For a while, church growth conferences were all the rage. There was a season when they were very popular, and I must admit I haven’t been following to see if they are as popular as they used to be. As we are working our way through this COVID era, it feels like many churches are struggling to get people back and church growth seems to be moving in the wrong direction. This trend cannot be blamed on COVID however, because it started before that.

Churches don’t stop growing in one instance; it is something that happens over a period of time. You lose one member here or there, and you look up and notice there are fewer and fewer members left. Whether this is happening in your church or another church, what is it that causes churches to stop growing? Here are four reasons why a church stops growing.

1. They Focus on Growth too Much 

When you read that, I know you think that is counter-intuitive, because how can you grow a church if you don’t focus on growth? Well focusing on growth is what can become part of the problem.

When many people think about growing the church, they often focus on filling the room. Those are two different things. If you simply want to fill a room and have a crowded service, there are many ways you can easily accomplish that. I have seen my share of marketing attempts to get people in the building. However, we must be careful not think big crowds equate to church growth. Big crowds are just big crowds. There were many people who were following Jesus when he was healing the sick and performing many miracles. However, his objective was not to get big crowds but to preach the truth to them.

Often, when he gave them the hard truth, many of the crowds deserted him. Some churches are watering down the message so they can keep the room full – that does not produce church growth. When you focus too much on filling the room, then you open the door to potentially compromising standards because you want to get people in the building. You might get big audiences, but unfortunately you are not growing the church.

2. We Are Focusing on Getting Converts, Not Making Disciples

While it is not appropriate to focus on just getting people in the building, it is appropriate to focus on making disciples. So often when we think of the great commission, we think of getting people saved. When you read what it says, Jesus told us to go and make disciples. This means if your church is going to grow, there must be an emphasis on making disciples.

Sad to say there seems to be no room for discipleship in many churches. One of the biggest discipleship making tools, good old Sunday school, has disappeared from many churches. Without a genuine tool for discipleship in place, is there any wonder why churches are not growing? People are simply not being taught.

Too often, we celebrate a person raising their hand in response to an altar call or even repeating a sinner’s prayer, but then we don’t do anything to follow up with that person. It should be no surprise that many of these people don’t come back after that moment. If you want your church to grow, teach people to be true followers of Christ. When you teach people how to follow Jesus and have a true genuine relationship with him, this will translate into more people being part of the church, therefore growing the church.

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3. We Mix the Political with the Spiritual

Another reason churches stop growing is because we open the door to allow people to leave, and sometimes we make it easy. One way we do that is when we mix the political with the spiritual. I am not saying your faith should not influence how you vote, because it is wise to vote in accordance with biblical standards. However, when your politics influence the way you preach or the decisions you make in the church, you are potentially pushing people out the door.

While it is imperative that the body of Christ come to agreement on doctrinal issues, even though there are even some issues there won’t be agreement on, there is nowhere in Scripture that requires us to agree politically. When churches take political stands that align with a party, those churches can alienate the parts of their audience that have a different opinion.

I know of someone who left a church because the pastor expressed a political viewpoint that he completely disagreed with, and when he heard it, he was offended and left along with several other people. For this reason, churches should stay out of the political arena. Whenever you make a political statement, you should assume that half the people are not going to like it. When you make it from a pulpit, don’t be surprised if half the people in your audience stop listening to anything you say after that. Even if they continue to listen, they will often view your message through the political lens you introduced.

If you continue to do this too often, don’t be shocked if the people that don’t agree with your political stance eventually leave your church, not all at once but slowly over time. There is nothing wrong with having political opinions, but keep them out of the pulpit because that is not where they belong.

4. We Make Church Transactional, and Not Relational

I heard a pastor say this about his church one time. He said his church is transactional. People come like they are going to the movies. They come into the building, watch the service and when it is over, they get up and leave. When this happens, guess what is missing? Relationships with people.

If you are going to grow a church, it must move from the transaction model of church to the relationship model of church. When I go to the movies, I am not concerned about the person next to me and their life. I don’t think about how the business of the theater is going or how the employees are doing. When I am at the movies, I am there for the entertainment, and when it is over, I go home. While I may enjoy the experience, I have no real connection to the movie theater at all. When the next movie comes out, if it is not playing at that theater, I will go somewhere else.

When people come to church with this mindset, this is how it is. There is no sense of community because they are there simply for the experience, and when it is over it is time to leave. When they get tired of that experience or the preaching goes in a direction they don’t like, it is on to the next experience. This is how transactional church works, and as you can see that is not a recipe for growth.

A Model to Follow

For a moment, notice how the transactional model of the 21st Century compares to the relational model of the first century.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

When you look at this model of the early church, you discover it wasn’t about the experience but the community. It wasn’t about the transaction but the relationship. When people feel loved and cared for, when they are being taught and growing in their faith, when they have a sense of fellowship and community where the love of God is flowing, these people come back, they stay, and they bring others into the fellowship. In other words, if you want churches to grow, it will require doing the things that make people feel part of the body.

Solid instruction from the word of God, corporate prayer as a body, loving fellowship both in the building and outside the building will be markers that can grow any church. However, if you do this, don’t do it because you are trying to grow the numbers of the church. Do it because you are trying to grow the people who are currently in the church.

When you shift your focus from growing numbers to growing people, and begin to do things like we see in the book of Acts, you won’t have to worry about growing your church because it will take care of itself. Even if your church never reaches the stage of multiple thousands of members, that is okay because you have done what Jesus commanded and made true disciples. This is where the focus should be all along.

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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit