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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.