9 Church Growth Myths

June 7, 2006 by

This is part two in a continuing series, Is Church Growth the Highway to Hell?

There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions to church growth. Somehow wanting more people to come to my church makes me unspiritual. I don’t get it.

A healthy church should be growing. Isn’t that the point of church? But a few myths and misnomers get in the way. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, addresses some of these myths in his book The Purpose-Driven Church:

Myth #1: The only thing that large churches care about is attendance.
“The truth is, you won’t grow large if that is all you care about” (48)

Myth #2: All large churches grow at the expense of smaller churches.
This may be true for some churches, but not all, and it’s certainly not a good sign of growth. Warren calls it “reshuffling the card deck”. (For the record, 80% of Saddleback’s members became Christians at Saddleback.)

Myth #3: You must choose between quality and quantity in your church.
Every church should want both, and they feed on each other. Quality produces quantity (do it well and people will come) and quantity produces quality (if you have more people, you’ll have more skilled people).

Myth #4: You must compromise the message and the mission of the church in order to grow.
I never understand this critique. Somehow the church is selling out because people are coming. There are some churches that have watered down the message, but painting every church in such broad strokes like this is so wrong. It always seems like a bit of petty jealousy to me—that church is growing and mine isn’t, so they must be doing something wrong.

Myth #5: If you are dedicated enough, your church will grow.
“Somebody needs to boldly state the obvious: Prayer alone will not grow a church” (58). It takes skill, not effort. It also takes the work of both God and people: “Churches grow by the power of God through the skilled effort of people. Both elements, God’s power and man’s skilled effort, must be present. We cannot do it without God but he has decided not to do it without us!” (60).

Myth #6: There is one secret key to church growth.
It takes all kinds of churches and all kinds of methods to bring people to God. There’s no magic formula.

Myth #7: All God expects of us is faithfulness.
God expects both faithfulness and fruitfulness. Defending the truths of the faith but having no fruit is useless. We’re called to bear fruit.

Myth #8: You can’t learn from large churches.
You can’t clone churches and expect it to work, but you can learn principles, processes and methods. “Every church should not have to reinvent the wheel. … God has not called us to be original at everything. He has called us to be effective” (66).

In addition to Warren’s myths, I’ll add one of my own:

Church growth is a corrupt industry.
Some people focus on the books and conferences and resources and want to start flipping tables and driving out money-changers. I can sympathize with this reaction. I feel that way any time I walk into a Christian bookstore. But I think it’s based on a few bad examples, and in the process you throw out the baby with the bathwater. Nobody goes into Christian ministry, and especially the church world, looking to get filthy rich. It’s a tough place to make boatloads of money—there’s usually a deeper motivation at work than getting rich. Some people do get rich, but that doesn’t invalidate what they’re saying.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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12 Responses to “9 Church Growth Myths”

  • Paul Nielsen
    June 7, 2006

    I know you don’t have room to write a dissertation, but saying that “growth is the point of church” seems like a gross over-simplification.
    That said, I work in missions, which is a segment of the Church which is mostly about growing the church — but not just, if it’s done well.

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  • Kevin Hom
    June 7, 2006

    We’re a 30+ year old church which swelled to 1200 a few years ago. Since then, we’ve shrank to about half that size. That’s the bad news. In the same period, however, we’ve seen more adult conversions than at any time in our history as we have dlliberately become outward bound. Are we “healthy” or are we “dying?”

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  • kevin
    June 7, 2006

    That’s a good question, Kevin Hom. I think one to look at would be where were did all those people come from that resulted in growing to 1,200 people? Were they already Christians and thus it was ‘reshuffling the deck’ as Warren calls it?
    This also raises the point (as others have raised), that growth isn’t always numerical. We’ll cover that further in other posts in this series.

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  • Dan
    June 7, 2006

    The reason people have such a negative reaction about numerical growth, I’m guessing, is that there’s an assumption that it comes at the cost of something else, such as personal growth or that the message has to be watered down in order to achieve growth.
    I don’t think either of those assumptions are a given, although they often may be true.
    I find it curious why people react so negatively to something that, on the surface at least, appears to be what we are all striving for — more people entering the kingdom.

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  • Juan Peron
    June 7, 2006

    Dan, I agree…
    If it’s my church, it’s a result of my faithfulness and investment of prayer.
    If it’s your church, you’re watering down the Word or using some kind of “trick” to bring people over.
    I am tired of continually hearing cries of sheep stealing in the church. If someone is leaving your church to attend else where, there should be no problem. The only true form of “sheep stealing” is when people leave a church hurt or offended and turn from God altogether.
    When we ever learn that we are not all taking slices of the same pie, but that we serve a God who is able to increase and prosper you while at the same time increasing and prospering me?

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  • Heather
    March 19, 2007

    Should a church that is three years old end its ministry because of a decline in membership and finances?

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  • Heather
    March 19, 2007

    Should a church that is three years old end its ministry because of a decline in membership and finances?

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  • Dv
    April 29, 2007

    I’m rather skeptical about the claim that 80% of Saddleback’s membership became Christians at Saddleback.
    Why? Because churches often consider a person “converted” when they make some profession of faith or dedication. The problem is that if they haven’t heard the gospel accurately, with strong emphasis on our depravity, the penalty of sin and the need for repentance, then there’s a greater chance that these conversions are not truly genuine.
    Harsh words? Perhaps… but I think it’s Biblical.
    With all due respect to Mr. Warren, I think that his books tend to softpedal the hard words of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t do that; instead, he preached harshly, knowing full well that those who were not dedicated would turn away. Nowadays though, churches often soften the message in order to gain more “converts”… and that’s tragic.

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  • okelola
    August 29, 2010

    church growth? fine! but then are the members heaven bound? remember ALL efforts and achievements “claimed for God” shall be tried in fire! our reward is heaven and not here. wise up!!!

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    • Yolanda
      September 28, 2010

      I think it’s ignorance and pride that causes people to think that church growth means something negative, like Okelola. The bible clearly states that if God was lifted up He would draw all men to him. The goodness of God leads men to repentance. Do people not believe that freedom and life that comes from knowing God is attractive. It’s like they are saying God is so horrible we have to trick people into choosing Him. Sad and ignorant.

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  • carlos
    March 31, 2011

    So was Jeremiah a failure? how about Noah? As Christians and ministers we should pray and seek God and be faithful in preaching full counsel of God. Leave the growth up to God. We should examine ourselves of course and see if we are failing in some way to reach the lost but ultimately the growth or numbers is up to God. I’ve read about some missionaries who had no success in terms of numbers. Then later on someone else came and the numbers came. One plants, one waters the seed and then another gets the harvest. To GOd be the glory.

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  • Bradlee Sargent
    November 13, 2012

    I find it interesting, I am a convert to Catholicism, and the Catholics I meet all tell me how bad the Catholic church is at evangelism, but you know what, when I attended RCIA, they took everyone as if they had never heard anything about Jesus or God and taught them all the simple basics of the Christian life. And guess what, they have people coming into the Catholic church who do not know anything about Jesus at all, and more than that, NOONE IS INVITING THEM…THEY JUST COME IN. Who can explain it that the largest denomination, which is unique in it’s claims that it’s teaching is infallible just as the Protestant Bible is without error, and is bad at evangelism, is in fact, the largest church in the world. They never even mention church growth. In fact, they did everything they could to keep me out of the church because of the fact that my wife didn’t want me to convert. So here’s a church, that was pushing me away, and that made that church all the more attractive to me.

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