Church Growth: The Harsh Reality Of Church Growth You May Be Ignoring [2023]

Table of Contents

No doubt you want church growth. You want to get the gospel message to the ends of the earth, you want to transform your community, and you want to ensure more people have a deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

But for most church leaders, growth is elusive.

Why is it so hard to create healthy church growth?

You probably won’t like the answer.

After years of doing marketing with secular organizations and with church leaders at Clickmill, I am more convinced than ever that what you find below is a serious issue that inhibits the growth of the Church, and your ministry. 

To successfully generate growth in your ministry, you must be dedicated to two things.

  1. The inerrancy of the Scripture, and following it first and foremost.
  2. Shrewdly learning to perceive the world as it functions – and using it to the advantage of your ministry.

Only when we believe that growth is a result of cause and effect within the natural order can see growth in the Church. 

Here is what we will cover in this article:

  • Section 1: Growth & Natural Revelation
  • Section 2: Growth & Divine Revelation
  • Section 3: 5 Biblical Steps to Church Growth 
  • Section 4: Learn the Rules of Growth

Let’s get started! 

Section 1: Growth & Natural Revelation

After years of working in ministry and consulting with ministry leaders, I have found church leaders struggle to create healthy church growth because they unknowingly reject the core principles that precede growth.

Before we dig into why this occurs, we need to lay some groundwork so you can fully understand why ministry leaders do actually reject growth. (Don’t get lost in the science, I promise it’s relevant.)

God first created the physical world. God created the physical world to operate according to predictable laws. 

These are called the laws of nature. These are the universal constants that are upheld in the laws of physics that make life possible. The speed of life, the exact force of gravitation, the strong and weak nuclear forces, etc.

The natural laws are the anthropic constants that keep you and me alive on earth. The moon’s gravity creates the ocean’s tides and ocean currents that provide oxygen to all life in the ocean. Without this the oceans would stagnate, killing the plankton that creates the majority of the oxygen you and I breathe. 

Another example of this divinely created natural law is the happy coincidence that plants breathe in the carbon dioxide you and I breathe out. They also happen to use this carbon dioxide to produce the oxygen humans require to live. Without plants, there could be no mammals. 

Millenia after millennia, the laws God put into creation at the beginning continue to make life possible. 

God created an orderly universe. The universe functions very much like a watch. God created it to run according to specific rules, and it has been ticking away since creation. (Of course, God can and surely does also actively work within his creation in miraculous ways.)

In this article, I will refer to natural law as an observable, repeatable, natural phenomenon. The laws that God put in place to govern the universe is called the natural law.

From the natural law, Christians believe we receive “natural revelation”. This is the belief that humans can understand the character of God through what He has created.

  • God has created an orderly universe and thus God must be a God of order and not chaos. 
  • God created a world that largely rewards good and punishes evil, and therefore he must be a good God. 
  • Creation is beautiful and thus God must be both beautiful and appreciate beauty, etc.

Before God ever intervened in human history by providing us with His Word – The Bible, the natural law had long been set in place.

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This brings us to a key point about growth.

Growth was a phenomenon that was taking place long before the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy) was ever inspired.

  • Nations experienced growth & decay.
  • Evil grew and increased in the world prior to scripture.
  • The human population grew and multiplied.
  • Job experienced spiritual growth and growth before the inspired word was ever penned.
  • Job also experienced the increase of wealth prior to divine revelation.

All of this points to the fact that growth is primarily a function of natural law. 

“Growth is primarily a function of natural law.”

Section 2: Growth & Divine Revelation

Of course, God later provided us with divine revelation through His Word – The 66 books of the Bible.

The entire Bible is divine knowledge given miraculously to the authors through God’s inspiration. That said, the Bible itself testifies to natural law – specifically in the wisdom books. For example, Proverbs is a book in which king Solomon reveals to the reader the simple rules that will produce good results in life.

  • The lazy do not roast any game, but the diligent feed on the riches of the hunt. – Proverbs 12:27
  • Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow. Proverbs 13:11
  • Plans fail for a lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22
  • All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23

Notice that each of the verses above function as an if/then statement

For Example: 

  • If you are lazy then you will not eat. 
  • If you are diligent then you will eat in abundance. 
  • If you work hard then you will profit. 
  • If you only talk then you will live in poverty. 

Why do some behaviors create growth and blessing and others lead to decline and death?

Because God created the world in such a way that morally upright behavior typically (but obviously not in every circumstance) produces good fruit and morally deviant behavior generally produces bad fruit.

