bring people to Christ and it certainly falls away in the area of accountability and discipleship. I am not saying that these things don’t happen in such an environment but it has been my experience that they are greatly hamstrung.
    I am currently in the process of planting such a place where we plan to bring the family back into the service and family back into the body of Christ. I know it is tempting to find another program, design another way to grow, but in the end I see it fragmenting us. The church should be a place where the sheep can call the shepherd and he cares for each one. A place where it matters if you are there and someone notices when you aren’t. A place of warmth, love, and accountability. It has been my experience that those things suffer for the sake of “bigger and better”.

    Just my thoughts.
    Be blessed brothers in the love of Christ.

    • DMA

      Tim.. I echo your thoughts. We left a mega church (was on staff) and have come to your same conclusion and also are in process of planting a church that brings back solid Biblical teaching and discipleship with whole families. It’s been hard and many people we have asked to join us in launching want we are doing but they don’t want to give up the big programs to get it. It’s very sad.

  • George

    I remain dismayed by how guys who are in heavily populated, wealthy, rapidly growing suburban areas set up shop and “grow” a church, then turn into experts on church growth. And it’s always about the numbers. Always the numbers, regardless of the fact that the overwhelming majority of these “numbers” just come from different churches. There’s big talk about big programs, yet the focus is always the numbers. And the money (though we don’t dare talk openly about that).

    But has anyone read the same Gospels I’ve read, and discovered that this “business approach to church growth” was not what Jesus pursued? Jesus did not go to where the potential was great. He went to where the needs were great. He did not build in the New Quarter of Jerusalem, and provide comfort for the already wealthy and comfortable. No, He went out to the lonely, poverty-stricken, desolate places. He touched and healed those who could – and would – do nothing for him.

    So how about some articles written by, and for, loving people who pastor (or attend) churches in sparsely populated and/or declining areas? How about some articles by people who are doing ministry in homeless shelters and recovery missions? How about some articles by people participating in small, effective house churches? I would love to see articles written by people who are trying to emulate Jesus, rather than Walmart.

    • Jina Appa

      Brother George, you hit the nail right on the head! That’s what we need. We need acknowledgement, recognition, and information for the small church pastor. The “business” of church-growing the way it’s currently being done is not biblical. You’re right. Thank you for stepping up and calling it like it is!

      • Revjimmy

        In my experience big churches revolve around the celebrity status of a charismatic leader (usually a man) who looks good on camera and sells books. Small churches tend to have pastors who are less physically attractive and lack the time or skill to be as prolific. Pastors come and go at smaller churches without causing institutional anxiety. Big churches require big leadership personalities. So, if your church really wants to grow, hire a personality with shiny teeth and a good stage presence. The rest will fall into place, guided by smart members who know how to run a business.

  • Old n’ Rich

    Larger groups are most likely to grow around dynamic talented attractive leaders. However, so many people answer a sense of calling to the pastoral task that we net a full spectrum of talent levels for dynamic leadership among pastors. 150-200 is a viable size for a company in an army, and apparently for a neighborhood sized Christian pastor and congregation. Get enough of them to cooperate together and you’ve got an army on your hands.

    Pastors: It’s alright to be what you are and to be where you are. He is most effective who is content and skillful in his work.

    • Rick Kuhn

      Using your analogy makes perfect sense – there maybe one captain for 200, but he has an executive office, a few platoon lieutenants, a first sergeant, and few platoon sergeants, not to mention corporals. It is not the captain by himself leading those 200 and nay pastor or church that has that sets itself up for failure.

  • David McIntyre

    wow? what an impressive list of arguments form both sides of this overly debated coin. So, I might as well dish out my feeble attempt to make sense of it all… I will start by simply saying that I am glad someone was ministry minded (or kingdom minded) when I was at the end of my rope, lost without God and no hope. If it were left up to churches with “us four and no more” attitudes, I would never have been saved and would have most assuredly died in my sin and busted hell wide open. You see I grew up in the church but I was in Prison (literally the State Prison for Robbery) when I gave my life to the Lord. I am now the Associate Pastor of Ministries at the church I attend. We currently run around 135 “souls” on Sunday mornings but thankfully that “number” (of souls) is subject to change drasticly as it has done for the past two years. I was not a part of the church there when our Pastor came but there were only 11 people in attendance at that time. Going against everything he wanted for himself in ministry he took the church because God had placed a burden on his heart for that place. I did not get saved within the ministries of that church, but was asked by the pastor to come and be his associate and help him in the ministry there (I came out of a thriving and growing church of 500+ and I talked with my pastor about it before I went, By the way truely great men of God will be excited for you when you leave their church to go do something for God!). He asked me because we both have the same heart for the lost, the hurting and helpless. To see them gloriously saved, their lives changed and to watch GOD “establish their goings” and set their feet on a firm foundation.

