Most of us get threatened from time to time over the growth of someone else’s church. To ease the pressure, we often ‘box off’ the other church by labelling it with a connotation that could mean underhanded leadership or easy believerism!
They said that Spurgeon’s ministry was ‘simply deceiving others with the deception where with he himself is deceived.’ Often, however, the true reason for criticism is intimidation and self protection.
Church growth is what we long for and should always be the result of both greater health of the body and greater impact and influence of our communities. Before we look at the 14 reasons why some churches grow, there are three footnotes that I need to give that are the three basic habits of healthy leaders gunning for success but not overburdened by it.
FIRSTLY, they rejoice with those who rejoice. They don’t make assumptions that could easily become rash judgements. Always remember that cynicism is the first symptom of unbelief. Thank God for another’s fine work and then think little of it unless you are related in some way to it. On the other hand, though, to stare for too long at a ‘star’ church or a ‘star’ minister will move you from inspiration to the lust of the eyes. Lust then becomes the motivation for the new sound system and the call to evangelism.
SECONDLY, they realise that what they are involved in has as much value as what others are doing. For centuries, martyrs passed the baton of faith that eventually led a great outworking of the Spirit. You may be the bridge between your history and a future Wesley or Shaftsbury. Believe in your call. Each of us are called equally ‘for such a time as this.’
THIRDLY, they realise that a lot of reasons, but not every reason, for growth, are related to the quality of leadership given. Some leaders either live in denial and say ‘it’s all up to God’ or live with constant self annihilation as they try to live up to huge expectations that are far beyond them. Good leadership takes a right proportion of responsibility.
Now, here’s 14 reasons why some churches eventually grow and others don’t.
 The church splits on the other side of town
This almost always guarantees the growth of a local church, but the growth is rarely sustained unless there’s a sense of destiny in it all, rather than a residing feeling of bitterness and lostness. This is often the reason why many churches suddenly grow but it is rarely mentioned by the ‘receiving’ minister. We say that ‘we don’t know where they’re all coming from’, but we do really!
 The church is taking steroids
You can be three years old as a church but look like you’re ten. When our church began in Sheffield, our numbers looked good for the age of the church. In fact – they were ‘too good’. Many people were artificially connected and bonded giving the appearance of strength and God doing a ‘quick work’. Extra heavy duty pastoral care, or the shine of being the new boy in town can create growth but when the honeymoon is over and the care team is exhausted, sudden weight loss could result. Don’t be fooled by ‘too quick too soon’ scenarios. Fat is vastly different to fit, yet looks similar under three layers of jumpers!
 The church is riding the ‘BIG MO’
Some churches can have moral failure in the core team and continue to grow. Momentum is the unseen force at work – the greater the momentum, the more unstoppable the growth. Often, bad leadership shows up twelve months after it went bad. The opposite is true too – good leadership often shows up twelve months after it went good! Success is not always related to current habits, but more so to it’s former habits – that leads us to our next point.
 The church is reaping the harvest of yesterday’s seed
If you find resurrection life abounding, search back and you’ll find a funeral or a series of funerals. Someone gave their life to the cause. If you’re going through a ‘death’ experience, expect resurrection life to abound at a future date. I often say that if today’s church is a result of yesterday’s sowing, then the current condition of my team’s heart, mind, strength and soul is the guarantee of the future condition of my church. Often, as ministers, we focus more on the outskirts of the church than the inskirts. It’s important that we deal with causes rather than constantly dealing with effects.
 The church no longer has a Royal Family
Immediately after a Royal Family is dethroned in any church, numbers drop like flies. The great news is that it was the Royal Family that caused the numbers to constantly hit a ceiling and then decline. With the Family removed, the church can now excel beyond every previous boundary. It seems, on so many teams, a few people set themselves up to be the ‘brake ministry’ or the ‘watchmen on the walls’. Often it’s a form of revenge or pride and needs to be revealed for what it is and dealt with.
 The church grows according to the growth of it’s leaders
Even with glitches and windfalls, the church will generally even out at the capacity of leadership. Capacity is determined by degree of giftings, personal maturity and relational maturity. As the leaders grows, so does the church. Our discipleship isn’t just the transferring of knowledge but the transferring of the dynamic that comes from being on a journey. Every leader must be a pilgrim. If not – the true essence of discipleship is negated. See to it that everyone keeps on growing.