The Bible itself testifies to the natural order that God put into the world.

The natural law is one way God communicates with you and me. While the Bible is the ultimate, inerrant authority, we can still understand what God says through creation. If understood properly, the natural law will always support the Bible because God made both. 

Church leaders read Scripture and unintentionally conflate natural law with divine revelation because the Bible contains and discusses both. 

As a result ministry leaders falsely believe that growth is primarily dependent on divine revelation instead of natural revelation. 

When ministry leaders believe that growth is produced primarily through the miraculous blessing of God – they do many spiritual things to seek growth – like prayer for example. 

Of course, prayer is a wonderful thing. God can and surely does bless the growth of ministries miraculously as a result of prayer.

At the same time, if growth is primarily a miraculous phenomenon that is bestowed to just those who honor God, then why do so many secular businesses or other religions create so much growth? It seems difficult to believe that God is actively working miraculous growth on behalf of religious movements that preach anti-Biblical information. 

But if we instead consider that God’s miraculous blessing accounts for less than 50% of growth (and I would argue it’s much less than 50%) the logical conclusion would be to focus more on things that are in line with strategy, equations, action, and understanding the rules that govern the growth of people groups. 

(Of course, we should still continue to pray also!)

Growth is NOT primarily a spiritual thing – growth is primarily a natural thing that is hardwired into the laws of creation. This is why any company, group, culture, etc. can create immense growth, even if they are not seeking to honor God. 

If you do X – you will get Y.

Creating growth is just a matter of understanding the rules God put in place at the beginning.

Of course, different things grow in different ways and so we must first ask what we hope to grow.

If you are growing a ministry you must learn to attract church members and to keep their attention. You must also learn what inspires people to take action.

Ministry growth is done through understanding what motivates and inspires people. This, too, was hardwired into humans at the beginning of time. 

(The person who knew how to inspire and motivate people most effectible was Jesus himself. His life, death, and resurrection spurred the biggest religious and cultural shift in the history of mankind. Later I discuss the 5 principles Jesus used to inspire people to follow Him.) 

The reason most ministries struggle to grow and the reason the church in the Western world is in decline is because the Church largely rejects natural revelation as a viable source of useful information. By rejecting natural revelation the Church also rejects growth too.

What do I mean when I say the church rejects natural law? 

Most of the references to natural law above probably seemed reasonable. Consider some of the following ways in which we reject natural order, all of which I have heard from believers in various denominations in just the past few months:

  1. “If it’s not in the Bible it’s not necessary.”
  2. “The field of psychology is secular and unbiblical”
  3. “Science is opposed to faith”
  4. “Faith is opposed to reason”
  5. “Apologetics isn’t in the Bible and so we don’t need to know it.”
  6. “Marriage & communication books are unnecessary – the Bible tells us everything we need to know about marriage.”
  7. Marketing wouldn’t be necessary if churches were truly relying on God.

However, these types of beliefs are inaccurate. They unintentionally dismiss the very real information God intended us to find through natural revelation. 

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“If it’s not in the Bible it’s not necessary.”: The blueprint for building cars isn’t in the Bible yet we rely on cars as necessary to our everyday lives. Discovering how to create a car was a work of engineering genius by people who understand how to use the laws of chemistry and physics. 

“The field of psychology is secular and unbiblical”: God designed the human mind and instilled similar mental processes into all people. IF understood correctly, psychology can give us more information about how God intended people to function. Of course, this information is not on par with divine revelation, but it’s nevertheless useful when understood in a Godly light.

“Science is opposed to faith”: If the God that inspired the Bible also created the universe- then a proper understanding of the natural sciences (physics, astrophysics, cosmology, chemistry, biology, botany, etc.) would affirm Christian faith, not oppose it. Similarly, if God instilled humans with the mental capacity to reason and think logically, our minds should lead us toward God if we used them properly. This is exactly the purpose of apologetics which is a shockingly powerful field of study for both believers and unbelievers.

The Trinity: Many denominations place heavy importance on faith over reason. If pushed to its logical conclusion, these denominations would necessarily have to reject the doctrine of the trinity because it is not expressly laid out in scripture. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of the trinity was only solidified after church leaders and theologians debated the role of Christ and the Holy Spirit for around 200 years AFTER the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Logic and reason is limited and not inspired along with scripture. Reason and logic are nonetheless useful tools and should be valued for the jobs they can do well. 

