Church Growth Advice From a Church Shrinking Pastor

Church Growth fanatics should remember that the plants that grow quickest are weeds.



Pastors of small churches are often allured by church growth advice. Who doesn’t want to reach more people? But as soon as a pastor of a small church starts reading this stuff it becomes laughable. Taking my little church in this rural community and doing Southern California suburban church approaches? Riiiiiiight! Pretty sure these church growth antics would shrink my church faster than it currently is.

Get Rich Quick schemes abound. People get scammed in amazing ways by buying into shortcuts. Church Growth and Get Rich Quick schemes sound similar in approach, guarantees, and results.

Ever notice how many mega-church pastors take terrible moral falls? It’s a pandemic, and yet before they fall, all of us little pastors were told to follow their anointed means to achieve spectacular ends.

Why is it that a pastor who has more people suddenly becomes the expert on everything that everyone else must do? What verse in the Bible says, “If something attracts a lot of people it is good and anointed from on high?” There are none, yet there are plenty that talk about popular things being wrong. Remember the broad road with many on it? Remember where that road went?

Since when does popularity equal truth? Since never. Jesus was left alone at the end of His life. Paul stood alone. The prophets thought they were all by themselves, so much that Elijah claimed to be the only one left.

There is zero evidence from scripture that pastoral success looks like lots of people.

Yet Church Growth advice abounds. We follow Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and assume their advice will carry over fantastically into the church realm. We try it and it seems to work. Churches get big. Pastors become celebrities. Books get sold and conferences get attended.

Then we find out the majority of church people have zero biblical literacy and the big name pastors take fall after fall.

You can’t rush the building of the Body of Christ. If God is not the builder, then the laborers labor in vain. The Spirit builds the Body. A well-functioning body edifies itself in love. It will build itself if love is central and Christ is the Head. It may take forever and be very discouraging and humiliating, but I think this is the only way to produce genuine, true spiritual growth.

I’m not saying this as a guy who has made it. Because this is usually where the church advice giver says, “See, that’s what I did. I just preached the Word and the people came. You little pastors out there, you just hang in there, someday, by God’s grace, you’ll be as amazing as me and your church as awesome as my church.”

Nope, I’m not there. I have no expectation that my church will grow much. I’ve more or less given up on that. My expectation now is simply that I and the people who come regularly will grow into Christ. If and when we do that, I expect some more people to leave; as there aren’t many who truly want to be like or even around Christ (remember how people crucified Him?).

I’m not trying to grow a church; I’m trying to grow into Christ and help some others do that too.

Trying to build an institution is silly. Earthly things don’t last. Building buildings and getting followers and tracking the stats feels good. I understand the allure to do such things and the apparent effectiveness and personal pride involved. But are people reaching Christ? Are people being spiritually built up, or just being swarmed into your movement?

Seems to me the churches that grow quickest are not producing spiritual growth where people are grounded and settled. They are growing weeds, little shoots that come up. But I wonder when the sun comes up if they will have any depth to survive.

There will be a judgment on how each of us built on the foundation. Our work will be tested with fire. I doubt the buildings and the stats will survive that fire. Saved people who grew into Christ are the one fruit that will last. Focus on building up individuals, not your legacy or your brand or your institution. Build people into Christ. Let the earthly measurements of success worry about themselves.



From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
–Ephesians 4:16

2 thoughts on “Church Growth Advice From a Church Shrinking Pastor

  1. As I began reading this article I thought about Matthew 7:13-14. Thanks for sharing your thoughts—you’re a sounding board I understand and appreciate (I’m not sure if that’s good, though).


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