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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  • (Note: I write this as a young pastor who loves a worship band and a more lively service, but who is currently serving a church of senior adults with piano and organ music and fully satisfied in doing so.)


    I appreciate the article. There are some issues that are downright silly and ungodly that hurt the mission of the church and say to a world that is perishing, “we don’t care about you!” That said, we need balance.

    We need to bear in mind that there is nothing more holy about a modern/contemporary service vs a traditional service with old hymns from a book. There is nothing necessarily more Christ-exalting in a church filled with older folks vs a church filled with older folks. Chairs (or couches) vs pews. Guitars vs organs. Skinny jeans vs suits. Starbucks abounding vs “no food or drink in the sanctuary.” These things, on their own, do not define – for better or for worse – the character of the church. The gathering of a local assembly is a time for the worship of Christ and the equipping of the saints. How we do the other stuff is secondary to that.

    While there are no doubt some traditional folks who are clinging to their hymnals and organs to an unhealthy extreme, there are also folks who are raising their lattes in protest that hurt their brothers and sisters. BOTH GROUPS can be guilty of exalting their personal preferences over the good of their fellow believers or lost people, and BOTH GROUPS can be responsible for a lot of sinful division and hatred toward others. Unfortunately, we often look at this as one-sided.

    It is easy to criticize traditional folks who don’t want a modern service, but in the process the more modern crowd can be awfully rude and unloving and condescending as well. They can do just as much harm, and perhaps even more since in many cases they’re waging war against faithful saints and happy to see them leave so they can’t get what they want. This is not what Christ’s church should be or do.

    We could all do with a good dose of shared humility. There are a lot of wonderful, traditional, hymn-singing churches where everyone wears a suit and tie who are reaching their communities and the world on mission. There are a lot of wonderful, modern, designer coffee drinking, churches where people rock out hard to sound gospel-centered songs who are reaching their communities and the world on mission. We can cherish both and be glad they’re on our team.

    I was greatly encouraged by this year’s convention sermon from Paul Chitwood in Kentucky. The sermon is worth listening to for anyone who is interested (https://vimeo.com/145571823). At the very least, skip ahead to 23:09 and listen to the few minutes that follow. Good stuff.

    We’re in this together, brothers and sisters, and we need each other.


    • Bravo! I’m a middle-aged pastor who has more traditional tastes, but I try to be open-minded toward contemporary music. I think it has its place alongside traditional music, but I’m really losing patience with those who insist on contemporary music and nothing else. How are they any better than the people that want nothing but traditional music? Is there no way for the two to coexist? Is there no happy medium that will satisfy both sides?

      Thank you for your timely word, and may God richly bless your ministry.

  • I think you could summarize the entire list by saying “we want our church to grow, but not to change” (which is of course impossible).

  • And then Thom dropped the mic….
    ……… These are so true

  • Sadly, some people have fallen out of love for Christ, and have put “comfort” as their new god.

  • What I’ve found most people mean is, “I want our church to grow… unless I have to do some real work to make it happen.” These are the same people who talk about growth, but never show up for visitation or any other outreach-oriented event. Often they’ll drive an hour or more to some big megachurch (because, after all, they’re much too spiritual to attend those puny little churches in their own community). Then they can brag about how “their” church does for the Kingdom, though they themselves contribute very little of the effort.

  • Thom, thank you very much for this reminder that, as some say, “the struggle is real!” My experience has taught me that many people resist change in spite of saying they want growth because some pastors and other church leaders have done a poor job of explaining why changes are needed.

    Imagine a pastor stands before his congregation one Sunday morning and says that starting the following week a praise band will replace the current choir and instead of wearing a robe the pastor will be wearing a more casual attire. Rather than explaining why the pastor and church leadership deem these changes necessary, they just do it, which leads to frustration and anger. Whenever I want to make a change I make sure I explain why the change is necessary and what I hope to accomplish from the change. More often than not, there is still some resistance but overall the change is better received.

    • The leadership needs to be consistent and explain the change that is coming. Lay out the biblical reason why things are changing. Most of us older folks are willing to embrace change if we are given the truth and why.
      Having a pastor who does not tell the whole truth, plays favorites (yes men) and just change stuff just to change is not revitalizing the church. Having programs established only to change them again within a few weeks is not good change. Take your time and shepherd your people in the right direction and they will follow.

    • You make a good point, Jonathan. Change is sometimes necessary, but the pastor and other leaders must lay a good foundation for it and take their time in implementing it. Furthermore, too many pastors want to implement change for the sake of change, or because they want to “keep up” with current trends. I know of a pastor that took over leadership of a megachurch. He quickly implemented a lot of unnecessary changes (the church was doing well as it was), and he lost a lot of members as a result.

  • Hi Thom,

    Thanks for a great (and timely) reminder! I’m preaching a sermon next week on doing whatever it takes to reach the lost as we grow in love for others. I’m definitely going to be quoting this article. But…

    I simply thank and praise God that I get to lead a church where people understand that reaching the outsiders and growing, will require effort and sacrifice. My little suburban congregation is so committed to reaching out that we’ve already started a capital fund project to handle the projected growth. Our church didn’t want to wake up in two years and discover that we’ve run out of parking so we’re planning now already. That fires me up to keep reminding them to practice what they preach (and what you’ve said here).

    Thanks again. Grace and peace,
    Brian | Pinetown Baptist Church | South Africa

  • Thank you for all you do! Your post have greatly influenced the way I view things. I want to see churches across America explode! I want my church to be filled to capacity in every service…not because I want a packed church…it’s because I want a packed heaven! If someone has a problem with “big” church then their love for people is to small! Thanks again!

  • Tozer said it best(to paraphrase)….when people get to the point that all they need in church is Jesus, perhaps they’ll straighten up!

  • Rev. D. Gordon Braun, Jr. says on

    Been there, done that. After 3 search committees and calls to 3 different churches, the results were the same: “Make us grow without changing one little thing.” No wonder the vast majority of local “churches” are dying. I’m taking a breather from institutional Christianity for a while–too sick and tired of seeing Jesus associated with what too many Americans assume to be a valid expression of the Body of our Lord, the Church.
    Well, I’ve put my two cents in. Maranatha.

  • Pablo Daut says on

    Excelent, edifying and solid word.

    I love my wife. I know she is imperfect, sometimes selfish and wants her own way (me too). But if you say those words about her just like I did and criticize her in front of me, boy I will take you on. She’s mine. She’s my wife. You better come and talk humbly to me so I will deal about anything with her in private.

    Christ loves his wife. Yes she’s imperfect. Yes she’s selfish in many respects and wants her own way. But He bought her. She’s his. Our joy is to collaborate with the Spirit to make her look more like her bridegroom, is it not?

    After reading this very good post, my heart wants to get alone with the bridgroom and cry out to him, in humility, to awaken his bride to himself. If my vision comes fresh from the Holy of Holies, in intimate and deep communion with my Christ, he will slowly and mysteriously draw her towards such vision. That is the Holy Spirit’s work. In the meantime, I want to wash the bride’s feet before I ask her to stand up–and if she would have it another way, I still want to pursue her with love, patience, and grace, until the Spirit decides how and when things should be done, changed, gone after and pursued.

    Am I there yet? Certainly not. But if I invested more time talking to the bridegroom instead of pushing the bride ahead or away, I feel I would do much good to the kingdom.

  • Great points Thom. It is no surprise that the major pushback had to do with the Sunday morning environment. Unfortunately, that is the very thing that must change if a church is to recover from decline.