3 Often Ignored Reasons That Churches Don’t Grow

3 Often Ignored Reasons Churches Don’t Grow.

I had a fantastic time in Las Vegas earlier this week!…..wait, that didn’t come out right. I should explain. I was there with Jose Cortes and the North American Division Evangelism Advisory. We had a fascinating time together addressing the challenge of church growth in the stagnant States.

We looked at the few bright spots and believe me there were few. A creative small groups program here. A church revitalization program there.  A successful evangelistic campaign over there. But in the main, things seem to have slowed to a snail’s pace. Most of our churches are struggling to grow.

And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain many of our growth challenges. We share them with other evangelical churches in the U.S.:

  • Materialism
  • Lack of prayer
  • Loss of mission
  • Theological battles
  • Isolated Christians
  • Outdated methodologies

These problems can certainly be the kryptonite to church growth. But while driving from my hotel this week, some other practical reasons came to my mind. So here are 3 often ignored reasons that many churches are not growing today.

The Location of the Church

Our Las Vegas meetings were actually held in Henderson, Nevada. Henderson is a suburb of Las Vegas and it’s at the front of Nevada’s growth spurt. Neighborhoods are going up everywhere. Schools are filling up as fast as they finish construction.

As I drove through Henderson it occurred to me that you could put an Adventist church practically anywhere in Henderson and it would grow. Or a Baptist church, or a Methodist church, or an Independent church for that matter. Why? Because the area is exploding with new growth.

Churches tend to grow in areas of new growth. And church growth tends to slow when neighborhood growth slows. Period. I’m certainly not minimizing God’s power to raise a great church in an unlikely location, but that doesn’t often happen. Many of our historic churches were once large and thriving but now they are small and dying.  At times, it has less to do with waning spirituality and more to do with shrinking neighborhoods and changing demographics.

We would be wise to avoid spiritualizing away practical reasons for struggling evangelism. It’s hard to grow an Asian church in a now Hispanic neighborhood. It’s hard to grow a working class black church in a gentrified white neighborhood. It’s even harder to grow a church-any church- in a neighborhood where there are….no people.

The Condition of the Church

The longer we remain members of a local church, the more comfortable we become with our surroundings, good or bad.  We get comfortable in church buildings that many visitors would find uncomfortable. Insufficient lighting. Incomplete repairs. Uneven pavement. Absence of fresh paint. Ancient sound system.

And for parents of young children, the church facility can be an immediate deal breaker. If they find the building unappealing or unsafe, they will probably not be as patient as the congregation. Parents are literally driving away from the churches of their childhood to find a better place for their kids. Same for potential members.

The Reception of the Church

How does your local church receive visitors?  What is a visitor’s initial impression of the church? Not the building but the people.  It’s cliché, but we never get a second chance to make a first impression. Surveys still indicate that the primary reason people attend a church or leave a church, is the people.

Church members need to understand that they are walking advertisements for their church, especially on Sabbath or Sunday morning. Their attitudes can make or break a visitor’s experience.  A smile or warm handshake can mean the difference between a single visit and a potential member.

So, those are 3 reasons that many churches are struggling to grow. How is your local church doing in those 3 areas?

It’s the KIDS…Dummy!

“It’s the Kids…Dummy!

Intro: Don’t take it personally, I’m talking to myself too. Church Growth and Discipleship is my thing. From Oakwood College to Andrews University to Fuller Seminary-ground zero for the church growth movement-it has been my passion. So I still shake my head when I think of how long it took me to fully appreciate how invaluable children’s ministry is to the growth and development of the local church.

It’s common sense, but common sense ain’t as common as it used to be. If you want to start a church, prioritize the kids. If you want to grow a church, prioritize the kids. If you want to resurrect a church, prioritize the kids.

Church growth books are like death, taxes, and diet books- they are always with us. Experts abound. Everyone has the special steps, the secret sauce. Everyone has the secret to doubling your membership, even if that secret has escaped their own church. But here’s a tried and true method for growing your church numerically and spiritually. Prioritize the kids.

Let me give you some reasons why, if we’re concerned about the present and future of the church, we’ll prioritize the kids,

If You Get The Kids, You Get The Parents

Now this isn’t the most important reason for reaching out to kids, but since our theme is growth, I’ll start here. “Parents who can be approached in no other way, are frequently reached through their kids.” Testimonies Volume 4 pg. 70.

Ellen White was on point. Seems like before my kids made it home from the hospital, I was already scheduling their baby blessing and baptism. I was literally more concerned about my kids than myself, and especially their salvation. I’m not claiming that I was right, but I am claiming that I was not alone!

The best way to get to most parents is through their kids. When you attract the kid, you attract the parent. And when the parents are made to understand how important their role is to the salvation of that kid, you will usually get both.

If You Get The Kids, You Get the Grandparents…and Aunts…and Uncles…

I was visiting a church one Sabbath that had seen a tremendous drop in membership. I was bracing myself for another disappointing look at a church that literally died over the last 30 years. But to my surprise, rather than having any pew to myself, as was usually the case, the place was pretty full. It didn’t take me long to see why.

It was Children’s Sabbath. The kids were front and center. They taught, they sang, they preached. And it seemed like every kid brought a cheering squad. Proud relatives were everywhere. Many of them probably had only been in a church for weddings and funerals. But they were there in numbers that day. And my church growth imagination was thinking of a hundred ways to get them back.

Get Them Early, Or You Might Not Get Them At All

Most of the research that I’ve seen over the years seems pretty consistent. Easily 75% of Christians come to Christ before they reach the age of 18. And the longer it takes, the longer it takes! Experts identify a 4-14 age window when kids are most open to the gospel. And we need to make it our business to cultivate that spiritual seed and then be prepared to harvest it.

“When Jesus told the disciples not to forbid the children to come to Him, He was speaking to His followers in all ages, –to officers of the church, to ministers, helpers, and all Christians. Jesus is drawing the children, and He bids us, Suffer them to come; as if He would say, They will come if you do not hinder them..” Desire of Ages, p. 517

And I Could Go On!

Here are some other reasons that local churches should put a greater investment in Children’s ministry.

    • It Passes On Our Faith.
    • It Begins To Train Future Leaders.
    • It Gets Men Involved.
    • It Makes The Church More Mission Minded
    • They Bring Joy!!

So, there you have it. Over the years I’ve hired more church employees than I can remember: custodians, drivers, teachers, day care workers, youth pastors, associate pastors, secretaries, administrators, musicians…musicians…. musicians…. more musicians! If I had it to do over again, at the top of that list would probably be children’s pastor.

That’s me. What about you? How is your church doing with the children and youth? Any suggestions?