1. The Pastor can preach. Preaching ability goes a long way, and more pastors ought to spend more time refining their skills. 91% of pastors assess themselves as better than average at preaching. If you know anything about the Bell Curve, this means 41% of them are lying to themselves. More than any other factor, good preaching will make up for what may be lacking in other areas. But not all, of course.
2. Relevant, applicable Biblical teaching. Just open the book and let it speak. The Bible does its best work in our lives when we allow it to read us rather than us trying to read it. Great Bible teachers understand this, and growing churches know how to recruit, train and deploy such teachers in Sunday School, Small Groups and other high-impact venues.
3. A church of Prayer. Prayer changes what is possible. It puts us into a posture of being able to receive from God blessing, correction, reproof, direction and wisdom. Only perfect churches can ignore these things. All other churches must have them in order to grow. So prayer is critical to a church’s success.
4. Highly focused. A growing church knows its mission and so do all of the members. In fact, they orient everything they do around it. And the mission always has the person and the ongoing work of Jesus at its center. A church with 250 members and 86 different ministries is likely an unfocused church. If you need help here, check out the book Simple Church.
5. High degree of accountability. Before you run away imagining benchmarks, long and short term goals and measurements of success, the best kind of accountability looks different than the corporate model. Here, leaders are in regular conversation with those serving in ministry under their leadership. Here, accountability is a regular check-in meeting where ideas, struggles, hopes and prayers are shared. Most people don’t need to be held accountable to the work, but to the mission of vision. These meetings keep that in crystal clear focus, and good work almost always naturally follow.
Other Essential Elements of Growing Churches:
Intentional Discipleship Pathway
Budget heavy on missions
Top 5 Reasons Churches Decline
1. Conflict and/or the fallout from it. For whatever reason, these churches usually have at least 3 missions. One is the stated mission, and the others are the missions hiding in the shadows created by various competing factions within the church. Hallmarks of these churches are a frequent change of pastors, lots of gossip, same group of lay people in leadership year after year, and very few guests returning for a second time.
2. Poor leadership of both clergy and laity. This goes hand in hand with conflict. Poor leaders do not know how to leverage conflict for the good. Instead, they try to avoid it, even when it is unavoidable, and come off as weak, out of touch, clueless, scared or apathetic. It’s no surprise that followers abandon those who refuse to lead when strong leadership is most needed.
3. Poor followers. There are 2 kinds here. One is the overly domineering personality. They insist on their way and often get it to the detriment of the mission. The 2nd kind of poor follower will remain quiet and cave to strong personalities and then resent it in silence. They will acquiesce and agree to what they know is harmful, destructive and wrong. But not great followers. Nathan confronted King David about his sin with Uriah and Bathsheba. Good followers will do that. They insist on integrity and will risk their relationship with the leader, because the ongoing work of Jesus is too important.
4. No hill to take. A recent social media meme lampooned a major denomination’s call for unity sarcastically declaring, “It is our unity that unifies us.” But this is what happens when there is not a common, shared mission around which the life and ministry of the church is oriented. Churches so easily get bogged down in programming that is interest-driven rather than mission-driven. As a corrective, Jesus said that the mission of the church is to win the lost and set the oppressed free. Focusing on that might be a good place to start to turn it around.
5. Poor hospitality and communication. In declining churches, the insiders always seem to know what’s going on, but few others do. This failure to communicate as clearly and broadly as possible creates a sense of alienation that says outsiders are not valued or even thought about all that much. Nothing communicates a lack of hospitality like a failure to communicate. And communication starts the moment someone steps on campus. The only thing worse than no greeters or ushers are unfriendly ones who seem detached and disinterested. But every week, in declining churches all over the country, you will find them.
Other Traits of Declining Churches:
Few commitments of faith or baptisms
Everyone thinks just alike (these can grow for a while, but it’s not sustainable)
Change is a dirty word
Very few returning guests
For those of you struggling with some of the above realities, I am struggling right there with you. You pray for me and I will pray for you!