January 18, 2017
Every church is driven primarily by the same mission: To “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .” (Matthew 28:19). How a church goes about making disciples can be vastly different though. To be effective, each church needs to identify its growth engines and growth barriers—aspects of ministry that either foster or inhibit growth, whether in the number of people who attend, or in their levels of spiritual maturity.
For instance, one church budgeted $2 million to build a new youth center. Yet the youth ministry wasn’t a growth engine or a barrier—it was neutral, not growing the church or preventing it from growing. When they examined their growth engines and barriers, they realized they could invest $1.9 million toward removing major barriers and tuning up some growth engines.
Churches have a tendency to fix what they’re not good at. They would do well to follow the wisdom of the StrengthsFinders premise: play to your strengths, and don’t worry about your weaknesses. You’ll never fix what you’re not naturally good at, so focus on improving the areas where you’re strong.
One caveat: churches frequently look to update and upgrade areas of the building that aren’t mission-critical because these spaces are in dire need of attention. For instance, space and equipment in a church’s daycare and children’s ministry may be so out of date that updates are necessary. Although you can’t always go right to the growth engine, churches still need to be clear on what these are and how they will fuel their church’s growth.
What’s Driving Your Church?
How about your church? What ministry opportunities are you currently engaged in that show vitality and opportunity for expanded growth? What fuel could you add to rev up growth? For some, adding more staff or volunteers helps to fuel ministry growth. For other churches, expanding or updating facility space would generate room for growth.
One church we worked with had determined that they wanted to double church attendance over the next three years. They put together a task force to figure out what they’d need to do to hit this goal, and we worked with them through a visioning process. In the course of this process, we realized that the greatest barrier to growth for this church was the lack of connecting space in the church. Whether it’s a Third Place environment where people can gather after the service, or seating areas in the lobby, or more intimate spaces for private conversations or prayer, churches need to provide spaces for people to connect with one another.
One way to uncover your growth engines is to ask, what is the thing people say they come to your church for primarily? In some churches it’s the fellowship and friendliness of the congregation that attracts people. People like the fellowship so much they tell others to come.
Another church we worked with identified that their growth engine was their worship services. The lead pastor and lead worship artist of this church are professional musicians. Their congregation loves its worship services! We identified the stories, the common threads, the things people are excited about, and through that discovered what people were talking about outside the church’s walls, and this is what’s bringing people into the church. In this case, the church’s primary growth engine was both numerical and spiritual.
Accelerating Your Church Growth
Although worship services were this church’s greatest strength, their worship space itself was its worst feature. Though people overlooked the less-than-ideal sanctuary because the worship experience was so good, this church could magnify and accelerate its growth if they married their worship space with the worship experience.
Some churches may not have a strong Sunday morning experience, and yet they’re still growing. This may be because they simply have a good location. In this case, the location itself may be the growth engine, and so a church would probably be wise not to relocate. They also might decide to play up the exterior image and utilize signage to attract the maximum number of visitors—whatever can be communicated from the street to show signs of life.
For Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, discipleship training is one of its growth engines, so they added a training center to their church. After their renovation was completed, Dave Ferguson, lead pastor at Community Christian Church, said, “With the worship room, we’ll reach thousands, but with the training center, we’ll reach tens of thousands.” The training space played into their culture of multiplication and developing new leaders.
Time for an “Engine Check”
Every church has more than one growth engine. Open conversations with church attenders about why people come and why they stay can be helpful in revealing what these are.
I recommend churches do an “engine check” at least once a year. Budget time is a good time to look at what a church is going to fuel in the next year with its resources. It’s a good idea to ask what dollars are in the budget to help fund growth and remove barriers.
For a church to increase attendance and spiritual growth, it needs to gain clarity on the barriers that are preventing this growth, as well as the engines that are fueling it. If your church needs help with an “engine check,” Aspen Group can help.