You (not your pastor) May Be the Reason Your Church Isn’t Growing

Full disclosure: you may not be the reason, either. There are many, many reasons church attendance is down–changing demographics, work schedules, busy lives, youth soccer/hockey/volleyball–the list is long. You could be doing all the “right” things and still not see your congregation growing in number.

However, there is one sure-fire way to make sure a church won’t grow: if the congregation is more concerned about meeting their own needs than they are about reaching others with the Good News.

In other words, is your church mindset one of self-preservation or of growth?

Now, every church and every church context is different, so there’s no magic formula to tell us what we should and shouldn’t be doing. However, here are some questions to ask yourself to see whether or not your church is in self-preservation or growth mode.

When people ask you what you like about your church, is the first thing you say, “we really take care of one another?”

Is “member visitation” a high priority/requirement in your pastor’s job description?

Do you require that your pastor keep specific office hours?

Do you think your pastor spends too much time out in the community?

Do you wish your pastor would spend more time with members instead of making those ridiculous TikToks?

Do you have to think for more than a couple of seconds about what kinds of hands-on outreach your church does in the community (ie not just collecting stuff or giving money, but actually going out into the community)?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, that could be the reason why your church is stuck or shrinking.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a church taking care of one another. That IS one of the things churches should be doing. I have certainly counted on my church community and am immensely grateful for all the times my community has come through for me when I needed them.

But if your congregation’s main focus is caring for one another, and you expect the pastor’s primary role to be that of caretaker, you may have missed the boat on who we are called to be.

Disciples. Jesus was pretty clear about that. We’re called to be disciples. Disciples not only follow Jesus, but point others toward Jesus as well–through our words, our actions and our interactions with others. An over-commitment to self-preservation severely limits our ability to be disciples.

It also keeps us from freeing up our pastors to make disciples outside of our walls. It’s hard to be an effective evangelist when one is tethered to the church building. If our pastors are expected to give their constant attention to the existing flock, there is no time to go out looking for the lost sheep.

And here’s the kicker: if your church really is good at taking care of one another, I bet that care continues to happen no matter how many hours the pastor spends in the office. I imagine people will still be visited even if it’s not the pastor making all the visits. And I can almost guarantee that working together outside of your church walls will make you even closer as a community.

So if you are blaming your pastor for the lack of growth at your church, give some serious thought as to whether you are setting them free or setting them up for failure. The answer could be the difference between a hospice church or a healthy one.

Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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