When asked about worship attendance, twenty-eight percent of Protestant pastors say their church has seen attendance numbers shrink by 6 percent or more compared to three years ago. Do attendance numbers alone tell the whole story? Join us in exploring what our friend, Tony Morgan, from The Unstuck Group has discovered in the last 10 years of researching and serving 375 churches across North America.
This list doesn’t change with the times or with culture.
Methods of doing ministry—that is, styles, strategies and best practices—evolve. But since our ministry mission stays the same, these are 10 things we consistently see in churches that aren’t stuck.
By contrast, many of the churches I see that are in decline have an overwhelming number of programs available to attendees and even the community, but no cohesive path that helps people learn which steps to take and when.
1. They Keep an Outward Focus
It’s probably the key distinguishing factor when it comes to the health of the church: whether the church is outward-focused or inward-focused. That issue is always what creates the most tension when it comes to the potential for change.
Churches get stuck when they begin to focus more on people who are already Christ-followers than on reaching people outside the faith.
2. They Multiply Ministry
Churches with a path communicate one thing. They help people take one step at a time. Communications is clear.That will look different in different churches, but multiplication will happen. New ministry leaders will be developed. New home groups will launch. New campuses will open. New churches will be planted. The iterations of this multiplication will certainly be unique, depending on the size and location of the church, but God designed the church to multiply everywhere: in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
3. They Are Generous
The people of the church are generous, and the church itself is generous. Churches experiencing sustained health learn to be wise stewards of all their resources in order to be prepared for whatever God may have next. There’s an abundance mindset because churches that practice generosity learn that God always provides.
4. They Embrace New
They expect change. Churches experiencing sustained health know that God is renewing every Christ follower, and thus, his church must constantly be renewing as well. As hard as some churches try, it’s impossible to put new wine in old wineskins.
When you focus on a path, fewer volunteers accomplish more. Churches experiencing sustained health know that God is renewing every Christ follower, and thus, his church must constantly be renewing as well.
5. They Equip God’s People to do Ministry
In stuck churches, the pastor and/or the staff have often become the bottleneck on ministry. Think children’s ministry. Think pastoral care.
Staff need to equip God’s people to do the work of God. In unstuck churches, the pastor and staff take the lead in equipping God’s people to do the work of God.
6. They Develop Leaders
When there’s not an intentional strategy for leadership development, even very large churches get stuck. This challenge becomes pronounced as churches launch multisite locations. As the number of locations increases, the amount of leaders required, both staff and volunteer, increases dramatically. An if-we-build-it-they-will-come approach may work to get new people to attend your church, but I’ve never seen that strategy work to increase the number of leaders.
Unstuck churches invest in future leaders, knowing that part of disciplining people with the leadership gift is helping them to develop spiritually, relationally and in the required competencies to lead well.
7. They Lead the Ministry in Teams
In stuck churches, leadership culture is often top-down and authoritarian. In most cases, the senior pastor is also leading alone. However, there are many examples, even in very large churches, that have a collaborative, team-based approach to leadership.
One way to begin this culture shift is to develop a strong senior leadership team. There’s an entire module devoted to helping you do that in our Leading an Unstuck Church Course. This team-based approach to leadership needs to be reflected throughout the ministry.
8. They Measure Their Effectiveness, Not Their Busyness
“Unfortunately, churches often make things harder by obscuring the goal—to become more like Christ—with a complicated assortment of activities… When the church incessantly promotes all the things people should do, it’s very easy for them to lose sight of the real goal—which is who they should become. – Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson
I share this quote a lot. There’s a reason for that. It’s data-driven and true. And most churches haven’t taken any action on it.
I’ve seen most (though not all) outward-focused churches have a very intentional path for spiritual development, rather than just a bunch of programs.
9. They “Prune”
Stuck churches typically haven’t dealt with the complexity creep that tends to happen over time. As attendance increases, the complexity of ministry programming, calendaring and communications also grows. Even small churches can quickly become over-programmed with Bible studies, men’s or women’s gatherings, services on Sunday and Wednesday, all-church events, etc. All that activity limits the amount of time people have to build relationships outside the church.
10. They are Unified.
There’s unity of purpose. There’s a unity of direction. In fact, there’s so much alignment and focus that it’s acknowledged not only within the leadership and congregation but also by those from the outside looking in. You won’t ever see sustained health if there’s division within the church.
As we reflect back on 10 years of helping churches get unstuck, we can clearly see that it’s possible to grow a church that is not healthy. It’s also possible for healthy churches to get stuck. But the win is for there to be both health and growth in a church. When that happens, we get to celebrate as churches continue to fulfill the Great Commission and make more disciples.
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Find the original article "Healthy Church Growth: Programs vs Path" by Tony Morgan.