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Church Leader, Stop Making Excuses

Seriously. Stop making excuses about why your church isn’t growing.

It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your fault. Sure, you tried your best. Yes, there was a change of plans. I know you didn’t have the resources you needed.

Okay.

Whatever.

So what?

I’m sorry preachers and church leaders, we are prone to making excuses. Here’s what I mean:

There are precious few churches that wouldn’t love to grow; that wouldn’t love to have more people come to know Jesus. Church planting organizations are created to “make disciples”. Para-church ministries want to develop and become larger. Local churches burn much time and energy on “outreach.” And we get all distressed when the research shows that churches are in decline. No church I know of wants less people worshiping, growing, and developing in Christ. But when that doesn’t happen, do we ask hard questions, re-evaluate, seek God in deeper ways? No.

Instead, we make excuses.

“People are no longer interested in truth/sound doctrine.”

“The culture is against us.”

“We’re the faithful remnant.”

“We’re leading people ‘deeper.'”

And the new grandaddy of excuses, “We’re missional!”

All of these statements add up to one thing: We’re not growing.

The instinct here is a noble one, I think. In absence of numerical growth, we grope for a another kind of growth.  We want our congregations to testify that God is at work. Thankfully, God is still at work. And, no, it doesn’t make you bad, evil, or unconcerned with the gospel if your church isn’t growing or working toward growing.

The problem is that our excuses don’t help the Kingdom of God. Excuses might make us feel a little better – for a moment. But deep down we know that we’re missing something. Deep down we know that another 52-week series on the book of Acts or the next Wednesday night class about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin aren’t nearly as meaningful as making use of the baptistry.

Thankfully, there are some steps we can take to help us emerge from our excuse making.

  1. Accept That Numbers Matters: Get over it. That First Century church that was so heralded in the churches of my youth counted how many people they had; how many were converted. It was the mass of numbers in Acts that troubled both the Jewish Leaders and Roman Empire. Being the excuse makers we are, some will no doubt argue, “Numbers aren’t the only thing that matters.” Of course, not. And no one-ever- in the history of the world has said otherwise. Heck, even Joel Osteen never said that. Drop that excuse. Churches, I believe, can walk and chew gum at the same time. Because numbers matter doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that matters or that nothing else matters, but they do matter.
  2. Your System (and Plan) Matters. How, why,  to and by whom, and where your ministry occurs matters. You need to deal with the demographics of your community and how you’re trying to reach them. I once heard Tim Keller talk about his first pastorate versus Redeemer Lutheran in NYC, where he presently serves. He learned a great deal in his first church, but it was rural and, turns out, he is a better fit in NYC. What’s more, your ministry methodology matters. If you’re not growing or moving toward growth, you might just have a bad plan. Churches across the theological spectrum are growing. Lakewood in Houston is a vastly different place than Ecclesia in Houston and they’re not geographically far from one another. It’s not theology. It’s their system to reach a certain community. If your leadership isn’t talking about a system and plan, they need to start today. If your church isn’t growing, it’s not likely a person, it’s the plan. The great thing is that plans can change and you can change plans.
  3. Owning Our Results.  I know many pastors are slow to own results and for very good reason. In the churches of my childhood, the preacher had little, if any, influence in what the church did. He was a cog in the wheel. He didn’t affect worship, policy, class teaching, and didn’t oversee the staff. All that was available to him was his powers of persuasion, in person and in pulpit. I get that. Nevertheless, we all need to own what’s happening and not happening in our churches. When we own the results, we are more invested in the outcomes. We work harder and with more focus. More than anything else, we are forced to lean into God in new ways and trust God’s guidance. If our stagnation is always someone else’s fault, then, well, no change required of us.
  4. Trusting God Matters. What if, as church leaders, our churches aren’t growing because God doesn’t trust us with growth? What if we haven’t called our churches to faithfulness through tithing? What if we are theological sophisticants and educators who know the Bible backwards and forwards, but are not desperately chasing after God personally? And what if it shows? Could it be that our ho-hum approach to God has produced ho-hum churches?

It’s easy to make excuses. The Bible is big enough and the church complex enough that we’ll always have some theological romanticism about death and resurrection. There will always be reasons to avoid dealing with our growth deficit. But I think both you and I want to stop making excuses.

  • Sean,

    While I agree that most churches want to grow, I think that many churches don’t want anymore people. What I mean is that if you ask church folks if they want the church to grow they would say yes, I want the church to grow because Jesus wants it to grow. BUt I would really like for it to grow in Houston, or Dallas, or ElPaso, or …… You see if my church grows then it get’s a bit uncomfortable. Weird folks come in and I am not sure if they are safe. What if they have some weird idea that they want to talk about in BIble class???

    It’s a pretty Biblical struggle. Acts 9 the Church didn’t want to grow because they were afraid of Saul.
    Acts 11 the Church didn’t want to grow if it meant other races (the Gentiles) were invited.
    Acts 15 the Church didn’t want folks who had different experiences (You must be a jew before you can be a Christian)
    Galatians 2 Peter did not want to grow if it meant welcoming folks his friends didn’t like.

    While no church may want “less people worshiping, growing, and developing in Christ.” I believe that most churches are happy where they are and that’s the real problem. Just my 2 cents, thank you for your thoughts.

  • Thanks for the challenging post Sean. I agree. Most churches I’ve been affiliated with don’t have a plan. We hope for “friendship evangelism” but have no idea how many friends have had the Gospel shared with them in the last 6 months. It just doesn’t work. A plan is essential. Actually several plans. A plan for the current congregations spiritual growth. And a plan for reaching new lives with the Good News.

    I also agree with Jeremy’s comments. I’ve served with 4 churches all with around 90-150 members. In all of them I’ve heard at various times how people like the smaller church because they know everyone’s name vs a big church where you wouldn’t even know who was a visitor! What I haven’t heard is an eagerness for God to transform a community using our church and triple the size of our congregation. There’s a lot of inertia built into “comfort”.

    • I’ve experienced some of the same. By “we want to grow,” many churches mean “we want to be big enough to have sizable kids and and youth programs and big enough to not have to worry about sacrificially give to the budget.” This is one of the reasons there is no plan. It neatly connects with the idea I shared here, which is, we ultimately don’t want to be accountable. That’s leaders and members alike.

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