Twenty-One Things That Can Keep Your Church From Growing

Discussions have been going on for decades about “Church Growth.” What causes a church to grow?  What ideas, best practices, etc, are out there from which you can learn principles to apply to your context and the people in your ministry?

I don’t know very many who give us ideas on ways that keep a church from growing; things we unconsciously or unintentionally may be doing that are hurting rather than helping.

Here is Ron Edmondson sharing with us 21 ways to keep your church from growing. Whatever your leadership role may be, I’m confident there’s something here for you.


Originally posted by Ron Edmondson

I was once asked to help a church process how to get younger people to attend. After we discussed some change recommendations a man pulled me aside and said, “Son, we don’t need no fancy ideas around here. We like being a small church.

I soon learned he represented the feelings of the church as a whole. They thought they wanted to reach younger people, but the truth was — when faced with change — they were really satisfied with the church as it had been for many years.

There’s nothing wrong with being a small church. Let me say that again — There is nothing wrong with being a small church. In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. I’m not opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small church mentalities.

I think there is a difference.

As long as there are lost people nearby, I believe the church has much work to do. And, any organization, Christian or secular, that refuses to accept some changes will stop growing and eventually die.

The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It’s relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth.

In fact, I can come up with lots of ways I’ve seen that keep a church from growing.

Here are a 21 ways:

  • Make the entry to serving in the church lengthy or complicated
  • Develop followers not leaders
  • Squelch any dream except the pastor’s own
  • Refuse new people a voice at the table
  • Make sure everyone knows who is in charge — and it’s not Jesus
  • Cast your vision — but only once
  • Only do “church” inside the building
  • Demand that it be done the way it’s always been done
  • Give up when change is resisted
  • Make excuses when things go wrong
  • Quit dreaming
  • Resist any organized system, strategy or plans to grow the church
  • Stop praying
  • Insist you have all the answers before you “walk by faith”
  • Never challenge people
  • Treat new people as outsiders
  • Always refer to the past as the good times
  • Put more energy into structure than serving
  • Allow gossip to fester
  • The ministerial staff does everything
  • Be stingy investing in the next generation

Whenever I do a post like this I get a common — and expected — question. Well, if these are ways not to grow a church, then what are some ways to grow a church? And, that is one of the main topics I write about in other posts. But, for simplicity sake, try doing the opposite of some of these I’ve listed and see how they help the church to grow.

What am I missing? What else will keep a church from growing?



Two are better than one…five are better than two…twenty-five are better than five!

 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 (ESV - Emphasis added)

Early today, while driving back from my workout at LA Fitness, I passed about 25 cyclists.  They were all dressed in their coordinated suits and helmets, heading out for what I assumed was a good long ride.  It’s a common sight here in Southern Orange County on a Saturday or Sunday morning. But I don’t think I have ever seen that many riding together.

As I drove past them and took a long look, this thought occurred to me: What are the chances that one of them would consistently get out and ride if they were alone?  It might be hard to get motivated; get dressed; get out the door; get on the bike. I then thought of the verse above in Ecclesiastes. And I thought this surely fits. But two out riding is not as motivational, uplifting as twenty-five. Herd or group mentality boosts morale.

 Then my mind switched gears again. 

 How hard is it for a leader going it alone?

 “When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, what is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening…you and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” Exodus 18:14-18 (ESV- Emphasis added)

Then, in verse 21 of this same chapter, Jethro encouraged Moses to build a team and give the team members decision-making responsibility.

It has been said that leadership is lonely. But it doesn’t have to be lonely if we don’t go it alone. That’s why we are taught in, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, to appoint elders in every church--not elder (singular) but elders (plural.)

Nevertheless, many leaders go it alone. They carry out their responsibilities alone, make decisions alone and wrestle with issues alone.

Growing up in a culture with real heroes like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone and celluloid heroes like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood doesn’t help any. We tend to lead independently, unilaterally and individualistically.

Not wise, not good, not healthy and not biblical!

These independent self-sufficient warriors ride into town, deal with the bad guys, whip the town into shape and then ride off into the sunset on their faithful steed. We now have the super heroes who fly instead of ride into town!

It all looks good in the movies, but it doesn’t work in the real world of leadership effectiveness and is a poor leadership philosophy.

Leaders have blind spots…weaknesses. They need other people on a team for protection, encouragement and insight. No leader possesses all of the gifts and is foolish to keep the leadership all to him/herself.

Are you leading alone? Don’t have a team?  Getting worn out and tired? Are you afraid to trust others with leadership responsibility?

 Stop it!

 “You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone!”




Fifteen Tips For Successful Leadership


Do you ever wonder if you are totally ready and equipped to lead?  Especially if you are new to a daunting leadership responsibility, you may have doubts about your calling and ability.

Here are some excellent thoughts by Faith Whatley to calm your nerves and provide God-confidence for you.


“Fifteen tips for successful leadership”

The following is a guest post by Faith Whatley. Faith serves on our team in the Church Resources Division at LifeWay and is the director of adult ministry. She is an incredible leader and it is an honor to serve churches alongside her. While some of her articles on our leadership channel are directed to women leaders, God has given her insights that I believe apply to all leaders. Faith and her husband, Jimmy, have two grown children, an amazing daughter-in-law, and live in Nashville, Tenn.