    Unfortunately (in the minds of some, LOL) we are growing. Several of the people we see come are souls that have been touched by the outreach team, jail ministry team or one of the other ministries of the church. However, we do see people who have come from other churches. Here are a few of the reasons they have given us for coming, #1 reason: we feel God in this place or the Holy Spirit really ministers to us here. (we are a Baptist Church by the way), #2: the alters here are full every service and we havent seen a single person use an alter at our previous church in years, etc (we don’t have a rock band and lights show either). its true and I agree that the primary desire in growth should be the lost getting saved and joining a local assembly, However, if someone comes to our church from a cold stagnant church that cares little about souls, well, I’m sorry if this offends any of you but I’m going to say welcome, put my arm around them and put them to work doing something for the LORD! I would much rather a child of God be doing something for the Lord somewhere else than nothing but setting on a pew here! That would just be a waist of God’s resources and their time. If you don’t feel like you can serve God where you are, then go to where you can and do it with all your heart!

    So here it is…If you view the church as an “organization” then that is truely all it will be, whether it is growing in number or not. Whether it is treated as a pop concert, a country club or a retirement home, that is all it will ever be. If, however, we view the church as the living “organism” it is, then there is little room for a belief or ideology that assumes the church shouldn’t grow. As a living organism the church should grow naturally. In my experience (which is limited) and in my opinion (which is less important than many of the men reading) Church growth is not a mystical thing that we have to try to figure out. It is not about programs or gimmics. Church growth should happen naturally because it’s practical and when it doesn’t happen naturally there is a problem. I have read and found it to be true that there are two main reasons churches do not grow naturally:1) Physical Barriers and 2) Spiritual barriers.

    Physical Barriers: meaning building size, number of class rooms, number of parking space’s (you would not believe the number of churches not growing right now just because of lack of parking. It does not matter how big your facility is or how great your services are, if people can’t park, they can’t get out of their cars and if they can’t get out of their cars then they can’t come in. See, it’s practical. We had this same problem at our church and didn’t even know it. Our pastor went out in the parking lot one day and watched several cars pull in look for a parking space then leave because they couldn’t find one. we made it a goal to get more parking and institute a few parking attendants to help, guess what happened? our attendance went up. Imagine that?

    Spiritual Barriers: Preach and teach the word of God, soul win, disciple those young in the faith, encourage people to use the alters starting with your leadership (and if your leaders won’t get in the alters, get new leaders!), care for people and their needs, give people who have been there 3 or 4 times something to do, give those more seasoned in the faith responsibility and authority to carry the Pastor’s GOD given vision, etc. It’s not rocket science people, it’s just practical stuff that removes barriers for the church to grow naturally. Do these things and the church grows, don’t do them and the church doesn’t grow. If you are a pastor who has to micro manage, you will never grow a church beyond what you can personally take care of, which is generally somewhere around 100 people if your really good at it. Great leaders create more great leaders not just great followers. Creating disciples doesn’t end with them having a basic knowledge of salvation and the great commission, teach them to be leaders and then LET THEM LEAD, you will be amazed at what God does in HIS local church.

    Now, you do have to consider the laws of environment, I mean you can’t plant a church in a place where all three surrounding counties have a combined population of 500 and expect to run 5000. But, That doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t be doing a work there, and shouldn’t their desire be to run 500? to see every soul saved and on fire for God? or maybe even have a radio or TV program that reaches far beyond their environmental limitations? Correct me if I’m wrong but the Bible says Christ would that “all” should come to repentance? So isn’t it our job, our commission, our calling to go after…”all”? If you live in a city of 15,000, shouldn’t your desire be to run 15,000? if your city is 1,000,000, should our desire be to run 1,000,000? I’m not implying you should create unrealistic goals, simply supernatural goals. Because if you can do it… well, then you did it and God wasn’t anywhere around when you did it. For without faith it is impossible to please God!

