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.

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How Should a Pastor Respond When Someone Says They Probably Won’t be at Church Sunday?

WHAT THEY SAY: “There’s a chance we won’t be at church Sunday.”

WHAT I HEAR: “We won’t be at church Sunday.”


Typically people skip church without saying anything before, during, or after the skipping. You are left to peruse Facebook for the details of what they were up to. They’re probably just out having fun with the family. Or they have left your church in a huff and you’ll never see them again. One or the other.

If someone goes out of their way to say to you, “We might not be at church Sunday.” The only reason they are saying this is because they will not be there. When people hint at not being at church, that’s them telling you they won’t be there.

Incidentally, when people say “We will see you at church Sunday,” They probably won’t be there either.

Look, no one is going to be at church Sunday.

Just give up on that.

Content yourself with preaching to those nice quiet chairs that faithfully show up every Sunday. They never complain. They don’t open cellophane wrapped candies. They don’t get up in the middle of your finest sermon point to go to the bathroom. They don’t do that stupid crouching walk across the front of the church in an effort to avoid distracting people, which results in the oddest walk ever, which distracts absolutely everyone, so instead of repenting they are thinking, “People who duck to avoid getting attention actually seem to get a lot of attention.” Empty chairs don’t show up late. They don’t spill coffee on the carpet. They don’t cough and hack and blow loogies. They just sit there patiently and quietly, waiting for you to wrap it up so they can go back to whatever it is chairs do in the dark.

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Why Church Hopping Exists

Our new Church Motto:
If you didn’t like your old church, you won’t like this one either. Go away.



An older man told me he’s left every church he’s been involved with because of conflict with leadership. Imagine my surprise when he left my church over a problem with me.

Another guy who left my church in the rudest way anyone has, later got kicked out of, yes “kicked out of,” the next church he went to.

A family left my church because they disagreed with pretty much everything we did. The wife decided to go to school to be a pastor. Now she can run a church right.

I was told that one family who left my church has also left every church in town. All the pastors know them, as they all were their pastor at one point.

One couple, who attends my church about six-months at a time, constantly bounces in and out of churches six-months at a time, trying all the new pastors as they come in. They never settle anywhere.

The majority of people who have left my church haven’t joined another church. I believe this will work out well for the church, but be a complete disaster for them personally.

When you’ve been a pastor long enough you get used to people coming and going. Sometimes you know why; sometimes you don’t. But news travels. I end up hearing what they are up to after they leave. Based on the later stories and interactions, I understand more why they left and most of the time, it wasn’t our church; it was just troubled people having troubles with everything.

When people leave my church, I try not to take it personally. I feel bad for them, most of them go on to prove they have deep spiritual issues that need dealing with. Some do hurt the church. Some hurt me deeply. Some are misunderstandings and personality conflicts that make me wonder if I should still be a pastor. Others just make sense.

“There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people,” is the cute cliché that’s supposed to make us feel better about our ineptitude. There is a point to be made there, but I still think churches can be better.

Hopping around until you find one that already meets all your requirements, will not only frustrate you, it won’t help any church.

There is much irony in pastors complaining about church-hoppers when pastors stay at a church for four years on average. Perhaps people are just following our lead? Dedicate yourself to a church.

Churches are not commodities to be weighed and compared and priced. The church is a family. You’re not supposed to ditch your family for a better one. Of course, this illustration doesn’t make much sense in our culture where ditching your family for another one is no longer taboo.

The church is a body. When one member hurts, all members hurt. We do our part collectively to keep the whole body strong. Of course, this illustration doesn’t make much sense in our culture where most of us are overweight and lazy. We don’t take care of problems, we just get them medically treated or covered up. Easier to buy a drug than maintain disciplined diet and exercise.

The church is like a building. It’s made to last, to weather the storm, and provide shelter and comfort for years. Of course, this illustration doesn’t make much sense in our culture where people move and we ditch old parts of town for new houses on the outskirts.

So, yeah, none of the illustrations for church make much sense anymore. It should not shock you that people are not loyal to your church. Grass tends to be greener in other fields. Other pastors are always better than the one you have.

I don’t let people leave without checking in on them. It saddens me to see the state of the church today, but more so to see the state of people who leave churches all the time. These are hurting people and the church is hurting right along with them.



But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 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 4:15-16

The Body of Christ Needs Its Toes Stepped On Sometimes

Every once in a while you gotta preach a sermon that could get you fired.



I live four miles from where I preach, but some Sundays, it seems to take forever to get there. I’m nervous, sweaty, and anxious of how the sermon will be heard.