When I work with ministry leaders, they inevitably explain that they want to produce growth in their ministry. My response is that growth can essentially be guaranteed – barring an act of God. Growth works more like a math problem than some unexplained spiritual happenings.

People who understand this growth formula can start one project after the next, seeing many of the projects grow rapidly. The serial entrepreneur is a perfect example of this. They seek to understand how growth works, and build a system that grows itself. They then put that system on autopilot and start another one. 

Growth is a process you can understand and duplicate.

For example: In a church advertising campaign, growth just comes down to calculating some numbers. You just need to get the price of bringing new people into your church UNDER the average lifetime tithes of an average church-goer. Once you see that your advertisements are not losing money, then scale up the advertising and marketing to get more people for the same price per person.

With a simple model like this, you can reach far more people in your community with the Gospel AND never be short on funds. 

(If you would like to read more in-depth about how to determine if you are running successful digital church advertising campaigns you can read our blog: Church Advertising: The Ultimate Beginners Guide To Church Ads)

Church leaders find the notion that “growth is mostly an equation” very discomforting.

You may find yourself feeling this discomfort even now. You may be thinking, “This isn’t spiritual enough.” or “It’s not about the money.” Many leaders say, “it’s only about ministry”. That’s the “correct” spiritual answer. 

On one hand, we want growth, but on the other hand only if that growth is sufficiently spiritual or miraculous.

Ironically, if a ministry doesn’t bring in enough money, I can predict with 100% accuracy that the ministry will be forced to close its doors. Without sufficient giving into the church, there will be no church to do ministry.

Conversely, a simple equation can solve this problem AND can also create abundance that the ministry can then go and reinvest in kingdom work – giving their ministry the ability to reach even further. Yet many churches refuse to accept that this is how growth works.

Take Clickmill for example: Our vision is to help ministry leaders reach more people, more effectively (i.e., we help ministries grow).

Our advertising campaigns make around ten times the money we put into them (10x Return On Ad Spend). This means for every dollar we invest in advertising, we get about $10 back. The profit that we get from advertising is then reinvested into our vision of helping you reach the world more effectively for Jesus. 

By operating according to proven, repeatable patterns, anyone can create growth and abundance. This often doesn’t sit well with ministry leaders. 

The Church’s desire to escape natural revelation reminds me of the story of the drowning woman.

A woman falls overboard in the middle of the ocean and begins to drown. She cries out to God for help. Along comes a fishing boat and the men aboard throw her a life preserver but she refuses to take it and insists she is waiting for God to save her. 

The first boat leaves the woman and along comes a second and a third boat which she refuses in the same way. The woman drowns and is taken up to heaven where she meets Jesus. She asks, “Jesus why didn’t you save me?” Jesus replied, “I sent you three boats.” 

The Christian Church in the western world is drowning and our leaders are looking to God asking for miracles and revival – because they believe that growth is primarily spontaneous, spiritual, and miraculous. In fact, growth is slow, boring, and methodical.

I’m convinced that many church leaders will be shocked when God says, “why didn’t you just use the equation, the growth principles I wove right into creation for you?”

Section 3: 5 Biblical Steps to Church Growth

If you’re still with me, you’re probably asking – “Okay, well what is this supposed formula for growth?” In this next section we will talk about the 5 steps to grow ANY ministry. 

We use these 5 steps at Clickmill. They are based directly on the ministry of Jesus. Ironically, secular businesses and marketing firms don’t realize these principles are Biblical, yet they use them more effectively than the church and create copious amounts of growth. 

I have written at length about the exact method for creating growth in ministry so I will just list the steps. If you want to learn more about this, you are welcome to check out the articles I have linked to below.

  1. Know your audience
  2. Go To Them
  3. Meet A Deeply Felt Need
  4. Shift the Conversation
  5. Call them to action

If you would like to read more about church growth strategies, check out our article, Church Growth: 10 Best Biblical Church Growth Strategies

Something to understand about these growth principles is that they are both extremely simple & they are counterintuitive.

Simplicity: One Pastor followed this growth strategy over the course of 8 months and saw a massive increase in his social media audience, live church attendance, and ultimately doubled the size of his in-person services. He later had to plant a new church to accommodate his growth. (And it’s sustainable growth – his ministry is still growing because he is still working and refining the 5 steps.)

This pastor had me come speak to his teens because he felt they were more social media savvy than he was. I spent 40 minutes teaching these kids the 5 step growth principles and how to use them on social media. The very next week the pastor saw a noticeable bump in his live stream and his youth group saw a 25%-30% increase in students. These growth principles are so simple even teens can execute them.

