Seven Reasons Some Church Members Don’t Want Their Churches to Grow

It is highly unusual to hear church members say that they don’t desire their churches to be obedient to the Great Commission. Indeed, it is common for the members of a pastor search committee to tell a prospective pastor that they are looking for a leader who will guide the church toward growth.

And most church members do desire to see their churches grow . . . until the growth affects them. It is at that point they can become disillusioned and critical.

So what is it about growth that impacts some members negatively? Let me suggest seven reasons.

  1. Loss of familiarity. When a church is growing, it becomes a different church over time. The difference is not necessarily good or bad, but it’s not the same as it was in earlier years. Some church members grieve when they see their churches change. They miss “the good old days.”
  2. Loss of memories. I recently heard a poignant story from a lady whose church was demolishing the old worship center to build a new one to accommodate growth. She and her husband were married in the old worship center. She understandably grieved at the loss of that physical reminder of their wedding.
  3. Loss of comfort. Growth can mean that the closest parking spots are no longer available. Growth can mean that the traffic flow in the parking lot is more difficult. Church members can feel that their creature comforts are compromised by growth.
  4. Loss of power. New people in a church can mean that power bases are diluted. The growth can result in new influencers in the church. Some of the longer-tenured influencers may not like that.
  5. Loss of perceived intimacy. It’s a common response: “I used to know everyone in this church. I just don’t feel as close to members as I once did.” Indeed, growth can mean that all the members may not know each other as they did when the church was smaller.
  6. Loss of worship style. New members and attendees might have different worship style preferences. They often influence church leaders to make changes. Existing members may resent these changes. They might also start worship wars.
  7. Loss of worship time. Growth in the church may necessitate adding worship services or changing times of worship services. Some members may be frustrated that they have lost “their” worship time.

Obedience to the Great Commission often results in growth in the church. But growth in the church is not always received well by some members. Some of these members have an attitude that the church is there to serve them and to cater to their needs. Healthy church members understand they are to be giving and sacrificial members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). They will rejoice when more members join the fellowship, and when more people become believers in Christ.

Have you experienced the phenomenon of anti-growth members in your church? How did it manifest itself? I look forward to hearing from you.

Posted on April 27, 2015

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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  • In my current situation – having served as pastor for nearly 24 years, I have observed all those reasons, I would add one to the list: a loss of passion for the lost. The lures of comfort and convenience are powerful pulls to stay the same. We are also experiencing a huge demographic shift. Most young families are moving away because of a lack of family wage jobs in our area. There are plenty of minimum wage jobs available, but raising a family on Oregon’s minimum wage is difficult (though I AM NOT advocating a raise in minimum wages). Reaching older adults is harder (but not impossible…though we don’t baptize as many as I would like, many that we have baptized have been older adults. Motivation people to think, pray, and act evangelistically is a continuing challenge.

  • I’ve found, most people don’t mind if the church grows, they may even be wanting it, as long as they don’t have to work to make it happen, and the people who are reached are like them.

    • What gets me are the ones who never put forth any effort to make the church grow, and then end up leaving because the church isn’t growing.

    • Why would anyone join a church to work? Life doesn’t have enough toil? I have to add church so it will take up any free time I might have left? Yes, I must give up every idle minute to the church so someone else will get his vision realized.

      Oh come join our church. It’s wonderful but you had better become involved or you’ll be measured by the old “you don’t work enough gauge”. Forget about god, WE are here to make a difference. Get with the program(s) or get out.

      Thing is, you’ll never have enough people to do everything. Because once you do, somebody’s already forming another damn program.

      This is why some church members have become disillusioned and don’t care anymore. Take off the word “church” and replace it with “club” and you got what’s really going on there.

  • this would make an excellent podcast!

  • CHANGE! Change of any kind seems to cause many of the members of my church a great deal of grief.

    I’m a member of a small, but very affluent, Southern Alabama church. It is very much a “ME” church. In the last five years it has called two Millennial Pastors, both with strong desires to equip us for mission, locally and abroad. Both have shared with me that they have felt like “Isaiah.” The primary anti-growth problem here is that The Great Commission has become The Great Omission (Rainer, 2014. Autopsy of a Deceased Church).