    No doubt there are some who are in it for fame and fortune trying to get people to “sow into their ministry” and buy their snot rags (I mean hankies) so they can pad their pocket, but don’t lump every one who is concerned with numbers into that pile. How do you know if what you are doing currently in the church is effective? if you do not care about or keep up with numbers, you have no way of measuring if what you are doing is effective. Numbers tell a story, and every number represents a soul that will spend eternity somewhere. The number of first time attendee’s tells you how effective your Outreach is, the number of second and third time attendee’s tell you how effective your Care Team and First Impressions Team are (because the fact is that most people decide whether or not they will return to a church before they ever here the first song or hear the first word preached). the number of your regular attendance relates to how effective the main portion of your service is (among other things) and the number of new members joining reveals how effective you are in discipling, training, and getting people involved in what God is doing in the local assembly. We even keep count on how many cars we have in the parking lot, why? because we don’t want a parking problem to stunt our growth for a whole year like it did before.

    The bottom line is that it is not about growing YOUR church and YOUR numbers, it’s about growing HIS church. Our church ministers to people out side of our area all the time, but we try to find a place that is like minded to get them plugged into because honestly, I don’t want people that I have seen get saved go to a dry, dead church where they are ushered to a pew and forgotten about, where no one cares about their spiritual and physical needs and aren’t willing to keep up with if they are in attendance or not. I want to see them discipled, plugged into ministry, called by God to preach, teach or to the mission field. I could care less if its our local assembly or another as long as God is in it! But if God puts them in our local assembly we are going to do all we can to minister to them, care for them, love them and if keeping up with the numbers helps us do that even 1% better (which it does), then we will do it every time and be okay with taking flack about it.

    I pray that this was a help and encouragement to someone and that it did not simply further confuse the readers. I think it was a great article that was prone to hit too close to home for some. As leaders we tend to think we have it all figured out and it can sting a little when we realize we don’t. I pray the Lord will allow me to continue to learn form the mistakes and triumphs of others to make the ministry HE has entrusted me with work more and more effectively to HIS praise and to HIS glory! Now lets stop setting behind our desks bickering over numbers and lets go get in the trenches and see God change a life! If we as the body of Christ would spend the energy and time in soul winning that we spend in arguing with each other, we would see a drastic change in the “numbers!”

    Thank you for your time

  • horizons9

    Some pastors only care only care about getting more bodies into their pews. My church is small, but we reached critical mass, and that is more important than numbers.

  • Dan

    When the Shepard lost one of his one hundred sheep he went and found it and returned rejoicing when the Shepard lost one of his one thousand sheep he did not notice.

  • http://jamesriver.org Steven Records

    Great thoughts Carey. I really like number 7. Another aspect of growth I have seen in the churches I have worked with is that growing churches live in the ongoing status of improvement. Gathering meaningful stats, doing debriefs, and being open to new ideas all play a part in a church growing with their audience.

  • JeremyNortonBlog.com

    Thanks for this article Carey. I was wondering if you could list the reference for that Barna study that you mentioned at the beginning of this post? Thanks.

  • frustrated church member

    several months ago, our church was poised to break the 200 barrier, and people were excited. the pastor cautioned the congregation of changes THEY needed to make, and, for the most part, they did so. however, HE and the leadership,did not make similar changes, and now we are floundering. every one of the statements in this article rings so true. you hit the nail on the head!

    • Nigel Black

      Read Rom 12:1-2 apply it, and then change your avatar.

  • Nicodemus Eatlawe

    As for us here in Africa people are attracted by the minister’s gift especially healing, deliverance, prophecies etc. A minister should be a prayer warrior and always there in church to attend to needy people. Everything else is secondary.

    • Rick Kuhn

      “Moses, what you are doing is not good. You will never meet all the people’s needs and you will wear yourself out.”

      Sorry, but just as Jesus empowered the others to heal, prophecy, etc., so the church must also. In fact, it took Jesus to die and be removed from the seen (the perfect pastor) for the Church to explode and turn the world upside down. The pastor cannot do it alone and if he tries – he will fail and fail miserably.

