Category Archives: church growth

One Key Reason Most Churches Do Not Exceed 350 in Average Attendance

By Thom Rainer

Nine out of ten.

That’s a lot.

Nine out of ten churches in America have an average worship attendance of less than 350. And that percentage has not changed significantly for many years. Yet the unchurched pool of persons is increasing in most communities. There are people yet to be reached.

But most churches will never exceed 350 in attendance. Why?

A Few Caveats

Allow me to preface my analysis. First, big is not necessarily better. A church with more people in attendance is not necessarily more faithful than a smaller church. Second, some churches are in very sparsely populated areas. There may not be 350 people in a five-mile radius (though every community still has people who need to be reached).

My third caveat is key. I believe leadership is indeed a biblical and theological issue. It’s really a matter of healthy stewardship. I offer this third caveat because I will be addressing the issue of leadership in this post.

Attendance Levels of Churches in America

We are a nation and continent of smaller churches. And though we have far more small churches than large churches, there is a big migration of people from smaller to larger churches. In other words, many of the smaller churches are getting smaller, and many of the larger churches are getting larger.

Here is a simple depiction of the number of churches at three different levels:

  • 50% of all churches in America average less than 100 in worship attendance.
  • 40% of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance.
  • 10% of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance.

Keep in mind that the upper 10% tend to include more of the growing churches, while the lower 90% tend to include more of the declining churches.

One of the Key Reasons

There is no single reason to explain the apparent ceiling of 350 in attendance of most churches. I do believe, however, that there is a major reason for this barrier. Such is the thesis of this post:

One of the key reasons most churches do not move beyond 350 in average worship attendance is they do not have sufficient leadership and structures in place.

Many smart people have provided analyses of what is commonly known as the 200 barrier. I believe that the 200 barrier is highly elastic. In other words, the barrier is really somewhere between 150 and 350, depending on a number of circumstances. Again, I believe that the key reason stated above is among the greatest inhibitors of growth.

Increasing Organizational Complexity

Moses was an unintended victim of organizational complexity. He was trying the Lone Ranger approach to the leadership of Israel. The nation would implode and he would lose his leadership authority if he kept doing what he was doing.

His father-in-law, Jethro, saw the flaws of his leadership and said:

“What you’re doing is not good . . . You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18, HCSB).

So, following Jethro’s advice and wisdom, Moses became a different kind of leader with a different kind of organization.

Here are the five major levels of organizational complexity in churches according to average worship attendance:

  1. Under 100: Family and friends
  2. 100 to 250: Basic
  3. 251 to 350: Challenging
  4. 351 to 750: Complex
  5. Above 750: Highly complex

Most churches cannot or are not willing to make the types of changes that are necessary in complex organizations. In future resources, I will share what many leaders and churches are doing to move beyond the 100, 250, and 350 ceilings. In the meantime, let me hear from you.


Note from Barry: I highly recommend Thom’s new book, “Who Moved My Pulpit: Leading Change in the Church.” It deals with these specific issues in depth. Just click on the book cover below to preview and order.

 

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 25, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

10 Reasons Why Many Churches Aren’t Evangelistic

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Eighteen months ago, I reported on a Twitter poll that asked why churches aren’t evangelistic. Since that time, I have followed up by asking the same question of church leaders in both evangelistic and non-evangelistic churches.

I could cite you a plethora of statistics that demonstrate the evangelistic apathy of most of our churches in North America. But I really don’t think you need much convincing.

Instead, based on my conversations, I will share with you those key reasons why we aren’t evangelistic. Here are ten of them:

  1. They don’t really believe people need Jesus. Unless church members and leaders really believe in the lostness of humanity without Christ, they will not be evangelistic. John 14:6 is a clear biblical statement on the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. Too many leaders and members only give lip service to it.
  2. Evangelism is spiritual warfare. In the most carnal sense, life is easier without being evangelistic. Spiritual warfare is tough. Sometimes it seems to be easier to go AWOL from the battle than to fight in the trenches.
  3. It’s hard work. From time to time someone will ask me, “What is the easiest way to get our church to do evangelism?” The answer is “none of the above.” Too many churches have become self-serving country clubs rather than obedient and sacrificial vessels of God.
  4. Evangelism requires intentionality. God did not say, “Share the gospel as you stay where you are.” He said, “Go” (Matthew 28:19). When you “go,” you have to know where you are going. That requires intentionality.
  5. Effective evangelism often requires we pray for the opportunities. Consider this challenge. Begin each day with a prayer that God will bring people in your path (or help you to see them) where you can be a gospel witness in word and deed. I have been amazed (though I shouldn’t be) how God has answered that prayer in my own life.
  6. Too many people have too many excuses. One church member told me the entire county where he lives was fully churched. In fact, he said there are too many churches. There are, he said, no gospel opportunities. I then showed him demographics that showed his county was 62% unchurched. His response? “I don’t believe that.”
  7. Too many churches are too busy to do evangelism. If your church has so many activities, meetings, and programs that your members never have time to develop relationships and share the gospel, your church is too busy. Some times Satan’s most powerful tool is to get us doing good things to the neglect of the best thing.
  8. Church leaders are not evangelistic. If the pastor, staff, elders, deacons, and teachers are not evangelistic, it is unlikely the church will be evangelistic. The church members will follow that disobedient example.
  9. Many church leaders and members don’t know their field or ministry area. Jesus said, “the harvest is abundant, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). So where is the harvest field? Too many churches neglect their community because they are really ignorant of who is there and what their needs are.
  10. Evangelism is counter-cultural. If you want to be a people pleaser, don’t be evangelistic. Culture hates the gospel that says there is only one way of salvation. But if you want to be a God-pleaser, share the gospel. You may die doing it, but what an honor to pay such a price!

