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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  • I read with interest your take on what church members mean and some of it rings true for those who really aren’t interested in what God wants us to consider. However, there are those who look at growth differently. They look at it from God’s point of view, the Word of God.

    What church members SHOULD mean when they say they want the church to grow

    “I really want to see growth in our church……”

    1. Unless we must compromise the holiness of God in any way. Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 20;7; 1 Peter 1:15-16
    2. Unless we must have music that appeals to the world and the flesh to reach the crowd. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16
    3. Unless we must dilute the preaching in order not to offend visitors. 1 Corinthians 1:18
    4. Unless we must compromise a godly life style to attract those who want Christ and the world. Titus 2:12
    5. Unless we must cave in to a culture that is opposed to God and righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:1-5
    6. Unless we have to make the church look like a nightclub so people are comfortable. Psalm 74:7; Psalm 96:6
    7. Unless we have to lessen the importance of the Bible. Hebrews 4:12
    8. Unless we have to forego making a difference between the holy and unholy, the clean and unclean. Ezekiel 22:26; 44:23

    • You make some valid points. I understand the concerns about us being too legalistic, but I fear today we may be going to the opposite extreme. As someone told me not long ago, many churches today seem to be chasing the culture instead of leading it.

  • Bobbi Greene says on

    Good read. One local pastor had a rather large church but decided we weren’t growing enough young families. He decided that we had to radically change. We sang all the new songs, though worship was mix of old and new. We had life groups, ministries to the community, children and youth programs, and much more. Out went the large choir and orchestra, up went the black curtains, out went the piano, in came a keyboard and multiple guitars, in came a smoke machine (please), out when a regular sweet time of prayer, rather than coffee/food in the life groups and foyer, in came lattes carried into the worship sanctuary during service. The pastor was very vocal from the pulpit that that’s the way it was going, and if you didn’t like it, leave (his words). Many did. If you voiced a concern about the direction and radical changes, you were selfish and not concerned about the lost. A year and a half later, the church has declined to about half of what it was and they can’t seem to keep ministry staff. It’s pretty sad.. and lots of people were hurt. There’s more than one side to this issue.

    • Agreed. I truly hate it when pastors force this issue simply because that’s what the other churches are doing. My tastes are more traditional, but I can understand and respect the desire for more contemporary music. However, as a pastor I will draw the line at the smoke and the psychedelic lighting. Some churches use these things to manipulate people’s emotions and then they attribute the results to the Holy Spirit. I fear such churches and pastors are in for a rude awakening on the day of judgment.

    • P.S. Certainly I’m mall for reaching more young people, but I’m really bothered by the way some churches slight senior adults these days. That’s wrong and it’s not scriptural. I fear these churches are also in for a rude awakening on the day of judgment.

  • People are generally converted TO what they are converted WITH.

    The early church of Acts stressed spiritual growth, and that is why they “increased in number daily.” (Acts 16:5; 2:47; 4:4; 6;7)

    We need to remember that ONLY the Lord can open hearts and we only need to preach the message of salvation. (John 6:44)

    Paul told us how in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; but first, I think, any growth (insert name of group) should be concerned with what Paul prayed in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:”

    —- below this line is simply my opinion —-
    Hymnals don’t need to go away in order for spiritual growth to occur (nor does pulpits, choice of camps, all that’s been said in the comments above.) In fact, the church I attend has grown this year (2015) as people who are leaving ‘praise and worship only churches’ are looking for traditional services. (And no, they do not have blue hair; in fact they don’t even have salt and pepper hair.) Our youth group has grown as well.

    Some things need to change (or go), yes, but remember my opening line, People are generally converted TO what they are converted WITH. Or as I heard the other day, “gain them with a hot dog and loose them with a hamburger.”

    We blend worship styles; hymns with ‘praise and worship’ … we did take down the screen and projector and put books back in the pew and Bible’s back in laps. But we aren’t stuck in tradition and we are also not hung-up on fads. We love people and try our best to meet needs and speak God’s truth.

    Respectfully posted,

  • Jim Watson says on

    8. Unless I actually have to go outside the building (and off the grounds) and do something.

  • Yes! It’s like knowing you should change habits to lose weight for better health. I say I want to–but won’t do it. Not even baby steps. *sigh*

    Will it take the near death of the church to motivate people? Whether the church dies, merges, or renews, there will be change.

    No one likes to feel uncomfortable, but am I going to be so selfish that eternity of lost people I around me in my every day life is less important than “my” schedule? Sad.

    I work withsome great people who weep for lost souls. I am so grateful for them and their example.

  • Change is always difficult especially the older we become. Change within the church requires a patient loving instruction out of the Scriptures. It is to be expected that God’s people will go wherever the Bible takes them; but not necessarily where ministry strategies will take them. Berating people will not foster unified growth.

    We must somehow cherish multi-generational churches no less that multi-ethnic churches. Driving away the old folk may simplify change but it will not contribute to stability and maturity.

