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Most churches start small.  The problem is that some stay small.  The even bigger problem is that sometimes that smallness is due to distorted thinking (although often well intentioned) on the part of the leaders and lay people alike.

What does that thinking look and sound like, and how might it be overcome?

I. Blame it on God

“If God wants our church to grow, it will grow.”  What an easy way out.  Now the blame shifts from us to Him.  If one thinks though such a thought pattern, the folly of such thinking will stand out.  For example, does that mean that churches that are growing are the result of God playing favorites?  Should believers ask God to allow a church to grow when He may have already decided that is not His plan?

Where is such thinking found in Scripture?  It isn’t.  If a church is small because few people live within driving distance from the church, that is understandable.  But otherwise, God wants a church to grow because it’s winning the lost to Christ and discipling them to reach others.

The answer:  Look inward, not upward.  Ask the question, “Why is our church not growing?”  Human instruments may be standing in the way.  Those human instruments may be church leaders who have not trained their people in evangelism.  Internal strife may make the church everything but inviting to outsiders who have heard that the church specializes more in fighting than fellowship.

II. Seeing the neighbor but not the neighborhood

“If one person comes to Christ this year, it’s worth it.  God may have us here for just one person He wants to bring to Himself.”

No one could or would question the value of one’s soul, but God’s love doesn’t stop with one; it extends to everyone.  It’s not the person up the street that needs Jesus, its every person on every street.

The answer: Vision.  Specialize in contacts and let God specialize in conversions.  Bring Christ to everyone within driving distance of the church.  As the Seed is sown, God in His time will bring forth fruit.  God responds to prayer and vision.  The issue isn’t the worth of a soul who lives within the community; it is the worth of every soul who lives within the community.

III. Have a church that is spiritually attractive, put physically repulsive

Forgive my frankness, but some churches look like the building needs to be redeemed, not just the people.  I Samuel 16:7 says man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.  Both parts of that sentence are true, not just the latter part.  God looks at the heart, but man looks at the outward appearance.

I said to a pastor, “Let’s drive by your church as non-Christians.”  We did and he saw my point.  The church had a chain length fence around it to prevent burglaries.  It made it look like the headquarters of a cult.  They took the fence down and the church started to grow.  Another had a sign on the front of the church facing the street.  It read, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this, the judgment”.  It made it appear that the two things that church specialized in were death and judgment.

The answer:  Do what I encouraged my pastor friend to do.  Drive past the church as a non-Christian.  Would your church beckon me in or scare me away?  It’s amazing what a little paint, a flower bed, a cleanup crew and a little remodeling might do.

IV. Shifting pastors every few years

Anything solid is built on consistent long term stability.  Starting over in any organization every few years is seldom productive.  Adjustment and readjusting takes its toll.  Try doing 5- or 10-year planning when the leadership may change every 2 or 3 years.

The answer:  Go for long-term leaders—ones who come to stay and develop a reputation that enhances that of the church.  That way the community not only becomes part of them, they become part of the community.  Since they have developed a spirit of trust about them, people respond with an attitude “Lead on, and we’ll follow”.  Since they have seen him weather good and bad times, they know he’ll be there even if there are roadblocks along the way.  Ask a person you hire, “Is this a stopping point or staying point?”  The staying point may not be 20 years but it ought not to be two years either.

V. No prayer, no planning

Planning without prayer doesn’t work nor does prayer without planning.  An unbeatable combination is when God does His part and we do ours.  Some churches stay small though because they don’t always ask God to do His part and neither do they do theirs.

The answer:  Pray as you plan and plan as you pray.  For the sake of the lost, ask God to help the church to grow.  Pray that He will help you see the essentiality of evangelism.  “As we grow there may be a lot of people we don’t know” is not honoring the Lord.  It’s more important that others know Him than that others know you.  Then plan - decide how many are you going to contact with the gospel, over the next week, month and year?

Conclusion:

God is not hung up on numbers nor should we be.  But, God is concerned for the lost and a church that impacts the lost grows by conversion.  Numbers ought to be one indicator of His blessing.  The church grows when God and His people are in partnership.  Their focus is so on the Big Kingdom that people are asking God to increase the small kingdom.  More people mean more workers, more funds, and more giftedness-all things that increase the influence of a church in the community.

Larry Moyer (website: EvanTell)


Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

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Jonathan Jones

commented on Jul 6, 2011

I agree with the article, but would add one thing. These things will keep any church from growing. I believe #5 could be moved to the top. Thanks for sharing with us.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jul 6, 2011

Some good tips, but unfortunately the second sentence reveals an assumption that is very wrong. Mr. Moyer writes: "The problem is that some [churches] stay small." First of all, there is never a clear definition of just what "small" is? Fifty members? 100? 200? But the wrong assumption is that small churches are INHERENTLY not growing or are not committed to reaching the lost. Yes, I am sure there are many small churches who exhibit the characteristics mentioned in the article--just as I am sure there are many large churches that exhibit these characteristics as well! But isn't it possible that there are churches that remain small because they feel that they can better reach the lost as a small church? I read a study while at seminary that suggested that ten healthy churches of 100 members each could win more converts together in one year than a healthy church of 1000 members. What if there are small churches that decide that once they reach 100 or 150 members, they will plant a new church. As time goes by, more and more small churches are planted. The churches themselves never grow to be very big. But the Church, on the other hand, does. In fact, in regards to point number 2, I believe dozens, or even hundreds, of small churches distributed around neighborhoods and communities can have the potential to have a much greater influence on that community than one or two large churches. We need to remember that the passages in Acts describing the growth of the church in thousands are describing the Universal Church. There is nothing in Acts to suggest that any one local church is meant to grow indefinitely in size.

Sterling Franklin

commented on Jul 7, 2011

Agreed w/ below -- there were tons of 'house churches' in Acts that still fulfilled their purpose as assemblies. There are some house churches today that have only 15 people coming each week in-person and yet have an evangelistic outreach to thousands and tens of thousands per week using creative means and a few internet connections. How are we defining 'church success' these days? Should be faithfulness/obedience/fruitfulness, and these aren't always measured by incoming funds and whether you have 2 or 3 zillion people there per week or not.

Albert Sims

commented on Jul 15, 2011

I thought that the article was good, however the scripture says, "unless the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it". The idea is not the size of the church, but the season of it. Everything that master YHWH does is in seasons, some churches are not growing because it's not the right season for it to grow. This does not mean that the church is not going to grow, but there are still some things that need to matured before it's ready to. I believe this is primarily dependent upon the leadership. God will not give more than you can handle. If the Lord added 1000 to the church roster, can your leadership handle that? As leadership grows, the Lord will place more people into that body, in His time...

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