    So, with that in mind, for my tenure in this church and talking to other’s the seven reasons listed have not been real issues for a very long time. However, there is one that should be considered, “Loss of an Inward-focused Budget (ibid).”

    While my church is very giving to cooperative programs, they are not budgeted items. As expected the Facilities budget is the greatest. The Pastor/Staff and the Missions/Outreach Budgets have historically had two “camps” with the “older, traditional ME camp” consistently controlling. Our “Missions/Outreach” programs are Vacation Bible School and an Easter Egg Hunt. Both of these events advertising needs are continually being challenged. Like many small, rural churches in the South our Pastor is expected to wait every table (Acts 6:b). When additional staff, even part-time is suggested, guess what… thumbs down. And remember this is a VERY affluent church.

    So, maybe consider “Loss of an Inward-focused Budget” in your list.

  • Terry K. says on

    I have been guilty of some of these and have seen (and still see) the same reactions in others in our church.
    Through the growth of our church we have seen staff turnover, location changes and an exodus of members for any number of reasons…(the vast majority of these reasons ultimately whittle down to pride issues). These have all been faith growth experiences and I value each and every one of them. God has moved in my heart and caused me to realize that these trials are a natural part of church life and that more reliance on Him and less on man will help me get through the inevitable changes.

  • John W Carlton says on

    I came on staff of the church I am now attending as a retired minister in 1974. At the time we occupied 1/4 of a city block. We began to grow and soon we were able to obtain the 1/4 of the block behind us. As we continued to grow we obtained the other 1/2 of the block. A family center was occupied in 1988 and a new sanctuary built and occupied in 2004. An educational building was constructed in 2012, and plans were made to demolish the old sanctuary. This was accomplished in 2014. Yes there were many memories that were associated with the old building but to bring it up to standards it would have taken much more money than to demolish it. Plus the space where it stood was needed for parking. God has blessed the Calvary Baptist Church of Jesup, GA, greatly. I am glad that we were able to work through some stressful times, and I believe that God has much in store for us.

  • All of these reasons are based on a very self-centered view of church – “It’s all about me, what I want, what I like, what I’m comfortable with, so just forget about reaching the lost.” This attitude is so prevalent in so many churches I have to ask where did we go wrong? How did such a me-first, entitlement attitude become the norm in our churches, especially with (sorry to say but it’s true) the older generation?

    • In fairness, I’ve seen quite a bit of self-centeredness in the younger generation. They tell us God can be worshiped more than one way and that style shouldn’t matter, but then these same people will leave because the church isn’t “contemporary” enough. Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy in that attitude? If style doesn’t matter, then why do they insist on doing it their way and no other?

      It takes two to fight, and reconciliation is also a two-way street. Unfortunately, too many in the younger generation don’t respect the wisdom and experience of older members. Likewise, many churches are so obsessed with reaching the “younger generation” that they’re slighting their older members. Don’t tell me such attitudes are scriptural, because they clearly are not.

      • I totally agree that younger people can be just as self-centered but 1) the older generation are the ones in power who refuse to allow changes to occur, even to the point of closing the doors of the church. 2) The older generation should be mature enough to set aside their preferences for the sake of reaching the younger generation. 3) It’s hard to respect the “wisdom” of the older generation when their refusal to accept change is at times so irrational, especially when the church is obviously in decline.

        It seems absurd to me when older people justify their self-centeredness and immaturity by pointing to young people. That’s like an adult justifying childish behavior by pointing to a child.

      • I’m middle-aged, so I can be somewhat objective about this. I’ve not done any scientific studies; I’m just going on what I’ve observed as a pastor. I have many older folks in my current church who earnestly want to involve the younger people, but it’s been difficult to find young people who are team players. They say God can be worshiped in more ways than one, but when the chips are down, they want it done their way.

        I realize every church is different, so if most of your bad experiences are with the older folks, I understand. I’m just telling you what my experiences have been. Remember what Dr. Phil McGraw always says: no matter how flat you make a pancake, it still has two sides.

