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“Healthy things grow.”

Many church leaders use this principle to justify an over appetite for growth. “It’s ok to focus on growth because it’s an evidence of health,” the thinking goes. That’s putting the cart before the horse. The mindset may create some short-term spikes in attendance but it will not lead to lasting impact. What it will create is a team that is burnt out and suspicious of its leader’s motives.

Here are some problems that naturally arise when leaders focus on growth for health…

  • People are thought of as masses, not individuals. That’s when leaders get accused of treating people like numbers.
  • More and more ministries are created to attract different types of people. The church becomes over-programmed.
  • Leaders start spending money like the church is bigger than it actually is.
  • Churches “staff for growth” with no real indication that they will actually grow. Ministry budgets take the hit.
  • The team makes decisions to increase attendance, not to reach unchurched people. It’s easier to draw in Christians than non-Christians. That further encourages people to make decisions for insiders, not outsiders.

So how do you build a healthy church that will naturally grow? Here are five steps to help you get started:

  1. Talk about names more than numbers – The more you talk about people in numbers, the less likely you are to treat them as individuals. Everyone who walks through the door deserves personalized attention. Does your staff hear you tell stories about individuals or crowds? (This includes social media posts on Sunday afternoons.)
  2. Stay focused on reaching people far from God – Healthy churches care about reaching the right people; people in need of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. At our new campuses at NewPointe, we keep this focus by filtering every decision through one question: What is the absolute best thing for the unchurched family in our community?
  3. Lead your staff with sustainable rhythms – A healthy church is built on healthy leaders. So often we encourage businessmen and women to live healthy lives while at the same time driving our staff towards burnout. That’s not just irony; it’s hypocrisy. If you really want to experience health for growth, audit your staffs’ schedules and create sustainable rhythms. This may mean letting go of some programs because they can’t be done healthily.
  4. Budget on what you have. Not on what you hope to have – Budgeting on projections makes you financially dependent on growth. That increases the pressure to get more people in seats. Not only that, it naturally shifts the focus from reaching unchurched people to reaching new givers. Those are very different targets. When you budget next year’s expenses on this year’s revenue, you can leverage giving from the people you’ve reached to continue reaching unchurched people.
  5. Focus on Next Steps just as much as Attendance – When you analyze your church’s growth, focus on more than simple Attendance Change. Metrics like salvations, baptisms, small groups participation and volunteer involvement help you see if you are truly making disciples. Our eBook Vital Signs can help you get a much deeper sense of your church’s health.

So is your church focused on health for growth or growth for health? What would your team say you care about most?

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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