 “Leader” is not a title or description I would have ever given myself. In fact, there are a lot of other words I would have used: mentor, hard worker, producer, and relator. I didn’t think I was leading; I was just moving the team and work forward without realizing it. It’s just how I’m wired. I look at what needs to be done and I just do it.

Then the day came when several people in my life began to say, “Faith, you’re a strong leader” or “Faith, I love watching you lead.” It would always surprise me to hear the word leader associated with my name. I’d think: Do you mean me?

In my late 30s, God opened doors that I will never forget. I was put in positions of leadership not only at work but also at my church. God began to use people around me to shape me into the leader I am today. He put me in positions of leading many people with different skills. I had great leaders who taught me so much about integrity, leadership, attitude, and boundaries. I also had bad leaders who showed me first-hand what you should never do if you want people to follow you.

Many times I’ve wondered: Why me? Why was I chosen to lead others? Maybe you’ve experienced some of the same thoughts from time to time. Always remember the Lord will equip you. He rarely calls those who are equipped.

So … what do you do if God calls you to lead?

1.  Pray.

2.  Study God’s Word — continually.

3.  Be a good follower of a strong leader you trust.

4.  Find a wise mentor.

5.  Lean in to all situations, especially the hard ones.

6.  Never overreact. Stay calm in all situations.

7.  Lead with humility and integrity.

8.  Don’t be afraid to give your point of view.

9.  Don’t be afraid to be the strongest person in the room.

10.  Love the people who follow you and make sure they know it.

11.  Learn from those you lead.

12.  Ask for regular feedback regarding your leadership style.

13.  When you have to make a quick decision, make the decision and stick with it.

14.  Work hard and don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do.

15.  Remember: If your team wins, the team gets the credit. If your team fails, you take the blame.




What I have learned, and am learning, from my experience at Mars Hill Church

I spent eight years as a pastor at Mars Hill church, both in Seattle and here in Orange County CA where my wife, Susan, and I now live. There were some good-to-great things that happened and some sad/bad things that happened during those eight years. I have reflected a great deal about my years on staff since leaving a little over a year ago. I want to share four lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) and am applying to my current leadership responsibilities and opportunities.

These observations are mine, and mine alone. Some who are still at Mars Hill, and some who have left, may not agree with some of my conclusions. These observations  form an acrostic for ACTS.

One more thing before I jump into the ACTS. The observations and lessons learned came mostly from my experience at Mars Hill; but as I read about what’s going on in Christian leadership as well as what I’m learning in my coaching high- level leaders at other churches, I’ve come to understand that my experiences at Mars Hill are not unique.

What I saw first-hand while on staff at Mars Hill is happening in other churches and Christian ministries around the country/world. I deeply regret that I didn’t speak up more often sooner than I did.


There were numerous situations and instances where top leaders had almost no accountability in their lives and ministries.  They had it on paper, but not in practice. The tough questions were not asked. There wasn’t a willingness to defer to others on staff who had experience and wisdom. A certain degree of pride and arrogance set in and ruled a lot of the time. There wasn’t openness to being genuinely accountable to others for attitudes and behaviors that were sinful and harmful.


Sin was committed over a number of years (in clear violation of I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5), but that sin was not adequately owned and confessed.  There was a good amount of excuse-making and casting blame. We didn’t have a confessional culture where the leaders who were confronted accepted responsibility for their sin.


Top-level leaders were not open to receiving honest inquiries from other pastors on staff. Decisions were not discussed but rather announced with very little dialogue or input. There was defensiveness when an idea or direction was questioned or challenged.  Asking good questions, listening well and being on the hunt for new and better ideas and ways of doing things were not a part of the culture.


The pace of ministry and functioning in crises mode a good deal of the time, due to hurried and last minute decisions without time to think through and adequately process things, resulted in a lot of exhaustion and an unhealthy work-life balance. The speed at which things happened and the lack of time to make better decisions was, and is, an unsustainable model. The principle of Sabbath was very much absent with people working insane hours at an unsustainable pace. There were many on staff who experienced, or were on the verge of, burnout a lot of the time. We survived on the adrenalin rush, which hurt and harmed people. The pace and the work environment is, and was, unsustainable, unhealthy and unwise.

As l live my own life as a leader and as I coach other leaders, I am much more aware of doing what I can to make sure there is:

1.  Good and genuine accountability, coupled with vulnerability and transparency.

2.  A clear value in keeping short accounts, with sin being quickly confessed and owned.

3.  An attitude of being teachable and open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

4.  A culture of pacing that is realistic and sustainable, resulting in good morale and joy.

As always your feedback is welcome!



How Dictators Operate

A number of years ago I read a book by Hans Finzel about mistakes leaders make.  Recently author and speaker Matt Perman lifted some short but provocative ideas from Hans’ book about the difference between leadership dictators and leadership facilitators.

Here are those points from Matt Perman

How Dictators Operate

From Hans Finzel, in his excellent book The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make.

How dictators operate:

  1. They hoard decisions.
  2. They view truth and wisdom as primarily their domain.
  3. They restrict decisions to an elite group.
  4. They surprise their workers with edicts from above.

How facilitators lead:

  1. They delegate decisions.
  2. They involve others as much as possible.
  3. They view truth and wisdom as being distributed throughout the organization.
  4. They are developers.
  5. They see people as their greatest resources for ideas that will bring success.
  6. They give their people space to make decisions.
  7. They let those who are responsible decide how jobs will be done.