  • Pastor Moses Brown

    Jealousy is an ugly word. “It is the green-eyed monster,” said Shakespeare in Othello. It has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and implies a hideous resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing; and that is repulsive. It stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages.
    Jealousy & Envy keep narcissistic leaders from enpowing others who they think would outshine their contribution and grow the church.

  • Mar Komus

    This is an excellent article if your definition of “church” is married to a corporation model.

    • Ron Johnson

      Wrong, the corporate model defines leadership as control and limits impact.. The biblical model defines leadership as empowerment and equips disciples to reproduce disciple makers to reach thousands.

      • Mar Komus

        We’re probably on the same page. You don’t have to “WRONG” me. I’m correct in my evaluation. Note the part that says, “if your definition of ‘church’ is married to a corporation model.” Said tongue-in-cheek, I reject the corporation model. Just to be sure, though: No congregation should ever seek to break the 200 barrier (artificial, man-made goal) because in the Bible, the congregation is defined by things other than numbers. We make disciples and let God count noses. When a congregation becomes too large to meet in one location, it multiplies and becomes two or three congregations, ideally with leaders who can effectively lead.

        • Ron Johnson

          I’ve searched the scriptures and no where do I see a restriction on the size of a church – neither too large or too small. But I do see a diligent commitment to reaching as many people as possible with the gospel. In Acts the church apparently counted the people.

          • Mar Komus

            Neither will you find anything about a “200 barrier.” I’m not sure where you think I’m coming from, but I’m not probably not coming from there. My original reply had to do with evaluating the article within a certain context. Not everything in the article applies to, say, “house church” models (congregations, that is, that meet in each other’s houses–or other public places: rented lecture halls, stadiums, school auditoriums, etc.).

            “Apparently,” you say? They did. Three times (Ac 1:15; 2:41; 4:4). But those are only round figures. After that they never counted the number of believers again–no official record, anyway. Too cumbersome, really. We don’t even know how many believers are in the world today, exactly. All we can do is roughly guess.

            At any rate, it isn’t to the Bible we would look for a cap on local congregation size, but locale size (imagine trying to get all of the believers of today into one locale! Good luck!). Some congregations opt to find a more spacious locale, others simply can’t do that because of their circumstances. If the congregation that meets at my house ever grows to a sufficient numeric size and I see a leader or two, then we’ll multiply and have some of the congregation meet elsewhere.

  • disqus_5T2jXBEN10

    Since we are crunching the numbers, go to any church and you will find around 1/3 of the people who attend on Sunday attend during a mid week service or are involved in small groups. I would rather have a church of 100 Chrisitians that attend church when it is open than those who only show up on Sundays. We are supposed to die for our brothers and sisters yet we only want to see them for two hours once a week. Come on, what a joke. I think the attendence numbers of churches are around 100 because it is reflective of our Lords model of the one lost sheep out of 100 that the shepard goes and finds when it goes astray, if the shephard had 1000 sheep that one lost sheep would not be missed and would be considered just a number which is what is what growth is about just the numbers sir, just the numbers, its business and big business with no taxes weeeeee! gimme gimme mammon yeh, mammon we do serve mammon more for me less its what we do mammon is our God who cares about you, MAMMON!

  • don

    Brilliant. Concise and cuts to the heart of truth. Thank you.

  • Brandon

    Having a B.S. in Organizational Management and having served as an associate pastor in churches of 500 and 800 average Sunday worship attendance, my experience with the application of business-oriented organization and management models was not positive. It wasn’t that the methods didn’t work; on the contrary, they did help to streamline the organization and workflow. They also worked to isolate and compartmentalize ministry areas. The two churches had a mix of staff and volunteers that led each ministry area. Applying a business mindset, these individuals were treated like mid-level managers who had to set tangible ministry goals and set forth action plans to accompany them. This often led to segmentation, a lack of collaboration and competition for scare resources — money, volunteers, and space, namely. Most of the program area directors began to operate more like a franchisee than a part of the entire body as they began fundraising for their specific ministry areas and moving events off-site.

    What also struck me was what I felt like was a crowding out of the Holy Spirit. In many ways, the gifts of the Spirit were sidelined for the qualifications on a resume. CPA? Nominated to Finance Committee. HR background? Personnel. Now, I’m not suggesting that these individuals were not equipped by God to serve in their vocations. The way of conducting nominations to leadership was handled more like a hiring or annual review process than a prayerful seeking of direction for the leadership of the church.