“Well, we’ll see if I get fired over this one,” I’ll say to my wife as we pull into the parking lot.

Luckily for me, no one at my church cares enough to fire me. I have that going for me. Instead of firing me, people just leave. I can pinpoint the sermons that facilitated individual’s departures.

I know when I’m stepping in it. If you spend any amount of time with the people in your church, which you should incidentally, you will know where they get hung up. You know the passages they routinely misapply, ignore, and trample under foot. Each church has its agreed upon doctrines you best not touch.

Every once in a while you need to touch those doctrines. You need to cross into dangerous territory and touch on those verses no one is supposed to touch.

If your church is Calvinist, do a sermon emphasizing Arminian proof texts, and vice versa. Bring up warning passages to churches hung up on Easy Believism and preach the verses on assurance and security to those who constantly bash people with fear. You know where your church is, you know the passages: they’re the ones you know you can’t bring up.

I know you know which ones they are! You get that feeling in your stomach just reading them. You hear a pastor on the internet talk about a passage and your head thinks, “Yeah, no way could I say that in my church.”

Sure you can. You’re just chicken!

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The Case for Seeker-Insensitive Churches

The best way to keep people from leaving your church is to not let them in to begin with.



I understand why Seeker Sensitive churches exist. I get why churches market and use gimmicks to get people to attend. I also know that most people attracted by gimmicks and marketing leave the church, often after causing problems.

There is a small-business owner in my church who told me that he is picky about who his customers are. If a customer is too demanding or has a bad attitude, he doesn’t do what they say. They don’t come back. Everyone is saved a hassle.

“The customer is always right” is a statement based on a business model of making money no matter what. Keeping customers happy retains customers so you can make more money off of them. Jerks pay cash too!

The church, in my opinion, is not a money-making venture. Mine particularly. Although the church ignores them, there are several verses about church discipline. Not all people in your church should be in your church. The customer is not always right.

This is a tough pill to swallow for many. Some have a view of grace that says anything goes, everyone must be tolerated, and no judging should ever be done. I think the Bible disagrees with that.

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What Pastors Desperately Need: More Advice

Perhaps the guy who spends 39 more hours a week in church than you do knows what’s going on there.



Everyone knows how to be a pastor. I like to think it’s because pastors are so good at their jobs they make it look easy, like anyone could do it.

But alas, I don’t think that’s what’s going on. In fact, based on what people say and how they say it, they think pastors are incompetent.

They assume we need their advice. They assume we aren’t paying attention, that we don’t know what other churches are doing, and that we have our heads buried in communion wine all week.

What’s more amazing is that the advice givers are the ones who are least at church. As if being at church for one hour a week three times a month lends a certain insight. A fresh-take that those who spend their week in church wouldn’t see.

For instance, every single person who has left our church, I knew months beforehand that they would. I could feel it, sense it, pick up on the vibes. I knew it was coming.

Advice Givers don’t realize those people have left until about three months later. “Where are John and Rita? I haven’t seen them for a while.”

“They left the church several months ago.”

“Really?” they say with incredulity. “Well, I knew they were having problems. You know what you should have done?” They go on for several minutes explaining what I should have done, which has amazingly nothing at all whatsoever to do with the problem John and Rita had.

Then they follow that up with, “You know what you should do?” They then give me various strategies for getting John and Rita back, none of which have anything to do with why John and Rita left. Typically this advice has something to do with Jesus leaving the 99 to go get the 1, which has nothing to do with the situation at all.

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Why This Pastor Contemplates Getting Another Job

THEM: As a pastor, what would you do differently if you knew it couldn’t fail?

ME: Get a new job.


This really isn’t a joke.

The vast majority of Sundays will find me contemplating getting another job.

It’s not that I hate being a pastor; I actually love it. But, good Lord, it does break a guy’s heart.

I spend all week gearing up, studying, planning, practicing, and hyping myself to preach great messages. I do my best. I’m not claiming to be the best sermon maker or preacher ever, but I do my part to make it as good as possible. I get up and pour out my heart. I pray for people, I pray specifically for passages of Scripture that address issues certain people deal with. Maybe this will be the sermon where they “get it.”

It never is. You work with people for years, only to see them give up, walk away and tell others what a loser you are as a pastor. People get mad, they find fault, they take advantage and take you for granted. Every week.

Sure, there’s a win sprinkled in there every other month or so, a highlight, a glimmer that light may have dawned on someone. But then weeks go by and the glimmer fades and everyone is right back where they were before, except now I’m older and more tired.

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