Why Churches Stay Small (and Never Break 200)

This year Calvary, the church I pastor, was named the 5th fastest growing church in the United States by Outreach Magazine. There was lots of clapping by our congregation, congratulations by ministry colleagues, and even a cake from my staff. However, I remember when Calvary was a struggling church of 50 trying to reach people and get into triple digits. Over the last year I’ve been many times to explain how Calvary went from a church that reached new few people to a vibrant congregation. However, that’s not the real question people are asking. They want to know how their church can start growing and reaching people.

As I’ve coached more than 2,500 pastors in the last 4 years, I can say that the path to breaking the 200 barrier in attendance isn’t difficult. However, it takes courage to do things that are next to impossible in some church settings. But for those who wish to make the bold decisions needed to reach people far from God, I believe there are 5 reasons churches don’t break 200 in attendance….

#1 – There’s No Bigger Vision Beyond Current Circumstances

A few years ago I was consulting with a church that wanted to break 200. I arrived at the church and found a sanctuary which sat only 100 people. While they were doing 2 services on Sunday, the church could not exceed 200. The diagnosis was easy. The remedy was far more difficult. The church needed to move so they could keep growing. This is why churches need to be careful when picking meeting space early on and building auditoriums later on. If you aren’t careful, the shoe will tell the foot how big it can grow. If you want our church to grow beyond your current size, there needs to be a God-sized vision, not a survival mode mentality.

#2 – There’s No Commitment to Reproduce Leaders

I tell our leaders at Calvary that you cannot build a 20 story building on a 10 story foundation. That means, for the church to further grow, we need to continue investing in leaders at every level of the organization. Everyone who serves at Calvary receives investment. The individual’s level of commitment determines what level of investment they receive. The reason is because we want to give the most training and time to those who are the most committed. Churches who want to grow beyond 200 can start this today. Gather a group of leaders and potential leaders and start investing in them. Do some teaching. Read a book together. Rub shoulders with them. Investing in leaders always returns a huge dividend.

#3 – There’s No Strategy to Reach the Community 

Growing churches know that the community isn’t going to just come to them. Churches need to get out in the community and start serving, inviting, and sharing the Gospel. Churches also need to recognize that they need unique strategies to reach those who have friends who at you church versus those who have no idea your church exists. Obviously, word of mouth costs nothing and servant evangelism costs next to nothing. So if you can’t spend money on postcards, billboards, or Facebook ads, do the things that don’t cost anything. We do an entire module in our Breaking 200 course about the Bootstrapper’s Guide to Church Outreach.

#4 – There’s No Commitment to Excellence on Sunday

Too many pastors are putting together their sermons on Saturday night and wondering why the service on Sunday doesn’t run on all 8-cylinders. I tell pastors to make an appointment with themselves during the week to study and get Sunday’s message ready. Because here’s the reality: people are judging your church based on the Sunday experience. You can have exceptional small groups, but no one will get that far unless Sunday grips them. Pastors need to understand that their greatest contribution to the church comes in the form of casting vision and preaching. I want people who attend Calvary to have the best experience possible on Sunday because that is where they are making decisions to stay or go.

#5 – There’s No Glue to Keep Those You Reach

There are few things more frustrating than reaching people through the front door and seeing them walk out the back door because there’s no process to help them stick. Unchurched people don’t know the drill when it comes to church. They attend, enjoy the service, but it’s up to us as church leaders to help them their next steps with God. That means we need to make these steps easy and strategic. That means we need to follow up with those who God brings to us. I have long said that the greatest stewardship we are given is the stewardship of people. Treat people like the gifts they are. Help them grow. Crete a process that leads them from infancy in Christ to maturity. When you do, breaking 200 won’t be a problem for very long.

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