21 Ways to Keep a Church From Growing


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.

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In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. We are seeing trends where small churches are actually being preferred by some younger generations. So, I'm not at all opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small-church mentalities.

And 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. They will therefore fail to continue achieving our God-given mission to "Go and make disciples."

The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It's relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth. We could almost do nothing and achieve it.

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

21 Ways to Keep a Church From Growing

  • Make the entry to serving in the church lengthy or complicated (serving is often the new front door).
  • Develop followers, not leaders.
  • Squelch any dream except the pastor's own dreams.
  • Refuse new people a voice at the table (and don't greet them in the parking lot either).
  • Make sure everyone knows who is in charge (hint: especially when it's not Jesus).
  • Cast your vision — but only once, and get bored with sharing it.
  • Only do "church" inside the building; don't attempt to reach your community.
  • Demand that "it" be done the way it's always been done. Protect tradition at all costs.
  • Give up when change is resisted; don't push through toward doing the right thing.
  • Make excuses when things go wrong—pretend it is never your fault.
  • Quit dreaming or allowing others to do so.
  • Resist any organized system, strategy or plans to grow the church.
  • Stop praying—pretend you've "got this."
  • Insist you have all answers before you attempt to "walk by faith."
  • Never challenge people; let them chill on the sidelines.
  • Treat new people like outsiders and let them wonder if they'll ever fit in.
  • Always refer to the past as the good times and fail to recognize the ideas of the next generation.
  • Put more energy and resources into maintaining structures and programs than into loving and serving others.
  • Let gossip be more attractive than truth.
  • Make sure the ministerial staff does everything, and "normal" people are never empowered or given permission to live on mission.
  • Be stingy investing in the next generation, favoring those who write the bigger checks.

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's 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?

Ron Edmondson is the CEO of Leadership Network. Previously, he was a pastor, revitalizing two churches and planting two churches. He loves assisting pastors and those in ministry in thinking through leadership, strategy and life.

This article originally appeared at ronedmondson.com.

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