Revealing the secrets behind church growth
What is the secret behind some churches growing rapidly while others remain static or die out? Growth consultant Martin Kentish, from Norwich, reveals the surprising results of his research.
In June last year I conducted a simple survey to begin to understand why some churches grow, and others remain static or die out.
I simply asked about a person’s enthusiasm for their church in terms of their likelihood to invite others to attend. The answers were both fascinating and perplexing but lead on to finding out what really fuels church growth, and it wasn’t want I initially expected.
The findings from the survey were clear: churches with dynamic, responsive leadership with a clear vision grew in numbers. Those churches that were legalistic, static and unresponsive did the opposite.
This led me to look at the numbers issue. Few church leaders when asked how their church is doing wouldn’t be tempted to talk in terms of their numbers. However, one leader when asked how his church was doing replied quite directly “Not enough!”. When probed as to the main barrier to growth he replied “Sin.” Curious as this was at the time, it was a very important point.
If churches were like retail outlets, and their products were welcome, worship and teaching on a Sunday morning, then it’s natural to ask about people’s ‘satisfaction’ with those ‘products’ and then link satisfaction to numerical growth. However, it is dangerous for a church to adopt a consumerist model. Why? The most important metric is the quality of a person’s relationship with Christ. For the church, the most important thing to understand is how church activities are strengthening that person’s relationship with Christ.
During my research, I studied Willow Creek’s Reveal programme and the consequences of what they found. Prior to this programme, Willow Creek churches enjoyed massive numerical growth which was thought, a good indication of their success. However, when they asked about people’s walk with God, they were shocked to find they had missed the mark in a big way.
A church of 50 Christ-centred followers is more potent than a church of 500 who are distant. A small, Christ-centred church tends to generate more leaders, serve better their communities, and bring more people to Christ even if they don’t have the most comfortable chairs, the best coffee or the friendliest welcome team. I am not saying these issues aren’t important, they are, but churches may have a tendency to focus on these activities rather than the activities that lead to growth in Christ. Perhaps these activities become a focus because they yield a more visible numerical growth.
Numbers are interesting because it is a metric that is easily comparable and leads to the assumption that the church with growing numbers is somehow more successful than one which is not. It’s an easy trap to fall into because it is an easy metric to understand and compare.
So what’s the alternative? Both in my own research and that of Reveal, there are two simple metrics and comment that would yield a massive amount of insight for church leaders.
1. Where are they in their relationship with Christ (e.g 1=exploring Christ, 10=Christ-centred)
2. How their relationship is growing on a similar 1-10 scale and what activities are helping or hindering this growth.
The answers to these questions could help leaders to focus on serving the different groups (e.g. exploring Christ, Christ-centred) and lead to a more focussed, effective church programme. Leaders will quickly discover what activities generate spiritual growth, and what resources are committed to things which generate very little.
Once concern regularly pops up: leaders are busy people so would asking these questions make it even more difficult? In reality no, it should help them focus their minds, resources and finance on what is generating more Christ-focussed followers. Put it another way, it should make it easier for church leaders to do what God has called them to do.
It’s easy to be swayed by a ‘consumerist’ approach to church which ebbs and flows on the metrics of satisfaction, but measuring spiritual growth offers church leaders a solid, biblical metric to help grow their church.
To finish, after the initial survey in June 2008 it was clear churches may not have the leadership open to the idea of asking these radical questions. However, if there is one thing the church should want to know is whether they are generating Christ-centred followers or simply increasing their numbers.
About Martin Kentish
Martin is a consultant who’s purpose is growth, both measuring and improving it. Contact martin on email@example.com or 01603 626267.