Five Reasons Growth May Be More Difficult in Your Church


Every year another two million American adults become less receptive to the gospel, and less receptive to churches.

Every year.

That is one of the nuggets I took from the Pew Research work on the “Nones” when they first released the data in 2012. Pew has continued to follow the religious commitment level of Americans. From 2007 to 2014, over 12 million American adults have moved from a high level of religious commitment to a low level of commitment. They just skipped the medium level of commitment altogether.

Cultural Christianity is dying.

One no longer has to be a Christian or in a church to be accepted by society. That relatively easy pool of prospective attendees for our churches is disappearing.

But most churches keep doing what they’ve always done.

As a consequence, they are reaching fewer. They are declining.


The answer to that question is too complex for a simple blog post, but let me provide five high-level responses for now.

  1. Church members are not being intentionally relational with those who are not in church. The old way of church outreach was more transactional; today it requires the development of relationships. Most church members will not take that step. Many don’t know how to take that step.
  2. Many churches are stuck in the past. While we never compromise the gospel and the Word, our methodologies must reflect an awareness of our culture, and a willingness to be missionaries to that culture. Sadly, too many church members are unwilling to make changes. Church, for them, is about their needs and their preferences.
  3. Church members are not regularly inviting people to church. Yes, it can be that simple. Many of the religiously unaffiliated will come to church if we invite them. But it’s difficult for them to respond to an invitation if they never get one.
  4. Many church members fail to act like Christians on social media. Unbelievers are watching us on Facebook and Twitter. And many of us are more likely to show our rear ends than Christian love. Social media is where the unchurched reside. And they constantly see our petty quarrels, our venomous politics, and our self-serving attitudes. Look at this blog post about what non-Christians think about us. I wrote it in 2013, but the comments still come in from unbelievers.
  5. If they come to church, they only have a mediocre experience. The religiously unaffiliated do visit our churches from time to time. But, more often than not, they see our holy huddles and our lukewarm greetings. Most will not return.

Growth is indeed more difficult in most of our churches today. We no longer have the large pool of cultural Christians from which to draw. But we can reach them. We must reach them.

We will have to treat our membership in our churches as missionaries to the community instead of country club membership. Biblical membership is not about getting our perks, privileges, and preferences. It’s about sacrificing self for the gospel.

Then, and only then, will we see our churches start growing again.

Posted on March 13, 2017

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • DeWayne Wyatt says on

    Speaking from a lay person’s perspective, it seems that churches I am familiar with are stuck with years of the same routines: Go to Sunday School, stay for congregational service, a few come back for Sunday evening service, and even a fewer number come for Wednesday evening prayer meeting. There is no organized outreach and maybe intentional ministry to needy families. I believe God is “shaking the tree,” so to speak to to eliminate unfruitful churches, just like He does for unfruitful people. As a former Associational staff person, I see many pastors who are simply “making a living” and church leadership is tolerating it because they don’t have to put forth a lot of effort to do differently. I want to make a difference, which is the reason I am a student at CC.U.

  • Thanks

    I am just tired of this kindergarten ‘wiffle-ball-on-a-cone’ Christianity. People I have known for years, still wanting to hit the “ball of the cone” and not even push themselves, strive towards Christ. They expect applause and gold stars for doing the basics after years! It’s not just one or two people. It’s most of my church. Most Christians that I meet, no matter the denom or non-denom

    Numbers, numbers, numbers…tithing, and more money for such and such a program. Teachers reading out of binders. Being “required” to watch stupid movies like “Old Fashioned” in men’s group because it’s very “realistic”

    Realistic is out in the streets. In the mud, where sin reigns, such a deep love for person, you want them pulled out of their sins….or you have “lived” these sins, you can now come “to the rescue” because you are equipped by His blood to do so.

    No, we have committees, paid staff, state regulations to follow. We have release forms, background checks, paperwork, and the most brain dead “tools” (worskhops, workbooks, books, webinars, and ‘bold-new-approaches’ that don’t work, and really, really look FAKE to the secular world that we are trying to rescue)

    I have not even started on the childrens material………

    Church is a club overall for the monied, the folks have family dating back a few generations, and lots and lots of cat ladies who demand perfection in a man for date in a very imperfect world.

    This is not just my church. It’s in way too many…and the sad fact of the matter is…..they are all convinced they are in the right on everything.

    I cannot and will not turn my back on Christ…but the church? I am getting ready to leave. Being a pastor is now a profession instead of a passion

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