How to Create Sustainable Church Growth

In the church world, most of us rely on short term tactics to grow and bust through issues.

  • Giving is a little behind, so the preacher talks about money.  That’s a responsive tactic.
  • They need some more volunteers in the children’s ministry.  Time to pull out the Acts 6 sermon or the VBS video.  That’s a tactic.
  • Attendance is flat.  Time to strap the worship leader into a crane overnight to see if the local news will pick up the story.  That’s a tactic.
We spend a lot of our time pulling the trigger on tactics, but what we really need to create is a strategy.  We spend a lot of time doing stuff, but what we really need to create is a system.

Marketing will help you attract a big crowd on Easter Sunday.  But good systems will help you connect some of them into the life of the church.
Hype will get you some publicity in the local news and on the church leadership blogs, but systems will help you build an enduring organization that truly makes a difference in your community.
Short spikes in giving and attendance don’t do much for organizational growth.  The here today and gone tomorrow kind of ministry doesn’t bring about lasting change.  Those moments are addicting, but they are not sustainable.  You don’t have enough worship leaders to sit in the crane.
What you need is sustainable church growth – the kind that comes from having guests stick on a weekly basis.  I’m talking about the healthy kind of growth, not manufactured activity that comes from hype.
At the end of this post, I’m going to give you three ways to create healthy systems that lead to this kind of growth, but before that, let’s talk about the problems.

The Real Reason Your Church Isn’t Growing

It’s probably not because of people.  It’s easy to look around and say, “If I could just hire some administrative help,” or “if we just had someone who focused on the community all the time” or “If all Jimmy ever did was work with teenagers,” then we would break this barrier.  The problem with that superhero kind of thinking is it’s just not true.  More people thrown at your problems will not solve the issue.
It’s probably not because of space.  I’ve seen so many church leaders become infatuated with building a new building, limiting their vision to bricks and 2x4s.  Space probably isn’t your issue.
There’s a good chance you aren’t experiencing sustainable growth due to the lack of systems.  I bet that’s what I would find if I looked under the hood.
Creating healthy systems takes work and time.  Yes, there are some things you can do to jump start the process, but if you are visionary leader, this is not going to be fun.
But if you’re a visionary leader, turn some of that vision on yourself.  You tell other people all the time they have to kept the end in mind if the want to reach their goal.  It’s time to preach that message to yourself.
How to create healthy systems
1. Do a real inventory.
Look around your church and talk about your strengths and weakness.  But if you want to improve, you have to confront the brutal facts. You need to give people the freedom to talk about what’s not good. I’ve seen a lot of churches where the thing that needs to improve is the preaching, but nobody will tell that to the preacher.
There are a lot of great things happening in your church, but you’ve got to be honest about what’s really hurting you.
2. Get outside help.
I know there is some good advice on but I don’t recommend performing surgery on yourself.  There are times when you need the services of a professional.
Professional help isn’t a waste of money – it will keep you out of the weeds.  The person who does my taxes actually saves me money.  The counselor you see is cheaper than a divorce lawyer.  And the church consultant you hire will help you identify and solve the real problems.
3.  Solve one thing at a time.
The biggest mistake I see churches make in the area of creating healthy systems is doing too much too fast.  There are seven different systems in the church, and if they all need improvement, you can’t do it all at once.  You’ve got to prioritize.
And if you can’t prioritize, just pick.
Go to work on how you follow up with guests.  Create a service planning system.  Or build out an annual money plan.  But don’t do all of them at one time.  You know exactly what will happen – you will execute minor improvements and nothing will really get better.
Take six months or more to work on one thing, and you’ll see a big improvement.  Only when everyone (not just the visionary leader) says it’s good should you move on to the next one.