So what are most of our churches in North America communicating to the world with our self-centeredness and lack of evangelistic fervor? It’s simple.

We are telling the world to go to hell.

May God convict us of our evangelistic apathy.

ThomRainer

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on September 5, 2016. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

One Simple Thing You Need to DO to Grow the Church

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My work allows me the luxury of being able to visit many different churches in a number of locations, of both the denominational and non-denominational variety. While I usually stick to evangelical assemblies, I frequently visit Baptist, Assembly of God, Independent Christian Churches, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and many more.

Over the last year my wife and I have intentionally visited ten churches, all evangelical, and all who have clear Vision/Mission statements about reaching the lost and growing the Kingdom. Every single church had a Guest or Visitor Card that they asked you to fill out. We filled one out at each church and gave all of the correct information, including name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. None of the ministers knew us and I did not volunteer any information about my pastoral background.

Now here was the shocker for me – while most of the ten churches were somewhat friendly and offered a decent worship experience, only one of the ten followed up with us based on the information we gave them! Only one out of ten! And to top it off, half of the churches said during the service that if you filled out the Guest Card they would be sending you a gift of some kind in the mail.

I don’t have any studies to back up what I’m about to say, but based on personal experience, about 2 out of 10 visitors will fill out your Guest Card. Most people will not fill it out on their first visit because they don’t know you yet and are uncomfortable with the thought of some strange religious group hounding them. That’s understandable.

But when they do fill it out, it is absolutely inexcusable for the church not to follow-up with those people in some way, shape, or form. I’m not suggesting being intrusive or bothering people, but if you’re not even going to send a “Thank You For Visiting” note, you really shouldn’t be asking people to fill out the card at all. For all we know the people filling out the card might not even be in a relationship with Christ and we have an opportunity that has been handed to us by God to reach out to them. There is absolutely no excuse for not doing so.

I will not name the churches that did not follow up, but I will name the one that did. It was Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, KY.  We visited on a Sunday Morning. On Wednesday we received a handwritten note from a couple that were members at the church thanking us for visiting. On Thursday we received a letter from their financial secretary thanking us for giving. On Friday we received a letter from the pastor thanking us for attending and including a brochure with helpful information about classes, worship, times, etc… While I haven’t asked, I am almost positive that they have a system set up to do this with each visitor who fills out the card.

9e68ff9d79062ab0a6009254374c12f8While I was impressed with what Immanuel Baptist Church did, I shouldn’t have been, because this should be the norm. The fact that it isn’t tells me quite a bit about how serious the other churches were about evangelism, gaining and retaining members, and outreach in general. I realize that not every church has the resources to put a lot of money into this type of thing, but anyone can set up a small volunteer team to make sure that the Visitor Cards are gathered and, at the very least, a note sent out on Monday letting them know you are glad they stopped by.

I want to encourage you today to begin to do this if you’re not doing it already. From my somewhat limited experience, it will help you to stand out in the crowd and just possibly give you the opportunity to lead more and more people to Christ.

That’s what it’s all about anyway…isn’t it?

Barry L. Davis

 

Barry L. Davis spent two decades as a Senior Pastor and started the ministry of The Pastor’s Helper in 1996. The Pastor’s Helper strives to provide tools and resources to help pastors succeed in their ministry calling.

Yes, God Does Care About Numbers!

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By Barry L. Davis

Often we hear the statement, “God doesn’t care about numbers, He cares about people.” Well, the second half of that statement is true, but the first half is not. If you say that God only cares about numbers, I would agree with you. But it doesn’t need to be exclusive. God cares about numbers AND people, because every number that you count at church represents a soul that Jesus Christ died for. It isn’t numbers or people, it is that numbers ARE people!

If you are trying to gain numbers just so you can brag to other preachers about your church attendance, you are doing it with the wrong motive. But if you are trying to gain numbers because you want to bring more people with you into heaven, you’re doing it right! The ministers I’m most concerned about are the ones who are not bothered about numbers at all.

When you consider that the book of Acts in the New Testament covers approximately the first six decades of church history, you begin to realize that it, at the very least, is a good indicator of how the church should grow. And when we examine that dynamic book we discover that God inspired its author to go to great lengths to record the number of people who were being saved. Why would he do that if numbers weren’t important to God?

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41 

praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:47 

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. – Acts 4:4

And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. – Acts 5:14

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. – Acts 6:7

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. – Acts 9:31

And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. – Acts 11:21 

…for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. – Acts 11:24

Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. – Acts 14:1 

So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. – Acts 16:5 

And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. – Acts 17:4

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. – Acts 18:8

As you can clearly see, God cares about numbers, and He cares about numbers because He cares about people! While God blesses churches of all sizes and all churches have different demographics that might limit or enhance their ability to grow, none of us are excused from trying to spread the Gospel just like they did in the book of Acts. Lets start caring about numbers, just like they did in the early church!

Barry L. Davis

 

Barry L. Davis spent two decades as a Senior Pastor and started the ministry of The Pastor’s Helper in 1996. The Pastor’s Helper strives to provide tools and resources to help pastors succeed in their ministry calling.

 

 

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version”, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”