    Pastoral change in one church caused a move away from a top-down, CEO-style leadership. He greatly valued conversation and collaboration. Leaders from various ministry areas were brought together at a monthly round-table to share what God had been doing through their ministry areas. Over time it began to feel more like conversation over family dinner and less like a business meeting (not that those meetings were cancelled or ignored). What resulted were wonderful moments of holy collaboration. After learning that the preschool operating in the church was, in fact, the church’s preschool, a women’t ministry group inquired about how they might volunteer as story-readers. They also began a prayer ministry for the children and their families — many of whom were not church members. Another example was a trustee asking a neighbor to help clear a patch of land, level it and sod it so a group of men in the church could start an Upward football program. The goals remained the same, but the tactics became more fluid. Activities were less about the acquisition of resources and the execution of a plan and more about connecting with others and taking joy in the work that God was doing.

    I am back in the business world and live some of the philosophies espoused in many business texts. My departmental director is a huge proponent of the key tenant of Good to Great in developing a high performing team — right people on the bus and in the right seat. As I saw his leadership bring results, I grew to trust his judgement and understand his perspective. This happened so much so that when he fired my closest friend at work, I was able to objectively consider the factors he used to arrive at that decision and say, “Yes, from that perspective, I would have let him go, too.”

    I don’t believe that the church should limit itself in the sources of guidance and inspiration it seeks. I do believe, however, that the spirits should be tested as the Apostle Paul urged. I’m just not certain a business-oriented methodology that is under-gird by their great commission to maximize productivity and, in turn, maximize shareholder value can every truly serve the Great Commission.

    • Maxaipa

      If only everyone who is convinced “bigger is better or healthier” could have worked along side you and seen the truth!

      • alhatesreligion

        that was true in his case but it’s not always true in all cases so don’t throw a blanket over every big church

  • Miami Pastor

    Jesus organized, behaved, led and managed like a small organization. Started with a gathering of 12 that grew to a gathering of 11. What an absolute failure…

    • Ohio Deacon

      I believe you are confusing Jesus’ inner circle ( ie. his apostles or the first elders) with the church as a whole. If the church was meant to stay small, Jesus would not have included women or Gentiles nor would there be the Great Commission

    • http://www.ctmiworld.com Harley Ithier

      I believe He showed us what God meant when He said..I will built my Church….His pattern is through small groups! That’s where we make disciples, where we develop leaders and where they are trained, tested and are sent with Jesus remaining their model of ministry.

      • alhatesreligion

        I believe you are right

    • Ron Johnson

      You need to deaf the rest of the story. Jesus strategy resulted in millions trusting him and aggressively was taken to the world. What a victory!

      • Ron Johnson


    • alhatesreligion

      Jesus had 12 close companions known as the apostles but he had hundreds of other followers who I’m sure we’re not just idle

  • VA Pastor

    Same ole worn out corporate model of ministry. Summary “I think therefore my church grows”. I’m going to instead seek the Spirit and Jesus and honor His Word as a pastor and invite my congregation to do the same. I’ll leave the rest to Father god.

    • Ron Johnson

      Paul had a strategy to evangelize and plant churches. How dare corporations steal the biblical strategy!

      • Ray Holsemback

        Praise the Lord. Amen!!!

  • Pastor Bill

    Wow – 8 whole reasons, but not one Scripture… What a bummer.

    • Rick Kuhn

      And Jesus often times spoke in parables without s single mention of scripture.

      • http://www.ctmiworld.com Harley Ithier

        lol the parables themselves were scripture…lol

      • alhatesreligion

        Matthew 28:19

  • Don Woods

    When are we going to see articles about measuring church growth qualitatively?

    1. Are you becoming more like Jesus?
    2. Do the fruits of the Spirit define your local gathering?

    Probably never on this site.

    • Rick Kuhn

      If those things were there, the growth quantitatively would follow it, so there is really no need to discuss this since it is fundamental. If those things are not there, you’re not much of a church to start with.

      • Maxaipa

        You have missed the point. The qualitative aspects are not measured necessarily by numbers. As the article said there are many churches that love, pray and have desire yet don’t increase numerically, that being the litmus test to many.

  • RIc

    Ultimately, the congregation will grow or shrink to the size that the leadership can really attend. One pastor can not alway deal with 200 people, but fortunately they don’t all need him at the same time. These points free up one who is willing to lead to be able to lead.

