When you ask why churches are in decline you are pretty much asking for a laundry list of our problems. Those types of lists tend to be cathartic but ultimately they are pretty reactionary and don’t really tell you much about what can actually be done in order to get things growing again. I do see those posts as helpful in the sense that they help us process where we have been and where we are and maybe they help grow within us a healthy sense of dissatisfaction where it is appropriate so that we can be bold enough and motivated enough to change things. Now, when you ask what makes churches grow, you start looking at what can be done rather than gripe over all our problems. You start envisioning the possibilities.
The problem of assessing church growth:
The way the question “What makes churches grow?” has been answered in the past is usually pretty flawed. Researchers usually look at growing churches and describe what they are doing. There are several problems with this approach. First, this descriptive approach boils it down to having the right processes and ministries and gives the false illusion that if you just repeat their process and mirror their ministries that you will grow too. That just isn’t true. If 75% of growing churches preach expository sermons the thinking is, if we just do that too then we will grow. The problem is, it may well be that 75% of churches in general are preaching expository sermons, even dying churches and so that is just descriptive, not causative of actual growth. The guy who wrote the church growth book doesn’t know your congregation and context as well as you do. What worked for the church across town may not work the same for you. Imitating the other guy doesn’t account for your own context, talents, environment, and community context.
So what makes churches grow?
Ultimately God makes churches grow but we have seen recently that not all churches are growing. Why not? Churches typically grow when people are placed in positions where God can use them most effectively. Offensive lines don’t protect the Quarterback very well if you sit them in rocking chairs. In the same way Christians are not most effectively used for kingdom work sitting down (whether in pews or in office chairs). Having the right strategy helps but you can have a great strategy and not have the right people on board and it fall apart. You want people to be in roles that fit their God-given abilities. This means there is no cookie-cutter solution to church growth because every church is different. Every church has a different feel, a different environment and is a different experience walking in the door. And it needs to be that way.
Don’t try to be someone else:
What is more, every church has a different set of membership and leadership with varying skills and abilities. This is why some churches read the newest book on ministry and it just doesn’t work for them because the congregation and minister that the book grew out of wasn’t the same context and didn’t have the same skill set at the churches on the receiving end. That can be very frustrating.
Identify your congregation’s abilities and passions…then use them:
Encourage and equip the people. Identify their talents and no, you don’t need a super flashy spiritual gifts inventory to do that. Just ask people what they are most passionate about. Ask them which of Jesus’ miracle stories amazes them the most and it will reveal something to you about where there heart and passion is at. Then give them freedom to experiment and minister with their skills and out of their passions. Allow them room to fail. Encourage them to partner with people of like passion. Support, love, encourage, cheer lead and celebrate!