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.
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I guess sometimes “the church” would rather be a refugee camp (where those familiar hide away) than a rescue center where those who gather there train, encourage, and work hard to prepare so they can go out and rescue people and bring them in. It takes a change of mind, heart, sacrifice, selflessness… a lot of take up your cross and follow me (live how I live). Thanks Thomas for sharing your wisdom and insights!
How about another reason which no one seems to be willing to talk about because we act as if it is not important?
That is the lack of biblical formation of church members as to the spiritual nature and mission of the body of Christ, the church, and what it means to be a part of it in living as Christian discipleship.
We have God’s Word, the Bible, and we have Ecclesiology-the theology of the Church, plus the Holy Spirit was given to empower us to be Jesus’ witnesses, but we lean on the human wisdom of the flesh from studies, sociology, family systems theory, and business marketing techniques which are failing because we are building on the shifting sands of secular knowledge which has a naturalistic presumption of this world being a closed system in which all we have and need is human reason to fix everything.
Honestly as a young person between 18-35 compromising with these struggling church people are nearly impossible!
I feel like I’m dying in church and I am trying to push through it, and I am becoming more frustrated. Everything is an issue, if it isn’t the music its the activities. There is hardly any support and I honestly feel like I’m not good enough, which makes me feel guilty for carrying the positions I have in the church. I know none of this is of God, and I pray against it.
I love my Pastor, and the Lord knows he tries his hardest to be supportive, but it’s just not cutting it. I know the Lord placed me here, and I don’t want to be disobedient to him. But I feel isolated and alone. What should I do? This article hits so close to home, but I don’t know how to approach my next options. I can feel the discouragement from my Pastor even though he tries his hardest to remain positive. I don’t want to boggle him down with another issue and no solution.
Is there any wisdom out there that can help me?
I could use any resources I can. What scriptures should I meditate on?
If you have any advice please email me.
I our city, all of the congregations in our denomination have contemporary worship, while calling a blended service “traditional.” Our congregation is growing because we don’t do contemporary worship and music. People come here, of all ages, because we have stuck With high church liturgy. So few are doing traditional high church with hymns, there is almost no place else for people in our denomination to go in this city to find it. We are growing, too.
Why did we do that? It really wasn’t a conscious decision. The fact is, we do it well and have effective outreach. We welcome everybody, with no exceptions and have had a reputation for years for being that way. If you want high liturgy worship, this is the place to be. There are dozens of other congregations around us that have contemporary worship and music. No one is being denied anything.
We do the formal worship setting because it works for us. We do it well. It fits. People actually come here for it
We have had a lot of grief because of a growing congregation, but it is getting better. People of all ages have been coming.
The idea you have to have contemporary worship to be relevant to young adults does not always hold true…but whatever you do…do well.
Thanks for posting this comment. A friend of mine told me about a church plant in Lynchburg, VA, that has a very traditional format. They sing hymns with piano and organ accompaniment, and yet they’re growing by leaps and bounds. Traditional worship can be quite uplifting when it’s done well.
I served as evangelism director for my association when I was a pastor in Missouri. At that time, contemporary worship was just starting to catch on. I studied different growing churches, and I discovered that it really wasn’t a matter of style. Some churches, such as Saddleback, were quite contemporary. Others, such as Coral Ridge Presbyterian, were very “high church” and traditional. However, all of these churches had one thing in common: their laypeople were involved in personal soul-winning. I still think that’s the key.
There is more than one way to accommodate church growth. The new fad in church growth is multi-site, or planting a new campus.
All 7 reasons apply to growth within the same building. The idea of taking 4-5 families and starting another congregation in a different neighborhood apparently does not occur to American Christians these days. But that is exactly that the most dynamic churches I have known, do with their growth, and it avoids almost all of those problems.
Is the aim to increase the number of people in the specific congregation, or is it to increase the number of people that follow Christ?
There is a small congregation near me that, numerically is about the same size as it was thirty years ago. However, scattered around the world, are congregations that were formed by individuals that attended this congregation. These individuals were transferred elsewhere by the company they worked for. In their new location, they simply formed a new congregation. Most of these daughter congregations have sprung forth their own daughter congregations.
Many of these are legitimate concerns, actually. The key to the “Great Commission” is not so much bringing people in but sending people out! The Western concept of church growth – increasing the attendance and square footage where you’re at – is cancerous in every sense of the word. The Biblical model of church growth involves reproduction, not an increase in mass. If the Western church at large ever feels conviction over the way we “do church” (which realistically isn’t likely to happen without persecution), sure, you may lose your seven-figure income, but I’m confident that we’ll see the same growth as in the East.