Home > Articles > Why Churches Don't Grow
Why Churches Don't Grow
Five barriers to church growth.

Sign up for our free Building Church Leaders newsletter:

Also of Interest
Children's Bulletins - April-June 2015
A complete set of children's bulletins for ages 3-6 and 7-12.

Children's Bulletins - January-March 2015
A complete set of children's bulletins for ages 3-6 and 7-12.

Organizational Pain
Symptoms that your group isn't functioning well—and treatments for the deeper problems.

Spiritual Growth for Church Leaders
Using the disciplines to keep ourselves in check.

Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God supernaturally breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ—the local church—is a living thing.

So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: "Why not?"

Here are five "growth-restricting obstacles." If we understand the reason for non-growth, it is easier to accurately diagnose and prescribe the cure.

Growth-restricting obstacle #1: The Pastor.

There are three different causes for the pastor's inhibiting the growth of a church:

  1. The pastor does not have a priority. Churches grow when they have a priority for reaching the unchurched. When the pastor doesn't, the church won't.
  2. The pastor does not have a vision. No vision for outreach is as much a barrier as no priority. Growing churches have pastors who believe God wants to reach people in their community and assimilate them into the Body.
  3. The pastor does not have the knowledge. Working harder is not the secret to effective outreach. The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in seminaries or Bible schools about how to effectively reach and assimilate new people.

Growth-restricting obstacle #2: The church members.

There are often competent and skilled clergy in non-growing churches, because the problem is in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when:

Members have no priority for reaching the lost. "Sure, our church should reach people," some say. "But me? I've got three kids, a job, membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should feel compelled."

Members have a self-serving attitude about church. When members believe the priority of the pastor and the church should be to "feed the sheep," the message that newcomers hear is: "We like our church just the way it is…which is without you!"

Members fear that new people will destroy their fellowship. When "community" is the number one priority in a church, members will act in a way that communicates to newcomers: "We're just fine with the people we have, thank you."

Growth-restricting obstacle #3: Perceived irrelevance.

Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people in their community, and then relate the gospel to those points of need. Stagnant churches are seen by the unchurched as having an irrelevant message to their life.

Growth-restricting obstacle #4: Using the wrong methods.

Any farmer knows you can't harvest ripe wheat with a corn-picker. Using inappropriate methods can be worse than no methods, since they create resistance to the gospel. A bullhorn on a street corner, tracts in an urban neighborhood, youth outreach in a senior adult community…none of these methods are wrong. But they are inappropriate for the harvest field.

Growth-restricting obstacle #5: No plan for assimilation.

Over 80 percent of those who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership. A new member does not automatically become an active member without an intentional plan by the church on how to assimilate them into a caring, loving, Christian community.

There are many reasons why churches don't grow. But there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it's just a matter of finding out why it's not growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?

Topics:Church Attendance, Communication, Growth, Health, Members, Membership, New members, Regular attenders, Visitors & guests
Filters:Management, Pastor

User Reviews

Average User Rating:

Displaying 1–5 of 26 comments

Tammi Cook

March 01, 2015  6:14am

I totally agree with the basic premise of the article, but the number one most obvious answer beyond the practical answers above is for the church to be praying. The church should be praying for its current members, for its ministers, for its future members, for growth, for wisdom to be the body of Christ to the local community. Everything above is relevant, but even those relevant issues should have a firm foundation in turning to God for HIM tone glorified.

Report Abuse

Zach Britton

November 23, 2014  9:08am

When I attended ORU, I was bound to many sexual addictions with no hope in site. I went to a wonderful church that was Pastored by an interracial couple- Rev. Robbie and Jan Turner with Harmony Worship Center Church. All I can say is that this church was full of life and I always came expecting to hear from God, which I did personally EVERY TIME! But-- the church didn't grow because of the racial hatred that existed in and throughout Oklahoma. Unfortunately, I got to see my own "saved professing" parents displaying the same racial tension I saw from other religious folks. Body of Christ...Please stop the racial hate in our churches!

Report Abuse

Intercessor Cleveland

August 16, 2014  6:48pm

Our church has ministry for all generations, all nationalities, and everyone is greeted in love and those that don't join, well that's why God called many other pastors for people that may not desire the pastor of that particular body of believers. Our internet provides the opportunity to leave pray requests, access to training and much more and any subject teaching you would like to hear can be ordered on, www.chop.org There are many people who participate in intercessory prayer for healing, deliverance, U.S. leaders, World leaders, families, marriages, etc. We have in house counselors, membership training, prayer training, We all meet on Saturday's to pray for the lost, sick, shut-in and all take part in visting the sick, hospital, communities by knocking on doors after interceeding before leaving. Myself I enjoyed prison and nursing home ministry. Get involved, ask questions about the vision, the goals, why things are done a particular way before joining.

Report Abuse

Intercessor Cleveland

August 16, 2014  6:28pm

Little prayer, little power...Much prayer, much power..No prayer, no power. Are you living treacherously toward your spouses? He will not answer you. Father God, in the name of Jesus. Help every pastor here and the world. As an intercessor I stand in the gap for pastors, who have a love for the lost and dying world. I pray they are sold out to You and follow You, have a relationship with You and spend hours in prayer seeking vision, write the vision and make it plain how to reach lost people and not be afraid of them. Father, I thank you that they are not fearful of people or predjudice. Lord, prostitutes, gang bangers, extortioners, abusers,etc need you. Equip these men and women of God to reach them all. Remember, When God sends you, he foots the bill. If we send ourselves, it will cost us. Ask God did He call you, or are you following someone elses vision. Did you tell you to start your own church or assist another pastor first and then He will bless yours.

Report Abuse


March 25, 2014  5:42pm

This was very powerful and on time information. I was just thinking and praying to God about our small ministry and asking Him what I/we could do to enhance and grow the ministry and incorporate things beyond the "normal church stuff" , and while in the process of searching for something else on the computer . I ran across this web page! What an awesome God we serve! Thank you.

Report Abuse

Submit Your Rating and Review *



1000 character limit

* Comments may be edited for tone and clarity.

Member Center
Log in

Meet Our Editorial Advisors

We Recommend

More from Christianity Today