I am privileged to be a part of The Unstuck Group, where I have the opportunity to work with churches around the country. I get to meet wonderful people and hear great stories about how God is impacting lives through the ministries of the local church.
I primarily work with churches who have 500 or less in attendance, which is a totally different dynamic than the larger/mega churches The Unstuck Group normally work with. One major difference in working with smaller churches is the visibility of growth...or the lack thereof. For example, if five families leave a church that's averaging 1,200 people each weekend, it's unlikely their absence would be noticed the following Sunday. That's like throwing a stone into a lake; it makes a ripple, but very small. However, when five families drop out of a church that's running 120 people, that's like throwing a stone into a puddle. The following Sunday the pastor sees the empty space. There's a huge splash and everyone gets wet.
This is one of the main reasons churches 500 and less look for growth in the fast lane. They want to walk in on Sundays and see the room full. They want quick results. They want instant increase. They want a bag of pixie dust. Chasing growth in the fast lane seldom ends well. It usually creates more problems and more frustration. And if the pixie dust did exist...every church would be full.
There is no Pixie Dust for Church Growth
I remember being a young pastor, running from conference to conference looking for my own pixie dust to grow my church. I wanted growth in the fast lane and I wanted it now. It took me five years of pixie dust hunting to realize church growth was dependent upon leaning into Jesus and working my butt off. Growing a church is hard work and there's no way around it. Building good strategic plans doesn't always result in less work; but good strategy brings clarity so the right work can be planned, executed and measured. If you want your church to grow, you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
Slow Growth is Healthy Growth
I have always told pastors, "Never put a 4th grader on the bus and expect him to come home an 8th grader. Growth takes time." If the 4th grader did return an 8th grader, it would be unhealthy growth. There is, as always, an exception to this thought. I have seen churches grow very quickly as a result of God's intervention, the right leadership and good planning. However, churches that have been stuck for years usually don't see quick growth. In my experience it takes at least twelve months before a stuck church starts seeing tangible growth; and up to three years to see significant growth. It really depends on how long the church has been stuck and the ability to lead change.
Growth means Change means Loss
Lastly, when a stuck church is ready to grow, they must be ready for change, which can also mean loss. When a six year old loses a baby tooth, no one calls the ambulance. Even with the kid screaming and blood everywhere, the parents don't freak out. They understand that losing (baby teeth) is part of growing. It's normal. The same is true with churches. When a stuck church begins to grow again, change occurs; and there are things the body outgrows. Some common areas I see affected are governance, decision making processes, worship styles, target audience, staff and burying ministries that aren't making a difference. Is it messy? Yes, and sometimes it bleeds...a lot. But we know change and loss often proceed growth and is therefore, necessary.