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What is Church Growth?

by Pastor David Hansen, Director for Innovation and Communication – LEAD
Originally published at digitalpastor.org

What is Church Growth?

As we enter into – or begin to acknowledge – a new era in the life of the church, words like growing church get tossed around by church leaders. Or maybe you hear about congregational vitality, or congregational health. They are all related, and all often equally undefined.

Between my work as a redevelopment (restart/renewal) pastor and as a consultant with LEAD, I have thought a good deal about the idea of growth in the context of congregational life.

Growth is Contextual

Whatever the standard is for your metrics, context is king.

If you live in a rural area or a small town where perhaps the overall population is decreasing at a rate of 2% a year, it is a great achievement if your worship attendance holds even from one year to another. Similarly, if you live is a suburban setting where there is high population turnover and the overall population is increasing by 10% a year, it is probably not a healthy sign if your worship attendance is holding even.

This standard – taking into account the local factors – is extremely important when talking about any indicators of growth. What is the job market like, and the median income? What are the schedule pressures like on families? What is the age of the surrounding population? All of these contextual questions and more must be considered when looking at growth in the church.

Growth is Holistic

Worship attendance is a helpful number to look at – but it is by no means the only number!

LEAD has been doing some great work around helping congregations figure out metrics that help to measure ministry in ways that make sense with their values.

Talking about growth has to take a holistic approach. Are we growing in numbers, discipleship, outreach, generosity, and relationship? They all work together.

Too often in the church we zero in on one of those sorts of measures over against the others. A healthy approach to growth looks at them all together – and the interplay between them. Some examples of this might be things like the percentage of members in worship each week, or the number of people involved in small groups, or the number of service hours spent in the community each week.

When we only consider one or two of these factors, we are only getting part of the picture. I have even watched as leaders lift one part of the picture, to distract from problems in other areas.

A healthy, growing church is honest and looks at all these factors together.

Growth is Consistent

There are definitely seasons for everything (turn, turn, turn). But a church that is growing will experience some consistency in its growth.

Perhaps one year the congregation grows a little deeper in faith, and the next year they grow a little larger in worship, and the following year they grow in their service to others. That is one advantage of taking a holistic approach to growth – it helps us to see the whole picture.

There is a tendency to focus on the short term. What does worship attendance look like this month – or even this year? But it is often helpful to zoom out and look at the longer trends. Over the last five years – are we experiencing a trend of more or less people in small groups?

It is important for us to talk about church growth – about God who calls us to thrive in the context in which we have been planted. To be sure, there are faithful ministries that are not growing – for contextual reasons they are in a different season of their congregational life. But most of us in ministry are called by God to lead our communities through growth. Growth that is contextual, holistic, and consistent.

In Ephesians, Paul says that we have been equipped for the work of building up the body of Christ. Let’s get to work.

Read more about LEAD’s resource “Faithful Metrics” – which is a great resource of establishing contextual, holistic metrics in your setting. 

Have a look at my thoughts on the renewal ministry to which we are all called.

How do you measure what matters?

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Many (most) congregations choose to count people in pews and bucks in the offering plate every week, but there are at least two big problems with these metrics:

  1. They don’t really tell you anything about how you are growing disciples and raising up Christian leaders.
  2. By the time you have the numbers, it’s too late to change them (that’s why these types of measure are called lag metrics).

As part of LEAD’s research for our newest book, Faithful Metrics, we interviewed a group of pastors younger than 40 to get their thoughts on relational metrics. Check out their creative and insightful responses as starting places for developing both lag and lead metricsthen share your own ideas on LEAD’s Facebook page.

  • How many kids are in worship vs. how many families send kids to Sunday school while the parents go to church?
  • If your church has a school or preschool, how many school families vs. how many church families participate in congregational events?
  • How does milestone attendance change over the years? For example, follow one class over the course of a number of years to watch how participation changes and grows.
  • How many failures can we celebrate as people take risks and try new things?
  • How many hours do members spend volunteering with community organizations each month over a year?
  • How much time do grandparents spend with their grandchildren in prayer and faith formation, and how often?
  • How much time do men spend with male friends outside of work and church, and how often?
  • How many people are able to be vulnerable with each other in and out of worship?
  • How many younger leaders are invited, stepping up, coached, and freed to serve?
  • How many people have attempted, are in the process of, or have learned English or Spanish so they can have better relationships with other members?
  • How many different people show up early for worship to help set up or stay after to tear down?
  • How long do people stay after worship because they enjoy the relationships that are developing?
  • What is the number of phone calls/texts/conversations centered around faith development and prayer outside of Sunday worship?
  • How long does it take to turn to the correct chapter/verse in the Bible during Bible study and Sunday worship?
  • How many people are engaged in small groups or seasonal devotions?
  • How many parent conversations and engagements happen outside of Sunday morning?
  • What is the number of new people who have transitioned into a higher level of leadership in the congregation during the year?
  • What is the number of people who consider themselves mentors to someone else in the congregation?
  • How often do people talk about or mention their church to people/friends outside the church?
  • How many people know the congregation’s purpose/mission/vision? How many know what the core values are?
  • What is the parking lot capacity during the week? (Is the building being used?)
  • How many neighbors/partners can identify your church?
  • What percentage of the total budget is allocated for mission support?

Are these ideas prompting others in your imagination? Make your own list.

Think about this:

  • Can you see the human connection in each of these lag or lead metrics?
  • Can you imagine their meaning?
  • Can you tell their stories?
  • Can you brainstorm experiments?
  • If they are lag metrics, can you identify a lead metric that will influence them?

The rich conversations that come out of this process help grow trust, shared language, and commitment.