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Counterintuitive: The reason most ministries don’t use these principles isn’t because they are complex, but because they are counterintuitive. 

Only a small fraction of churches are generating the growth they want, and of course, those churches are doing something you AREN’T doing. What they ARE doing is counterintuitive.

If growth is directly related to the natural order, then we must conclude that certain actions are more useful for generating growth than others.

If the majority of churches aren’t getting the results they desire, then this is due to improper action, NOT a lack of divine blessing.

In order to grow your ministry, you must choose to do only those things that growing churches do. This excludes most of what the masses do.

Church leaders who don’t generate the growth they want are almost always asking exactly the wrong questions. 

These are the questions of the ineffective masses. These questions ultimately lead to less growth, not more.

These are questions like:

  • “How do we create more growth?”
  • “How do we get more people in the front doors?”
  • “How do we increase tithes?”
  • “How do we get more ministry volunteers?”
  • “How do we get volunteers to be more dedicated?”

Jesus never asked, “how do I create more growth?” Instead, He met the needs of the masses and they chased him around the Judean wilderness.

Jesus never asked, “How do we get more people in the front doors?” He went out to his audience.

Jesus never asked, “How do we increase tithes?” Instead, He gave His followers a powerful vision and inspired them to be completely dedicated to the cause.

Jesus never asked, “How do I get more ministry volunteers?” He promised to spend the most time with his most dedicated followers. He spent day and night teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training His followers in righteousness so that they were thoroughly equipped for every good work. His disciples believed that Jesus’ investment in them was immensely valuable and they were willing to follow their generous teacher, ultimately to death. 

If you are not contributing to your volunteers in some equally valuable way, they will not be consistently involved (because you are not consistently meeting their needs first). 

Questions like these create results in church growth strategies that hinder growth. For example, the question, “How do we get more ministry volunteers?” typically results in more calls to action, more campaigns to convince people to do their duty to the ministry.

We FAIL to consider that maybe the people in the church have lives just as busy as ours. Maybe they work 40, 50, or even 60 hour weeks to make ends meet. Then they go home to face marriage difficulties while raising children. Then they go to church and are unintentionally made to feel selfish for not donating their only remaining time doing more work.

This approach leads to volunteers who grudgingly agree to help, and then slowly burn out as they lose their desire to please the ministry leaders. 

Not only does this lead to burnout but it often leads to resentment and ultimately, they go to some other church.

Some actions lead to a growing ministry and other actions lead to a declining ministry. If your ministry is plateauing or declining, the actions you are taking probably need some tweaking. 

If you’re struggling to get and keep church volunteers you will love our article, Church Volunteer: How To Get People To Volunteer At Church

Learn The Rules Of Growth

To grow your church, you must discover the rules set in place that govern growth. 

If we are saved through Christ, we are most certainly citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We are not “of the world”. That said, we often overlook the part of the verse that says “we are in the world”.

Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Sadly, the Church has been doing this in the western world for the past half-century or more. Every church looks identical with some denominal belief-difference from the church one block up the street.

This is why I believe we are called to be both as shrewd as a serpent AND innocent as a dove. Shrewd means to have a piercingly cold gaze and sharp powers of judgment.

Of course, we can only have powers of judgement over things our minds can comprehend. We can’t engage shrewdly with the miraculous and spontaneous events given by God. We just receive miracles.

We engage shrewdly with the world. We must be shrewd, removing any naivety because the enemy prowls around seeking to devour our churches, leadership, and lead the people astray. 

If we want to wage a winning battle against the enemy, moral and societal decay, we have to have an intricate knowledge of the terrain. We have to understand the battlefield on which we fight – which of course is the physical world. 

The enemy is well funded, while the church largely maintains the belief that “money is bad”. The enemy knows how your mind works, but the church rejects psychology. 

The secular world has no shortage of funding due to their understanding of how to grow businesses. Many ministry leaders look down on business but can barely make ends meet.

To successfully generate growth in your ministry, you must be dedicated to two things.

  1. The inerrancy of the Scripture, and following it first and foremost.
  2. Shrewdly learning to perceive the world as it functions – and using it to the advantage of your ministry.

Only when we believe that growth is a result of cause and effect within the natural order can see growth in the Church. 

That brings us to the end of the article Church Growth: The Harsh Reality Of Church Growth That You May Be Ignoring

Do you think growth is primarily a function of natural revelation or divine revelation? Let us know in the comments!

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