The Myths of Church Growth

Seth Godin says profit covers many sins.

In the business world, a lot is accepted in the name of profit.

  • Questionable tactics are tolerated as long as the team hits the revenue numbers.
  • The mission of the company gets in line behind the marketing of the product.
  • Core values are violated in the name of pragmatism

Churches don’t have this problem because they are non-profits.  Or do they?

In the church world, it’s not profit that covers a multitude of sins.  It’s growth.

  • Increased attendance often means looking the other way in addressing leadership concerns.
  • Reaching guests becomes the goal so you compromise on the Truth.
  • You divert all kinds of resources to get people in the front door and leave the hard work of discipleship to someone else.

The Myths of Growth

The growing churches get the press and the big churches get the buzz.  They must be doing something good, we think.  How else would they get so big?

But growth is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Here are three myths of growth that not enough people are talking about.

Myth #1:  Growth leads to happiness.  

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few different megachurhces and I’ve seen behind the scenes of a few others.  They struggle with so many of the same problems.  They are just covered up by quality production and fancy websites.  But behind the scenes, leaders of these churches are wrestling with very real issues.  If you were to sit in the meetings, you’d say, “I can’t believe they are still struggling with this.”

A big church isn’t big because they have figured out all of the problems.  In may way, the problems are just bigger.

Some of the most miserable leaders I know work in growing organizations.  There are lots of people and lots of activity.  It’s a merry-go-round that never stops.  You think you’d be happier if the church was bigger, but just the opposite might be true.

Heck, I believed this myth for a long time.

I started a church that grew from  zero people to almost 1,000 people in a couple of years.  In a town of just 17,000 people.  You would think this would have made me happy.  But instead, I focused on breaking the next barrier and going to the next level.  I was successful on the outside but miserable on the inside.

If you’re not content leading a church of 200, you won’t be content leading a church of 400.  Because happiness is not found in growth.  Contentment doesn’t come from the outside – it’s a position of the heart.

Growth won’t make you happy and growth doesn’t lead to happiness.

Myth #2:  We need a little more.

Maybe you’ve heard the quote from John D. Rockefeller.  He was asked, “How much money is enough?” He answered, “Just a little bit more.”

His honest answer is telling, isn’t it.  We’re on a quest for more.

But the problem is “enough” is a moving target.  Once you get to the next level, you find another one waiting for you.  Once you climb the next hill, you find a bigger one.

If you’re on a growth quest, there’s no destination.  You’re not going to reach a point where you say, “we’ve grown enough…let’s just settle here for a while.”

You will never have enough money.  (Besides, if your vision is fully-funded, you probably need a bigger vision.)

You will never have enough people. (I’ve never met a church leader who says “you know…we’ve got enough volunteers and leaders…we don’t need any more.)

And there will always be more you want to do.

There’s a massive tension here.  There are people to reach and a mission to advance.  But the Gospel teaches us that we’re not in control and we can’t do it on our own.  We’re responsible to be good stewards with what God has given, but we must rest in Him and be at peace.

The myth of more can lead you down the Rockefeller path.

Myth #3:  Growth and health can’t co-exist.  

Not long ago, I tweeted about the network I’m starting to help 12 pastors better lead a growing church.  Someone responded, “So just because you were big that means you were faithful. #shakingmyhead”

There’s a belief among some leaders that you can’t be faithful and big.  Big churches compromised on something – that’s how they got big.  Small churches are more faithful to the Word – that’s why they are smaller.

But this is a lie.

Justin Breyans writes, “You can be large and unhealthy and you can be small and unhealthy.  Growth or size does not prove health.”

Growth and health are not opposite, and it’s wrong to pursue one without the other.

As a father, I want my children to grow and be healthy at the same time.  Both are very important, and focusing on just one would be a big mistake.

That’s why we focus on growth and health in my coaching networks.  I want your church to experience both.

Six Questions Every Leader Should Ask

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There’s a great article from Andy Stanley in this year’s Leadercast conference notebook.  In the article, Andy shares six questions every leader should ask.  Here are those questions with a little of my commentary.

1.  Which gauges should we be watching?  In the church world, it’s pretty easy to measure attendance and giving, but those are trailing indicators.  You need to look at some gauges for leading indicators, too.

2.  Where are we manufacturing energy?  Some things churches do simply drain all types of resources.  Cut those things out, even if there are emotional attachments, and put that energy to things that truly matter.

3.  Who needs to be sitting at the table?  You want strategic people in strategic meetings, regardless of their title and position.

4.  Who is not keeping up?  This is a tough question to ask, but there might be someone who isn’t growing with you as the church grows.  It doesn’t mean you need to get rid of them, but you might need to reassign or refocus them.

5.  Where do I make the greatest contribution to the organization?  You need to do the things only you can do.  If you’re out of your zone, you’re likely acting as a leadership lid.

6.  What should I stop doing?  One of the best questions leaders can ask their team is “where do you need me less?” If you’re involved in everything, you’re making it all about you.

Do any of these questions resonate with you?  Which one do you need to ask yourself?  Which one do you need to ask your leadership team?

Download my full notes from LeaderCast 2014 right here.

How Long Should a Sermon Be?

How long should a sermon be?

As short as necessary.

We appreciate it when others make their clear point and finish on time. So why do so many messages come across like lengthly wandering?  We know attention spans are getting shorter, so why do our messages keep getting longer?

Here are five thoughts.

1.  You are afraid of leaving something out.

You’re afraid of offending someone, or leaving out a viable argument, so you fill your messages with disclaimers and alternate perspectives.

In the process, you bury a simple idea in a sea of words.

If you have something to say, it’s not improved with more words and paragraphs.  You don’t have to provide disclaimers for six different groups of people.

2.  Your topic is too broad.

Many topics are way to big for one sermon.

But instead of narrowing your focus, you try to cram in everything.

More information does not make a better presentation.  In fact, the opposite is usually true.   Shorter is usually better.  A narrower focus will lead to a clearer outcome.

Your job is to take a topic and make it simple and actionable, not cover everything.

3.  You like hearing yourself talk.  

This one might sting a little.

A lot of presentations are too long because the person delivering it likes to talk.  After all, you’re paid to talk.   You don’t want brevity in a message to turn into scarcity of paycheck.

But the length of your message is not any real indication of how good it really is.  The length of your talk measured in minutes is not the same thing as how long your talk feels to your audience.

Just because you like to talk doesn’t mean everyone needs to listen.

4.  You are not prepared.  

Blaise Pascal once wrote in a letter, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”  He knew brevity that leads to clarity takes work.

Too many sermons are longer than necessary because the preacher  is not prepared.  The stage is not the place to think out loud or form your thoughts.  Preparation should lead to more succinct messages, not longer ones.

The opportunity to speak comes with a responsibility to prepare.  This takes hard work, focus and time.  You can rely on passion and talent, but speaking from that place is a well that will run dry.

5.  You believe longer messages are more faithful to the Bible.

You’re afraid to water down the truth, so you decide to keep teaching long past the point of people listening.  In preaching, you have two goals – to be faithful to the text AND to impact the hearts of people.  Sermon prep should start with the Scripture.  And your message needs to be God’s truth rather than your opinion.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s length that makes you faithful to the text.  Shorter messages can also honor God’s Word.
So how long should a sermon be?  As short as necessary to honor God and inspire people to follow him.

The goal is not to fill the time, but to change lives.