    • Gracious

      Thanks, I really appreciated the rationale. It was painful yet true in some areas in our case. We are well intentioned but not as effective as we could be given the resources God has provided. Are we doing our best or could we improve in some of those areas? After reviewing the results of a recent spiritual gifts tests, praise God many are operating in the right areas.However, many volunteers are being underutilized due to a lack of time spent on developing a group training model/strategy (some are new to the church and we have no background info).

      Thank God you didn’t write this to win a popularity contest or to receive affirmation from your peers :-). Thanks again for taking the risks to help us fulfill the great commission and to discipline.

      • RIc

        Gracious, I am in my 6th year of serving in China. I have to admit it was a drastic change to come here after 24 years pastoring in the states. One of the great blessings is that I have been removed the small critical and competitive nature of the US church. God is at work here. I live in a city of 14 million people. There are 2 churches for Chinese, 1 expat church of about 400 and several Korean churches. That’s it for 14,000,000 people. I have been in villages where the only Christians were the family we were visiting and my wife and I.
        The world is suffering and we argue about so many things. The people entering eternity are not impressed with our arguments. It is true that the church is not a corporation, its much more like triage. Hopefully it is organized to serve. It’s a little more organic and it bit messy, but getting out there is more effective than the best organization behind closed doors.

  • http://www.ctmiworld.com Harley Ithier

    1 Corinthians 3:6 KJV
    I have planted , Apollos watered ; but God gave the increase .
    GOD is interested in growth. Not for church growth sake but the FATHER does not want anyone to perish and He CARES. He has also provided that we should grow into the image of HIS Son Jesus. I have given a scripture..for the spiritual ones reading the post…GBU all!

  • Rick Kuhn

    If your church isn’t growing both in numbers and spiritual growth, then something is wrong, just as it would be with your child. Love the comments by people defending the indefensible and then trying to ridicule churches who are growing. Maybe, an article on grace would be a great refresher.

    The first comment of the article is probably the biggest stumbling block because a pastor is who is so busy “ministering” to all the needs of the flock will never be able to properly lead or cast a vision. This dovetails with the need for the people in the pews to do the ministry and not simply be the recipients. Plenty of people in the pews have the gift of pastoral care – and lots of folks who preach have zero of it. Time to let people be used where they were made to be used – understanding that God can take the mute to preach or the shy to lead.

    But so many churches are about “me” and how are you dealing with me, that they should remove the cross and just change the name to a social or family gathering because that is all they really are. They could care less whether the world around them races on to perdition, as long as the [pastor stops over every once in a while for dinner.

    The other thing in this article is the man was making his points – not completing a seminary education. Using the rationale some critics of the article make would require us to throw out all Jesus parable teachings – they made the point he was making at that moment, not all poinnts for all time.

  • Melissa

    Brilliant article. Thanks for posting this; hopefully it’s one that will benefit many.

  • Maxaipa

    Despite the fact the author offers the caveat “there’s nothing wrong with being a small church” he clearly advocates bigger is better, if not more effective. Further,
    the assumption is made that the great commission is a call to reach as many people as we can and numerical grow is a direct causal link to success of that goal. This is false.

    Let me offer a couple presuppositions, first that if we truly believe Jesus calls
    us to “follow him” in all we do and say, then following him should extend to our philosophy and practice in being, not doing his church. The body is his bride, a living and breathing organism not an organization. Jesus literal body on earth while he is seated at his Father’s right hand and who, not what he loves and will come back to reclaim one day. The model that Christ set for us to follow is one where authentic Christianity is nurtured, grown and matures. That model is one of relationship. The most successful ministry that ever existed had one leader and twelve disciples.
    Small but effective and akin to a “ma and pa” scenario. The point is that just as we know that authentic Christianity grows in the context of relationship so we also know that numbers affect the context of relationship. Group dynamics, in particular intimacy levels, change dramatically as numbers increase. Accepted studies show that depending on the setting and purpose, intimacy amongst a group is almost nonexistent
    once a group peaks one hundred and fifty people. People don’t know each other’s names and story and cannot share together in the same intimacy level experienced in a smaller group. This ultimately alters the intimacy and worship of a group and I would argue Gods pleasure in the gathering.