      • I have to question your objectivity, you obviously prefer a traditional church. I’m middle-aged too and what I see is contemporary churches growing and traditional churches dying. This is not rocket science! Everyone agrees that the optimal time to reach someone with the gospel is when they’re young and it’s absurd to think that we can reach young people with 1950’s style church. It’s equally absurd to point the finger at young people and say, “Why don’t you deny yourself because I’ve paid my dues and I shouldn’t have to give up my preferences.” Then when the young people get fed up and leave, you blame them for leaving! And this goes beyond worship style. I’ve been griped at for moving furniture! “How dare you move that chair that’s been sitting in that spot for 20 years!” or “What happened to the fake tree that’s supposed to be by the door?” or “No, you can’t paint the walls, we only have white walls in this church!”

        As I’ve said, the older generation must bare the responsibility for this because they are the ones in power in so many declining churches (point #4) and they are supposed to be the mature believers. There is simply nothing more childish than justifying your self-centeredness by pointing your finger at someone else, especially someone younger than you.

      • I’m saying there’s guilt to go around for the “worship wars”. I’m perfectly open to a more contemporary style of worship, but I truly have to question the hearts of people who insist on contemporary and nothing else. They have no business calling anyone self-centered, because the pot is clearly calling the kettle black.

        Self-denial cuts both ways. You’re essentially saying the older people should have to deny themselves, but the younger people shouldn’t. That may not be what you intended to say, but that is how it comes across. Are you suggesting that I go with a strictly contemporary service and simply tell the older ones to suck it up? I will not, because I do not believe such attitudes are scriptural. Do you?

      • Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying! It’s foolish to expect young people to immediately act like spiritually mature, self-sacrificing disciples, especially when they have no role models in the older generation. Consider too that many of the younger people may not even be believers and yet you still expect them to act like mature disciples. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men…for the sake of the gospel..” If that attitude doesn’t start with the older, supposedly mature generation, where is it going to come from?

        I understand the reality of the situation. You can’t just tell the older people to “suck it up” because they would run you out of the church. But the reality is also that many churches are dying and much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the older generation because they refuse to do whatever it takes to reach people with the Gospel. And that brings me back to my original question: How did we end up with such a self-centered generation leading our churches?

      • Ken, with all due respect, should we not be “obsessed” with reaching everyone we can, even if that means “denying ourselves?”

      • Self-denial cuts both ways, doesn’t it? I’ve not seen much self-denial among the younger generation in these worship wars. I have nothing against legitimate contextualization, but I do have something against chasing fads, and there’s a huge difference between the two. I’m afraid many churches today are doing the latter.

        I do not accept the premise that contemporary worship is the only way to reach the younger generation. Every generation is made up of individuals, and all of them are different. I’ve also read many articles on why millennials are leaving the church, and their reasons are anything but consistent. Some say the music is too old-fashioned; others say it’s too trendy. Some say the church hasn’t kept up with technology; others say they’re put off by technology. Some say the preaching isn’t doctrinal enough; others say there’s too much doctrine. I could go on, but you get the idea.

        Let me also state emphatically that I have nothing against contemporary worship in and of itself. I don’t particularly like it, but I respect the fact that many do. I just wish they would learn to respect the fact that other people have different tastes. If I were to label people as “ungodly” for liking this kind of music, they would probably take offense, and rightly so. Likewise, I take great offense when people imply I’m somehow less mission-minded or less spiritual because I raise questions about modern worship trends.

      • First of all, I apologize if I left you with the impression that I suggesting you were “less” anything because of your convictions. That was not and is not my heart. Your comment “Likewise, many churches are so obsessed with reaching the ‘younger generation’ that they’re slighting their older members,” prompted my reply. Obviously, we both misunderstood each other’s heart.

        Contextualizing is exactly what Paul taught and what we, as a church, should be doing. As I see it, in today’s church culture that generally means we can do one four things: keep praise and worship “traditional” and loose some members; change to something more “contemporary” and loose some members; develop a “blended” service and pray most will grow to appreciate each other; or go to, as many churches have, two services.

        The only “caution” I have for any of the above choices is that the Gospel Message continue to be preached with the same zeal and conviction to BOTH groups!

