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If the size of my church was up to me, it would have been a lot bigger a long time ago.

After all, like so many of my peers in ministry, I’ve followed all the rules. Preach the Word, train disciples, reach people, remove obstacles, lead and manage it well, and the church will grow. Won’t it?

But then, it doesn’t. Not for most of us.

I know it doesn’t make sense. How can a church be healthy and strong, but not grow numerically? It seems counterintuitive and … I don’t know … wrong somehow.

But that’s reality. A lot of healthy churches don’t grow numerically.

No matter how many right principles we follow, how well we preach and promote it, or how many obstacles to growth we remove, some churches Just. Don’t. Get. Bigger!


Numerical Congregational Growth Is Not Inevitable

A while ago I was having lunch with a pastor of a church near mine.

He had previously been on staff at a megachurch, where he had led a huge youth group and participated in some well-known Christian music projects. He’s especially good at graphic design and promotion.

When he started pastoring, he faithfully applied the principles that had been successful for him and that he’d seen work for the pastors he’d worked with. But, while his church is great, it has stayed small.

As we chatted over sandwiches, he was comparing his previous situation to his current frustrations and he blurted out, only half jokingly, “It ticks me off that my preaching and graphics won’t build a big church!”

Me too, I told him. Then we laughed at our own stupidity.

I Can’t Make Growth Happen

I want to make my church grow.

There’s just one problem with that. It’s not my church to grow.

I have to remind myself of that all the time.

It’s Jesus’ church. Not mine.

The church existed before I came along, including the congregation I currently pastor. And both will outlast me.

So I have to keep reminding myself of the frustrating truth that some things are beyond my control.

But I still want to be in control. Or, at the very least, when I surrender my control to the control of the Holy Spirit I want results that make sense.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

I keep trying to learn to relax my grip and surrender to Jesus.

  • To give him control.
  • To be okay with what I can’t control.
  • To live with the stubborn, frustrating reality that the numerical growth of the church is beyond my control.
  • To acknowledge that the only control I have is whether-or-not to stay faithful.

Preaching the Word, training disciples and ministering to the community may or may not increase the number of people who sit in front of me from Sunday to Sunday.

But it will produce a healthy church.

If I am faithful, God may sometimes bring numbers, but he will always bring health.

I’m learning to be okay with that.

Because healthy matters more than big.

Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.

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