I love my church. I want it to be strong, healthy and growing.
That’s why I read church ministry blogs and books, go to conferences and seminars, listen to podcasts… whatever I can get my hands on. I’m always looking for the best advice I can get from the best people I can find.
Last week I read another one of those “Here’s Why Your Church Isn’t Growing” lists. The author was a well-known church leadership writer. I’ve read several of his books and have been helped by them.
There was nothing especially new in this particular post, so I moved on. Or so I thought.
But his post has been sitting with me for a week. Sitting badly.
So I reviewed it again today. The author wrote that a church won’t grow if:
- There’s no priority to reach the unchurched
- The church has a self-serving attitude
- We’re worried that new people will destroy the fellowship
- There’s no vision for outreach
- There’s an attitude of “We like our church just the way it is…which is without you!”
- …and more
He’s right! A church with those attitudes will not grow because it doesn’t want to grow. And it shouldn’t grow. Because it’s not healthy.
So why did his post bug me so much? Here’s why:
The assumption of pettiness.
So many lists like this carry an undertone that, if a church isn’t growing numerically, the leaders, the people, or both of them must have self-serving, petty attitudes.
(I’m not linking to the post, because I don’t want to make this personal. And because I’m using it as a stand-in for so many posts that do the same thing. But yes, it does exist.)
Let’s Do What Works
Church leaders need to stop writing lists like this. Please. Here’s why.
I’m your target audience. I’m the pastor of a good church that has never experienced consistent numerical growth. Plus, because of blogging at NewSmallChurch.com and my book, The Grasshopper Myth, I’m always talking with other pastors who fall within your target audience.
Like me, they want their churches to grow. And they’re looking for help.
I know you want to help churches and pastors. That’s why you write your blogs and books. And we want your help. That’s why we read what you write.
But when an already-discouraged pastor reads a list telling them their church isn’t growing because they’re visionless, self-serving and petty, it doesn’t lift them up, it beats them down.
Please stop beating us down for what you think we’re not doing. Guilt doesn’t motivate, it discourages.
Besides, those petty attitudes aren’t true for us. Pastors who don’t care, don’t read church leadership blogs!
You know who is reading your blog? Good pastors. Hard-working pastors. Caring pastors. Discouraged pastors.
Don’t slap our hands, put tools in them. Tools that will work for us now, while we’re small. Tools that promote health and growth. Tools that encourage and inspire us.
Slapping the hands of your readers for not caring is like yelling at the people who did show up to church because you’re mad at the people who didn’t show up.
We need a moratorium on “Why Your Church Isn’t Growing” lists for one simple reason: they don’t work!
If all healthy things grow, stick to writing about principles that bring health to the church. That’s something we can use.
One of the Biggest Obstacles to Church Growth
I’m aware that the best path to church growth is to remove obstacles to church growth. That’s why you write articles to help us identify and remove those obstacles. But do you know what one of the main obstacles to church growth and health is? Discouraged and demoralized pastors who keep feeling beaten up for things they may not be doing wrong!
Yes, you get comments thanking you for your insights in these posts. But have you noticed you’re also getting more push-back, lately? It’s not because we don’t want to hear bad news. It’s because we’re tired of feeling guilty for attitudes we don’t hold.
And the push-back you get is only from those who still care enough to read the posts and speak up about it. Who knows how many discouraged pastors skip right past such blog posts when they see yet another title about what they must be doing wrong?
Every year thousands of pastors get so discouraged they stop looking for help. For many of them, the discouragement gets so deep they give up and leave the ministry for good. After all, you’re not the only ones telling us how bad a job we’re doing. We hear it from our church members, our denominational officials and mostly, from ourselves.
We know we’re making mistakes. Anyone who thinks they’re not, is fooling themselves. And we want to correct our mistakes. But a selfish, petty, uncaring attitude isn’t one of those mistakes.
So the next time you’re tempted to write another “Here’s Why Your Church Isn’t Growing” list, please consider the faithful, hardworking pastors who aren’t inspired to do better by such lists, but walk away feeling defeated and discouraged by them.
Then give us something positive, encouraging and uplifting. No one can ever get too much of that.
To My Fellow Small Church Pastors
Finally, to my friends, compatriots and fellow-laborers. My fellow Small Church pastors.
Your church is small. It may not be growing. It may not have grown for a long time. But if you care enough about your church to be reading this blog post, you’re not a petty person. So don’t listen to anyone who’s trying to tell you that.
And you’re not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of churches like yours and mine. In small towns, big cities, slums, community centers, school auditoriums, coffee houses, wayside chapels, living rooms and more who are contributing greatly to the growth of the kingdom of God.
Lift your head high. Stand tall. Keep learning. Keep loving your people, reaching the community and worshiping Jesus.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, take a break. Spend less time reading blogs and books, and more time in the Word, in prayer, in fellowship and in Sabbath rest. Those are the things that will always nourish you and never discourage you.
You and your ministry matter. Never let anyone make you feel otherwise. Including yourself.
So what do you think? Are you ready for your Small Church to be bold, brave, faithful and strong despite the assumptions of others?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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