 The church taps into new vision
The ability to see with the eyes of faith and describe future possibilities is the exclusive arena of fresh, vibrant leadership. Vision creates motivation that is self-sustaining and self-fulfilling. On the other hand cynical, doubt-filled leaders invite dissent and worldliness into the church.
 The church has just finished a building project
While churches raise funds for a future building, people either quietly slip away or noisily get away when they don’t want to part with their money. After completion, (and faith and vision have proved themselves to be true), people come from near and far through both calling and fickleness!
People told me that our church would grow by 20% after we moved into our new, hard earned facilities. In fact, the church grew by 25% and continues to grow. This, though, has not always been the case. Sacrifice has kept our church lean and sleek. There will come a time when some of our current growth will leave as again we ‘count the cost’. The great news, though, is that our future faith will be richly rewarded with increase and blessing.
 The church come under Apostolic leadership
Evangelists can gather, save, motivate and encourage. Pastors can knit, teach, nurture and support. The church can grow rapidly but also decline rapidly without the raising up of all the ‘ascension’ gifts from God. This is the primary role of apostolic input under which every church should shadow.
 The church has a front door that’s a little bigger than the back door
People will always leave churches. Seed will always fall on thorny ground, even if directed to the good soil. Jesus prophesied it so you don’t have to feel condemned when it happens. A growing church has a slightly larger front door than back door.
We found that for years our back door was massive. We realised that we were attracting many people of a worldly bias who were looking for personal ministry expression and these people were consistently defiling people who got to know them. When we defined our church better and the motive of all involved was more consistent with the DNA of Christ and His house, these types of people came only once or twice. They realised that they would never fit or find a place for their motivation. The result has been phenomenal – less defilement, a smaller back door and a growing congregation. Watch the little foxes that spoil the vine. Sweat the small stuff!
 The church keeps it’s places to hide
Because people are on a journey of commitment and generally paying by instalments, the layout of your church’s program should accommodate for this. If the church goes solely down the track of small groups, it can make the jump into church life too steep for people to traverse. Hiding places, such as merging into the crowd, can be resting places that allow people to gather their energies for another instalment of commitment to the vision of the house. This can increase the ‘fringe’ of the church that finally increases the ‘core’ of the church. ‘Community to Core’ becomes a series of steps rather than one giant leap.
 The church is in an area (or age) of dissatisfied ‘religious’ people
Sometimes, new life can spread like wildfire through geographic areas that contain a lot of ‘religious’ people. Sometimes, the social environment can be ripe for an epidemic of reform. John Wesley found this, and so did Luther. When people kick against the religious system, both the living church and the world make great gains. Your church may not be in one of those areas.
Don’t compare the growth of your church to other churches that are in areas (or nations) like this or churches from times like these in history.
 The church refuses to follow the latest fad
Lurching is the lifestyle of a desperate leader. Strong churches keep the main thing the main thing and never get distracted by fads or momentary trends. If a leader is overly desperate to make the church grow, corners are often cut and principles abandoned. Unless new programs are aligned to internal convictions and beliefs, they will always be short lived. Churches can become despondent when great hope has been attached to the latest program that fails to bring growth. It came with a guarantee but the small print declares that it was only tried and tested in a third world country or in the USA. Each location of a church warrants a tailor made program aligned to the God given faith of it’s leadership.
 The church touches sub groups of society
A church can grow rapidly through touching a cultural group that exists within the main culture. For example, reaching out to Spanish speaking people or Arabic speaking people can result in people being quickly added into church life. A bus ministry can suddenly unite students to the vision of the church and can also be used to touch children from local council estates. Many of today’s largest churches have a multi cultural dimension that taps unseen harvests.
Growth is for you but the way it comes about is different for every leader and every church. Some will reap for years where others have planted, while some will spend their energies ploughing up the fallow ground rejoicing in the guarantee of a future harvest. I am confident that in running a UK Church, I will eventually strike oil that will be enjoyed for generations to come. It may feel like we’re blasting against layers of rock but all of the sweat will be wiped aside when we see the oil rush out and fill our great nation. Our motto is ‘keep digging and keep expectant’.