What (Some) Church Members Really Mean When They Say They Want Their Church to Grow

I heard it again just a week ago.

And I bet I’ve heard it nearly a thousand times.

“The search committee,” the pastor began, “said they really wanted the church to grow. Now I am leading them to do some things to reach people, and those same people are out to get me.”

You will rarely find a church member who says he or she is not for growth in the church. But many church members have unspoken, perhaps unknown, conditions attached to the statement. In other words, I am all for growth in the church unless it impacts me in some way.

Let’s look at seven of those “unless” conditions:

I really want to see growth in our church . . .

  1. Unless we have to change the worship style.
  2. Unless we have to add more worship services.
  3. Unless I lose my parking spot and my seat in the worship center.
  4. Unless the new people who come to our church look differently than we do; dress differently than we do; or speak differently than we do.
  5. Unless we have to spend a lot of money on “those” people.
  6. Unless the new people mess up my current fellowship circles and groups.
  7. Unless we have to change the facilities in any way to accommodate the growth.

For certain, not all church members have such attitudes. Similarly, don’t assume those church members who act enthusiastically about potential growth have really considered the consequences. Stated simply, reaching people with the gospel always has a cost.

Unfortunately, many church members do not want to pay that cost.

Let me hear about your perspectives and experiences regarding this issue.

Posted on November 18, 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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  • #8 – “Unless” the pastor encourages us to go out of the church and help him reach others.

    Just personal observation for me. Thanks for the encouraging and helpful posts!

  • John Everett says on

    Great post!
    I have often compared the issue to that of weight loss. I know I NEED to loose weight, I sincerely WANT to loose weight, but am I WILLING to do what it’s going to take to loose weight? We not only need motive and desire but also the follow through (the “want to”).

  • One more thing – you can add whatever you would like to reach new people for Christ, but do not dare to eliminate one ministry, no matter how ineffective it is. And the pastor better be seen as supporting this flagging ministry! This is the nature of “yes we need change” in most small churches today (and may be why they stay small).

  • I was brought to Montana almost a year ago to pastor a small church. The sentiment, when canidating, was wanting the church to grow. When I came, and implemented the visitation program, the ones who’s desire for the church to grow were the the ones that did not participate in the program. I was also saddled with the responsibilities of finances, song leading, and other duties as well as pastoring. These duties were not mentioned in our visit and subsequent accepting the role of pastor at the church. Very discouraging to see folks not “their money where their mouth is”.

  • Those people are the ones killing the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. They smother any ability for HIS guidance to be the standard. Service goes over 10min? Oh my word, unacceptable regardless of how great the message was or how much healing was brought to the hearts of the people. Music was too loud or the lighting was wrong? Well, certainly one just can’t worship in those circumstances. Focusing on them in any way and especially allowing them to be in leadership or even be allowed to constantly voice their opinions is allowing ungodly mess to keep out the beauty that your church could be. Churches need to start standing up to these Pharisees and allowing true revolution in their congregations by not giving them any authority in any way. Right now, in an attempt to “change the worship culture”, we’ve been having many meetings all revolving around the negatives people keep pointing out rather than anything relevant to the true heart of worship. Nothing is going to change with that as the focus because we are focusing on the exact opposite of what God desires us to focus on! Those people are meant to distract, tear down, and snuff out any light that may try to enter.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Krista.

    • Thank you for posting Krista.

      As a church communicator, I face similar challenges, especially with aging parishioners. The members over 75 years old seem to focus on what’s wrong and not keen on embracing any form of change.

      It’s difficult to share the love of God our church offers when folks complain about minor shortcomings rather than sharing compassion and faith.

    • Music being too loud is a legitimate concern for some people. My wife has a nerve condition that makes her ear very sensitive to loud noises. I’ve heard other people voice the same complaints. Is it too much to ask that the musicians lower the volume to a reasonable level? Is that really asking too much? Yet every time I raise that question, the proponents of contemporary worship attack my spirituality or imply that I’m not as mission-minded as they are. Come off it, people! That’s nothing but selfishness and egotism.

      • I’m sorry they attacked your walk with Jesus, Ken. I would say that if they didn’t have a good reason for playing so loud, maybe they should rethink their position. We do play music very loud in our modern service, we have seen it foster a greater participation in worship than our traditional service. People have a fear of being heard while singing, so in our traditional service, a lot of folks don’t sing out loud. We give them the opportunity to engage in worship in the modern service in both an intimate way and a corporate way.

        That being said, we do know that some may love the modern experience but have trouble with the sound level. We offer those folks individually packaged ear plugs before they walk into the worship center.

        I would suggest bringing that up to your worship leaders. Its a small cost, but shows care. If they are unwilling, this is an issue thats obviously close to your heart. Maybe God is calling you to prepare for others that feel like you do. You bring the ear plugs 🙂

      • Seriously?

