So you want your church to grow . . . to reach new people. And you’ve convinced yourself that you really would grow if you only had one or two more things to make your ministry thrive.
For example, you’ve might have said any combination of these things.
We would grow if we:
Got out of our portable location and opened a new building.
Got out of our current building and became portable (I’ve actually talked with leaders who think they would grow explosively if they left their old building and became portable).
Added new technology (like lights, sound or video).
Merged with another church.
Added a new campus.
And would you?
Here’s my theory. No you wouldn’t.
Before you get discouraged and quit reading this post, let me explain why this line of thinking rarely, if ever works.
One Principle Most of us Want to Ignore
David Ogilvy, the famous 20th century advertising guru, is famous for saying that great marketing just makes a bad product fail faster.
And that’s the principle most of us want to ignore, or at least I do.
Most churches aren’t growing because of their venue or even because of their technology.
They’re stagnant or dying because they’re not connecting with people and effectively fulfilling their mission.
As a result, in most cases:
A change in venue will simply move your current problems into a new location.
New technology will only magnify your current irrelevance.
Merging ministries or adding locations will only compound your current problems with new ones.
Bottom line? There is no silver bullet.
The trap most leaders fall into is believing that a change in form will be an adequate substitute for a change in substance.
And change in form never makes up for a change in substance.
Substantive change is the only thing that will truly change the trajectory of most churches and organizations.
You can put new siding on a house, but if the foundation is crumbling . . .
You can paint your car, but if the engine is still seized . . .
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig . . .
Until you substantively change the way you function, any change in any kind of form will never be effective.
A change in venue won’t help a dying church grow.
Better media won’t help a dying church grow.
Adding new campuses won’t help a dying church grow.
Merging won’t help two or three dying churches grow.
I’ve lived through this tension. In less than two decades, our church has met in a century old building, an elementary school, and a new facility, movie theatres and as of next year, once again a brand new facility. Through all phases, we’ve grown from a handful of people to almost 1,000 on weekends today.
And through out it, buildings, technologies and even locations have been means to an end, not ends in themselves. They did not make us grow or reach new people. They helped, but they are not the secret sauce.
How To Make Things Worse
If you want to make things worse, here’s how to do it.
Address form, but don’t address substance. Never resolve your underlying problems.
Instead, add technology, add locations, add campuses, engineer mergers and hope that they will solve all your problems. They won’t.
In fact, they’ll make them worse.
Instead of being in your old building with a manageable budget, you are in a new one with higher costs you can’t pay.
Instead of having your own issues to solve, you’ve merged with another church and now have two organization’s problems to solve. (This is why church mergers in mainline churches almost never work. Church takeovers can and do by the way.)
Instead of being in one location, you are in two and are discovering that two locations aren’t twice as complicated as one location, but 3x to 4x more complicated than running a single site.
Instead of having a simple message people can understand, you have all this technology that is creating even greater distance between you and the people you’re trying to reach.
I believe these things are true:
- You can grow a church in a centuries’ old building. And you can kill a church in a brand new multi-million dollar facility.
- You can grow a church with zero media. And you can waste a million dollars on lights, gear and cameras.
- You can grow a church in a single site. And you can go bankrupt adding venues no one wants to attend.
These truths are hard truths but they’re so helpful because they make us look in the mirror and get on our knees.
They help us realize where the issue really is and make us do the homework and the heartwork we need to do.
Please hear me. I have led church mergers and multisite expansions and building campaigns and portable church and rapid technological change in the church and they’ve all helped us reach more people and grow our ministry.
But I think it’s only because we sat down and solved our underlying problems as an organization first.
We got healthier inward as we grew outward.
We tackled the issues of substance before and as often as possible even as we tackled the issues of form.
And (don’t miss this) God has been incredibly gracious to us. (I say that just so you know that I’m not trying to take credit. And God has been gracious to you too I’m sure. It’s just God’s grace is no substitute for using your mind and heart to engage the issues of leadership that are before you.)
And Now the Good News
So what makes a church grow?
Addressing the substantive issues before you will help you grow. This post lists 10 issues many issues churches need to resolve before they grow. This post addresses another 8 reasons why most churches never pass the 200 attendance mark. Tackling issues like these will help you deal with the real problems in front of you.
And when you get healthy, your mission begins to flourish.
Then the moves, the mergers (or takeovers), the expansions, the technology and all the other changes in form help.
All of these things can help a healthy church grow more. But they will not make a dying or stagnant chu