  • Matt Lawrence says on

    Is a Christian someone who has something to give the world around him, or does he need what the world offers? Is someone a member of a church to become a gift giver like Christ, or to receive something? Are we leading people in our churches to become more Christlike? What are we doing that attracts people who don’t want to change and see the kingdom expand?

    I hope we are making it progressively uncomfortable in our churches for those who don’t want to live #LifeOnMission, and I hope our leaders are good role models of the joy of living the mission. A great role model in most churches is the Worship Pastor. When people see and grow to love their role model leaders, they can let go of the past and step out in faith into the future. Often, we are called to have some patience.

    Three things to remember about people:

    Love and affirm the good in people. Celebrate the joy, peace and goodness in people.

    Help people who want help with faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

    In all other things, be patient, kind and forgiving.

    And have an awesome life! People are diamonds in the rough, treasure them in your heart!

    Gal 5:22-23

  • I heard a preacher deliver a series of lectures several years ago. I got his permission to adapt them to sermons for our local congregation. Over three weeks, I preached a series called “I Want the Church to Grow, but Do I Want Any More People?”

    It hit home with a lot of folks that *say* they want the church to grow, but then realize that, if that happens, it might be a little uncomfortable.

  • I’m reading “The Millenials” right now because we are trying to learn how best to reach my generation at our church. I find it striking that the very things that people fuss over is the very reason why they aren’t reaching the generation that they complain about not having! What I find striking is selfishness behind every one of those statements.

    I am continually surprised not only at the lack of knowledge about the church in Acts (which gave it’s everything to reach others and still would) but also the thinking behind what so many hold dear in church today. Last week one of the guys that plays guitar in our worship team wore jeans with a couple holes in them and you would have thought he shouted that Christ hadn’t risen from the dead in the middle of the service or something. Even one of the singers started commenting in rehearsal for the worship service! Her reasoning being that we should bring our best for Jesus. Hello?! Where is that found in scripture and whose team are we on people?

    • Christopher says on

      I’m all for calling out people for trivial opposition, but at the same time we can’t be guilty of advocating for trivialities like the right to wear holey jeans. If someone is upset with the appearance of holes in jeans then don’t wear them. Like Paul, be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel. You have to ask the question: does someone with holes in their jeans create a better worship environment or is it a potential distraction? No one is going to leave or avoid your church because you don’t wear jeans with holes in them.

      • Cheryl Lewis says on

        I was raised with this same teaching. Scripture warns us against being a stumbling block for a weaker brother/sister. However, if you follow this logic out further, what if someone is offended he is even wearing jeans at all while playing with the worship team? What if some think he should be wearing dress pants? Or a collared shirt? Or – gasp – a suit? Where does it end?

    • I’m too old to be a millennial and too young to be a Baby Boomer, so I think I can address this with some level of objectivity. Has it ever occurred to anyone that some millennials are just too hard to please? I get sick and tired of us bending over backwards trying to involve millennials, and then have them walk out on us simply because they don’t think our church is “awesome” enough – whatever the heck that means.

      I don’t know how it is in your church, but that is what I’ve seen in my church. I had one couple leave because our church wasn’t “contemporary” enough (we do a blended service, and besides, aren’t millennials always telling us that style shouldn’t matter?). Another one left because – get this – he thought he should be paid for his work with the youth (a lot of people in our church do more than he did and never get paid a cent). I had another young man who was always talking about doing more evangelism. We offered to let him teach a Sunday School class, but he made some pathetic excuses as to why he couldn’t do it. We put him on the evangelism team and he offered some good idea, but then he decided to bail out before we even had a chance to implement them.

      I repeat, has it ever occurred to you that maybe some millennials are just too hard to please?

  • Simply put…..
    I would have to wonder how any church that has these kinds of attitudes about church growth could even be considered a church at all, but instead they are more like their own personal country club that possesses more of a “membership by special invitation only” attitude.
    After all, God indicates for us in His word the purpose of His church is the Great Commission. The natural result of the Great Commission is going to be church growth.
    Instead of the church body having an “All about God and Jesus ministry of saving the lost”, churches that possess the kinds of attitudes expressed in this article are instead have an “It’s all about me” focus.
    I don’t think God intended for His mission to save the lost of the world to be encumbered by such selfish and vain concerns of the sheep.

  • Thom–Absolutely spot on. Our association is working with a church which is in crisis and about to die. In a meeting Monday night, one of the leaders said; “I’m for change as long as I don’t have to give up my hymnal.” While that’s something we’ve encountered many times–it still heartbreaking.

    May God forgive us for not leading people to love Jesus and his mission more than their preferences and may the Holy Spirit convict us to all repent where we’ve put our desires before God’s.

  • I was at a church one where most people thought “growth” just meant more bodies in the seats and more money in the offering plates. Actually seeing people saved and becoming more mature believers was way down the list. It was sad to see. The church wouldn’t even support a single missionary.