      • That’s why this is such a pet peeve of mine. Our church has tried to go with a “blended” service, but I’ve encountered a number of young people who don’t think that’s good enough. Ironically, these are the same people who lecture us about how “God can be praised in more ways than one” or “it’s not about you.” When will they realize that it’s not about them, either? I could go with a strictly contemporary service and tell the older folks to like it or lump it, but is that really scriptural? I don’t believe it is.

      • I’m not sure when our focus went from reaching those who don’t know Jesus to reaching an age group, (i.e. ‘the younger generation’ or ‘seniors’), or being comfortable. There are broken people in every age group and the mission of the church is to spread the Good News. Incidentally, I’ve looked and I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where it says that we will be ‘comfortable’ as followers of Jesus.

      • Precisely!

  • Mark Dance says on

    Having recently completed a relocation, I can say that all of these reasons are very real and impactful. The good news is that they are not automatically permanent or terminal. Love not only covers a multitude of sins, but a multitude of changes.

    Pastors, make sure you members not only are aware of the potential impact on prospects, but also toward them. Lovingly acknowledge the inconveniences instead of minimizing them. Let them know how much you appreciate their unselfish patience, thus focusing on those who are happy to pay the price for growth.

  • Some things I would think of under comfort category is not wanting the discomfort that comes from like being friendly to new people who visit or inviting people to church. Or it mean serious but awkward conversations about improving the nursery have to take place but no one wanting to take that on.

  • I totally agree with #4. Sometimes it means that new members will not even be considered for leadership until they have attended for 5-10 years and delivered some large donations or perhaps 20 years even if they moved to an area and had a good track record of leadership in a previous congregation.

    Sometimes it means that leadership reaffirmation or reelection will never occur and that either the leadership shrinks by attrition or there is an unwritten requirement added that only “long-time” members will be considered..

  • We are struggling with this right now. People have shown indications that all of the first 5 are their fears. Other fears that they have are related to #1 and #2, but they are loss of facility (our current one is falling apart and way too large for our congregation) and loss of tradition (specifically, they traditionally saw themselves as a large, wealthy church and to begin to grow they need to admit that they have totally lost that status).

    The final one that I think you should add to your list for every church is fear of work. Growing a church is hard work and takes putting yourself out in the world to share the gospel with those who are in need of Christ. Many of our members feel like they put in their fair share of the work 20-40 years ago and so now they shouldn’t have to do anything.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Excellent input. Thanks, Kevin.

    • Kevin,
      I agree with your last point about the fear of work. Growing churches are going to need more in the way of everything. More teachers, helpers, worship service staff and servers……you name it. And these day it seems the biggest task in the church is getting people off their pew and doing something……ANYTHING.
      We recently lost our paid custodian when he and his family moved away. In the interim, while waiting for his replacement we decided to break down all of the custodial duties for the church into small doable tasks that anyone could do and would take only one hour tops of their time. “The Yoke is light and anyone can do it”.
      This new method has been announced from the pulpit, the church bulletin, the monthly news letter and shown on the overhead screen every Sunday and it has been working successfully for the last several months. Everything gets done just as before.
      However, the other day I was looking at the monthly schedule and noticed something that created in me a little bit of righteous anger. I noticed that the monthly sign up sheets consisted of basically the same six or eight names from month-to-month. And another characteristic of these names is that these are folks that are already up to their eye-balls in service to the church.
      It really boils me there so many of the saints feel it beneath them to run a dust mop or scrub a toilet for an hour at the church they attend and claim to care about..

      On another note: I’ve noticed that all of the seven points of this article have a common thread. All seven of these points “Are All About Me” points.

      • I feel your pain. I recently lost a woman to a larger church because she claimed our church wasn’t “doing enough”. Ironically, this lady seldom lifted a finger to do anything that she didn’t regard as fun. The truth is, ministry is hard work. She didn’t want to put forth the effort to make our church grow, so she decided to find a church where someone else would do all the work and she could just sit back and enjoy the results of it.

        Many church members are, to borrow a phrase from Jed Clampett, “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash”.

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