    Secondly, and I will be very blunt with this, I have No desire to win every single person
    I can for Christ. None. Neither you nor I have a calling to be entrepreneurial or capitalistic and do it all on our own or build an empire or mega church that
    fulfills that purpose either or in breaking the “200 attendance mark”. We do have a calling and should have a desire to fulfill the unique plan God has for our lives and the churches he has called us to serve. The notion that we have to do all we can also leads to a paradigm shift in our thinking away from relationship and organism to organization and structure, which is man attempt at playing god. Neither you nor I nor any mega church on our/it’s own will ever be able to fulfill the great commission. God designed it NOT to work that way because it leads us away from relationship, interdependence and dependence on him. This mentality is further propagated by the selfish philosophy that denominations began and that has been accepted and modelled by local churches. Rather than strategically looking at a city or town and as God had directed Paul in Acts 18, look for “those in this city who are mine” and all the believers purpose together in his love, each is trying to do it all on their own, in many cases believing their way the only or best way as if they have some extra revelation the rest of us aren’t privy to. I am convinced we just don’t get Jesus notion of relationship within his body and practice it the way he would in fulfilling the greatest commandments and the great commission, that our current strategy will be proved counterproductive to Gods purposes and that our saviour weeps at our lack of understanding and cooperation in loving others in EXACTLY the way the way he loved us.

    • Herb

      One size does not fit all. Do we need to find the imperfections with others so we seem perfect? The intimacy we seek is with God and that in turn should help us to understand and be in better and deeper relations with others in spite of differences. I thank God for every color in the rainbow. I thank God for weather that changes. I thank God I do not have to eat the same food each day. God could have made it simple and not given choices but God did and now we must chose ……. even to be in an intimate with God and others no matter what the size of the family or community.

      • Maxaipa

        I don’t understand how choice or diversity applies to this topic?

    • David Antonini

      I was best cared for pastorally in the biggest church I went to. The right people were in lower leadership positions forming real relationships, and the higher leaders good at equipping leaders, ministers and congregants such that the whole was effective. That’s what’s being said here – the head pastor can’t do everything, and done well, you end up with effectivrly smaller congregations that meet together each sunday as a whole.

      • Ray Holsemback

        I could not state it any better. Thank you
        in Christ,

    • Ron Johnson

      I guess the early church must have dined then, since thousands can to faith in Christ in a short period of time.

    • David Antonini

      Aren’t we all One Church, His bride? Or am i reading a different Bible to you?

      • alhatesreligion

        We are One church however it seems we can’t resist being fragmented. I mean just look on any given Sunday in any given town we are separated by race by denomination it’s pretty disgusting. if we could just put our minor differences away and come to agreement on the basic core of our faith and worked together can you imagine how the world would change.

    • alhatesreligion

      I think you need to reread the article again cuz it looks like you missed the intent

  • RIc

    It seem like many have not read the article or have made an assumption that is invalid.

    First the focus of the article is what holds your church back from Growing. It is not what makes your church grow. To assume that removing a negative hinderances to growth becomes church growth strategy is wrong. Locking the door maybe a reason your church is not growing but unlocking it (even though it is a good first step) doesn’t mean it is going to be full of disciples in the morning.

    Surely those criticizing this article are not suggestion
    that there be only one care giver in the whole congregation, don’t worry about
    how you are going to reach your goal, fill positions with warm bodies, give
    volunteers responsibility without authority, manage every point, have lots
    or meetings and programs so that everyone is happy. Of course not! The authors point is not what many have said it was either.

    I appreciated the 8 things.
    There is more to be sure. God chose 66 books to convey His message and we chide this author for having left a few things out of a page blog. I appreciate the helpful comments.

    There are people dying out there. Got to go.

  • Don Woods

    Mega-churches and Numerical growth have become an idol!

    “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock ‘I will build My church’, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” — (Matthew 16:18)

    The way Jesus builds His church seems to never be taught anymore in the liberal seminaries.

    • Ron Johnson

      Jesus had a mission, a strategy, a plan, and a power. He fulfilled that mission and millions have put their trust in him.

