A Lack of Numerical Results Does Not Equal No Results
Recently I had a conversation with a pastor that I have been coaching for over a year. Over the course of the last several months, he and his team created plans, landed a focused vision and made a lot of significant changes. During our last conversation he shared some the discouragement that he and his team were experiencing. He said, “We’re a little frustrated because, despite the changes we have made, we still haven’t seen numerical growth.” Matter of fact, the average attendance of his church was exactly what it was one year ago.
If you’re a pastor or leader and feel a similar frustration like my friend, don’t panic and don’t give up. Church growth, just like a garden, has a process. Here are three things you need to get your arms around. Take these thoughts to your team and encourage them.
1. People will Leave when the Vision Becomes Outward Focused:
Throughout the New Testament, the Gospel unifies people, but it also divides people. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus was surrounded by religious leaders and followers who were not happy about the people He was reaching. When Jesus shared His mission, people pushed back. His idea of reaching people who were far away from God did not fit into their belief system or ideology. John captures one of those moments when he writes, “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). Unfortunately, this is still the case in many churches today. Churches allow their traditions, past practices and complacency to supersede the mission of reaching people for Jesus. So, you need to know that it’s okay when people leave. Accept that.
2. Don’t Overlook Invisible Growth:
When churches are working to get unstuck, growth is always preceded with cutting and pruning. Loss will always come before gain. Jesus said, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2). Unhealthy programs (and many times people) have to be cut away. So don’t let the attendance number be the only lens you look through to talk about growth. Even healthy things must be pruned. This is a normal part of growth, and if you treat it as abnormal, you’ll sabotage your plans and efforts.
3. Tangible Growth Simply Takes Time:
When leaders want instant growth, they begin making quick decisions that usually lead to wrong decisions. When change is made too quickly, it can create a lack of buy-in from the church. Although there are things we must change immediately, there is value in creating a strategic timeline in terms of what changes when. It takes time to shift the church’s focus from the WHAT to the WHY. When the why becomes the driver, conversations shift and motives change.