      • Bill Elliott says on

        I have been a musician for 50+ years. If you have to use ear plugs, it is too loud.

  • Vision is always celebrated until it’s implemented. So true! Thanks for this posting. We recently merged with a smaller church in order to make it a satellite campus of our church, it was celebrated at first, right up until I moved the old pulpit off of the stage. You would have thought that I moved the Lord’s cross! We know tha we will have to lose people before we can move forward.

  • Unless growth means that I need to be actively involved in other people’s lives, sometimes even sacrificially.

  • The most desirable people (to grow with) are those with the same political leanings, traditional families with children, older people who are good donors, those who never need pastoral care and have no doubts, passive people who don’t “upset the apple cart”, etc.

    Be careful for what you wish. You might get a congregation growing with highly educated, single professionals who want a short sermon with applicability to daily life, more focus on the sacraments, baptisms every few months and numerous people in attendance that Sunday who may even be agnostic, different pastoral care needs, some families where both parents work full time, reasonable but not large donors, opinionated with ideas to try, etc.

    There are churches near Washington that are glad to have to deal with those issues and learned how to rather quickly.

  • Thom it has never ceased to amaze me how far people will go to avoid change. Five yr ago I was serving in a small SBC church, less than 200 avg, The Pastor was pushing hard for a new building and a youth oriented focus. Long story short it was a debacle. The Pastor and worship leader left in frustration. The deacons and vision team were told to leave our perfectly nice little church alone we don’t need new people or ‘foreigners’ . I was gone the next week.

  • Christopher says on

    Early in my ministry I was called as a youth pastor to a church in Tulsa. I was told by the committee, on more than one occasion, that I needed to really “shake things up” with the youth group. So, one of the first things I did was make reservations for a different youth camp. By the reaction of the church, you would’ve thought I was trying to burn the church down.

    It never ceases to amaze me how self-centered and self-absorbed people in the church can be. I had senior adults demanding that we go to the original youth camp (Falls Creek) because that’s where they went 50 years ago. Never mind what’s best for the youth now. In a moment of frustration I said to one woman, “Falls Creek is not God’s back yard.” She responded with an emphatic, “Yes it is!”

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Wow. Thanks for sharing, Christopher.

    • Christopher says on

      I would add that often ministries or practices need to change simply because there are no longer the resources to do them well. At my current church I would love to have a choir but the reality is we don’t have enough good singers to have a good choir. What we do have is a few excellent musicians who lead worship as a praise team. It’s not a matter of saying one is better than the other, we are simply working with what we have. The sad part is that this reality doesn’t keep people from complaining. They seem to be under the impression that good singers will materialize out of thin air if only we had a choir.

    • “It never ceases to amaze me how self-centered and self-absorbed people in the church can be. ”

      Let’s be fair: there’s no shortage of this attitude among the proponents of change. Are older people really being unreasonable when they ask you to lower the volume or do a few songs that they like? I can understand going with a “blended” service where you try to offer something for everyone, but I cannot understand those that insist on a strictly contemporary format and tell the older folks to like it or lump it. Talk about self-centeredness!

      • I think this goes to Christian maturity. I think the only personal preference in the church that matters is the first time visitor, those that may not know Jesus yet. We will cater to them. Most blended efforts that I have seen have left both sides dissatisfied in worship. Do two different services, or have every mature believer give up all their rights to personal preference. Paul went to great lengths to reach people for Jesus. We can sit through an hour of something that is less appealing for the sake of the Gospel. If our souls are malnourished, we have scripture, we have small groups, we have music. The real reason we don’t want to sacrifice for others, is because we don’t want to work any harder than necessary to restore our souls. I’m as guilty as the next person.

        Can you imagine the strength of the church that had members doing whatever it took to nourish their own souls, and did everything they could to welcome people that don’t know Jesus?

      • “Giving up your personal preference” cuts both ways. Proponents of contemporary worship are often unwilling to allow even a small amount of traditional music in the service. If they do a hymn at all, they invariably put a contemporary spin on it. Heaven forbid that anyone complain, though, or people will accuse them of not caring about the lost.

  • Nailed it. Sometimes churches just want young people and lost people to show up and enjoy what they are already doing, instead of going after them. Eventually, we’ll realize the world won’t evangelize itself. Good post.

  • Ed Zimmermann says on


    Your wisdom and honesty hits close to home this week. My church went into annual business meeting last week to develop a strategic vision for 2016. Well, we are a smaller congregation now, but hopefully we have people that wany to see change. One of your points hit home, “we will not that so called praise and worship. The hymns are all we need.

    Well I know the Lord is guiding us and He is working in me to lead this church. I am using your blogs and your autopsy of a dead church. You have been very helpful and I can see God in your ministry.

    He said minister to the entire world not just those that are already saved. The church is not a social club. The Lord wants us to work for Him thru the guidance of the Holy Spirit not limit the potential of His sacrifice.

    Browse Ed

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