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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
More from Thom
Bold words. Thanks for writing them, particularly since most of the reasons stated are self-centered.
As to our doctrine, we should welcome challenges to it. We’ve not had much of that among Southern Baptists, which has resulted in millions of members who cannot tell why we must be baptized to join a baptist church, or describe the Southern Baptist positions on giving, on Spiritual gifts, or most of our other doctrines. Or discern unwanted Calvinistic leanings among prospective pastors until it’s too late.
Are you aware that many of the SBC’s founders were Calvinists?
The clash occurs when the Southern Baptist teachings differ from what most Southern Baptists now believe.
Which one of the over 700 misguided definitions of Calvinism ae you referring to? Almost no church members can accurately tell what is the difference between a Calvinist and a hyper-Calvinist.
Some fear a loss of doctrinal integrity. If people come into the church from a different theological background, they might bring their theology with them. If people come into our church fellowship from an unchurched background and have some skepticism left in them on certain issues (inerrancy, et. al.) they might cause the church to drift.
Some years ago my Dad and his pastor were visiting a young man that wanted to join their church. The young man came from a denominational background with significant doctrinal differences from theirs, so the pastor wanted him to be re-baptized as a doctrinal statement. He balked at that idea, and they went around and around for a while, and finally the pastor said, “Now listen, we’re not joining you; you’re joining us!”
I think churches should keep that in mind when receiving new members. If you believe your doctrines are the truth, then you owe no apologies to anyone. If other people don’t share those beliefs, then they really have no business joining your church. Let them join one whose beliefs are more in line with their own.
That’s a very good point Ken.
In order join any church some Christians might find they have to make compromises of some kind. Best then to figure out which ones you can most easily live with, then choose your church and adapt, as one person a church does not make.
What I see is not how churches should grow but why and how they are growing. Believing the need to grow by culture’s way will not keep them in. Also, I have seen so many of the younger generation (I am near 50) who have been swept up with the “Come as you are, do as you please” mentality. Worship as you wish, interpret the Bible as it pleases you. Some have been told by prophets that God is using their generation (heard that in different generations already) and many don’t need the elders to teach them, God has already prepared them.
We all want bigger and nicer churches, more coffee and cookies, more entertainment. Chinese believers worships underground, and it is exploding, not because of change, but difference in who Jesus is, and we chase fancy citadels. Even worship songs lack power in their lyrics, as they worship us for worshiping Him. We tend to be more self-absorbed in proving we are growing by numbers than by disciples. Just preach what sounds good without conviction will keep people coming.
The other issue I see is many who have served faithfully at other churches are forced to start over, since they are not established in the new church as others are. No one can discern spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit in believers anymore. These gifts and talents go to waste while others who are merged in the higher echelon of cliques are not ready to step in.
Many are too busy catering to the congregation instead of Jesus, for fear they will leave. If they are not serious, let them leave. But it is better to build people to come in and keep the coffers filled. I would rather attend a home church who is serious about climbing the mountain where He is than camping in the tent of happiness.
Had an occurence of #2/4/6 yesterday during the AM service when an older member (90 y.o.) waved me over and told me he had been speaking to a number of other members about the music with the intent to flip the music in the AM service (1 or 2 hyms & the rest contemporary) with the evening service (all hymns). Said he didn’t understand why it had changed and I attempted to explain the change and that we were trying to attract more young and unchurched families and individuals, which the all-hymns scenario would not do. He asked me if I agreed with him (I”m 68, a baby boomer) and I told him it wasn’t a matter of me agreeing with him but of supporting our church in its outreach and evangelism efforts, and that our generations were no longer the drivers/movers/shakers in our church. He just shook his head and that was that.
On the other hand do not be too quick to dismiss:
1. Those who don’t immediately jump aboard the (your) program for reasons that may have nothing to do with their attitude toward growth – at least be reasonable and thoughtful enough to ask, and listen.
2. Those who have seen enough of the market driven numbers-for-numbers-sake approach to be unimpressed, if not put off, by any deliberate drive to “grow the church”. Kind of depends on what you’re really driving at.
As you note “Obedience to the Great Commission often results in growth in the church.”. In fact Obedience to the Great Commission by definition (make disciples) always results in growth of The Church, just not necessarily yours – are you okay with that?
Of course some other things than “Obedience to the Great Commission” sometimes result in more bodies in the pews – and are your really okay with that?
Fair enough. I’ve read that General Dwight Eisenhower would never approve a battle plan until he talked to someone that was firmly opposed to it. Why? Because more often than not, that person would point out some real flaws in the plan! We pastors would do well to take a similar approach. It’s true that wisdom does not die with the older generation, but neither does it always begin with the younger generation.
How about jus t plain complacency.
Yep, that too.
#8: Plain old-fashioned laziness. Many churches want to grow, but are unwilling to put forth the effort to make it happen. Often the people that complain the loudest are the ones that do the least. If you really want your church to grow, then quit whining about it and DO something.
The church won’t allow it – you can’t do anything about it because they won’t let you!
My old college church had to demolish their old auditorium not long ago. They had long since outgrown it, and it was getting to the point where it was no longer safe. I have many happy memories of that place, so I hated to see it torn down. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God is not about buildings. Many churches are guilty of idolatry because they worship their facilities.
My friends and I used to call them “Brick Worshipers”. I’ve sadly watch dozens of inward focused churches over the last 25 years close their doors as no new members were welcomed and reached out to and the aged members died off.
How pathetic. Especially #3. Too many Christians think they exist to be served rather than to serve.