      • TomT

        true Ron, but they do not have to all go the mega-churches to accomplish His will

        • alhatesreligion

          but if they want to they can, Has anyone ever spoken about the disobedient small churches some of them refuse to grow because they refuse to change on certain things I’m not talking about compromise of the scripture I’m talking about their customs they refuse to let go of

    • alhatesreligion

      so how do you know God is my building on some of these foundations these churches that you criticizewhat really has become an idol is the idol of criticism towards other believers

  • Lynnette AH

    I know av been blessed by the reading too, i think people who are being
    defensive against the article are just guilty that this article is
    actually truthfully hitting on some good points…. If you never open
    yourself to learning from those who have been there you will always be
    comfortable where you are, even when God wants more for you!! This is
    happening in my own church and am grateful for this helpful article….
    More people in Church is good, all i can add is that we need to make
    sure that it is not just numbers but we disciple the people to actually
    be rooted in Christ!….

  • Gracious

    Thanks, I really appreciated the rationale. It was painful yet true in some areas in our case. We are well intentioned but not as effective as we could be given the resources God has provided. Are we doing our best or could we improve in some of those areas? After reviewing the results of a recent spiritual gifts tests, praise God many are operating in the right areas.However, many volunteers are being underutilized due to a lack of time spent on developing a group training model/strategy (some are new to the church and we have no background info).

    Thank God you didn’t write this to win a popularity contest or to receive affirmation from your peeruhhs :-). Thanks again for taking the risks to help us fulfill the great commission and to discipline.

  • Eli S. Mostrales

    Typical … seeing the ideal church as a mere human and social organization run by men who are topnotch CEO’s … and the objective to break the 200 mark and soar to tens of thousands attendance?!!! … look again … think again … is this the will of the Head of the church?

    • Ron Johnson

      Yes, just like what happened in the early church.

      • alhatesreligion

        good reply Ron

    • alhatesreligion

      Wow, what arrogance to assume that you know what God has in store what different churches

  • Eli S. Mostrales

    Man’s effort to aid the only Lord who will build the church …

  • Randy

    These are all good points that you bring out; but……. the bottom line is this: Unless the LORD/YAHWEH, builds the house!!!!!!!! They
    Labor IN VAIN who build it. We need to surrender all things unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. Who for the JOY that was set before Him, endured the Cross despising the shame. Why ? So we could ne faithful ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord and giver of life. Knowing He’s the Lord and giver of life should set our ministry on solid ground as we share the full word of God and not burden ourselves as to what the next topical sermon will be.
    Go now, and do likewise

    • alhatesreligion

      Jesus gave the command, so these suggestions here are part of that foundation. I’m not the biggest fan on topical messages but Jesus was a topical speaker

  • Ron Johnson

    Another reason churches don’t pass 200 or even 75 is where the pastor has not developed the leadership skills to manage more than one level deep. In those cases they ought to have a strategy to plant hundreds of smaller churches.

  • Ron Johnson

    Most churches don’t break the 20 barrier because they missed the command to make disciples who make disciples.

    • Ron Johnson


      • Ol’ Shep

        Every church should be reaching new people in an effort to see them become CHRIST followers. I pastor a church that has been virtually plateaued at around 350 for 12 years. We have new people and good leadership– basically healthy. I agree that the lack of a clear strategy is the key choking point.

  • Pastor Tom

    So how does one delineate the “good vs great”? Numbers gain? Exposure achieved? Glowing subjective feedback? Souls won? Leaders created?

    • alhatesreligion

      How how prayer

  • Paul Sinclair

    This is a nicely written and very helpful article.

  • B.Jones

    I see none of this in scripture! Col. 2:8-10 . The scriptural mandate is ” Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ!” He is the one who builds His church. It seems many today are attempting to do in the flesh what is the job of The Holy Spirit. B.Jones

    • Ricardo Villanueva

      I would change ‘primary’ to ‘solitary ‘ caregiver and there you have the implicit meaning that would be scriptural. “Disciples others to help with the task.” The word disciple is scriptural.

    • alhatesreligion

      People in the early church assigned duties to individuals. Pray for the chuch dont simply come against those who are working for the kingdom

  • Allan Calhoun Ireland-Missions

    great article…. THANKS!!! To the great folk who say “GOD will build His Church” > of COURSE that is the Truth – and He builds His Church on His Word – this article articulates a few Word of GOD principles that will help position the Church for Apostolic Growth.

  • Michael Wang

    Thank you, I seen these principles all over the Bible. God build great leaders.


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