empty-churchHere is an example of a common question I receive:

My church is not growing. People come, but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should, but they do not stay. Any thoughts, please?

I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time, I know they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.

Here is an expanded version of my typical answer:

It’s hard to diagnose here without more information. I do believe God wants the church to grow. We are to make disciples, and part of discipleship is making more disciples. That in and of itself is growth.

A few quick comments first:

  • God is in charge of the numbers. People can disagree with me (and do) when I say I believe healthy churches are growing. Some grow in different ways—some internally and some by raising up people who go outside the church to make disciples. Regardless of how growth occurs, all of us must agree God is ultimately in control.
  • The Holy Spirit grows people and therefore the church. We aren’t without responsibility in doing our part. We’ve been given an assignment to be a body with many parts, but we don’t ultimately grow people or churches.
  • Churches go through seasons, just as individual believers do. There are seasons we grow more than others and seasons we are simply maturing to grow later.
  • There are no cookie-cutter answers. Just as God makes people unique, churches are unique because they are comprised of unique people.

With those clarifications, here are a few quick thoughts to help you discern your particular situation:

1. Do a survey of anyone who visited in the last year. Ask them why they stayed or didn’t stay. Ask them for ideas they have to improve a visitors experience. Ask them how they found the church. Be prepared for some hard answers, but you may discover things you aren’t seeing.

2. Do a churchwide or leadership-wide half-day brainstorming session, depending on the size of your church. You want enough people to have a wide range of ideas but not so many that you never get anything accomplished. I’ve done this with 12, and I’ve done it with 100. That’s getting a little large, but you don’t want to exclude people who are genuinely concerned and want to help the church. I prefer people who have positive dispositions, but you need a range of thought. You might even bring someone in to facilitate this process. Many times there are answers in the room that come from collected thinking. Ask, Why aren’t people staying and what can we do?

You may need to do a second half-day, perhaps with a smaller group, to summarize and make conclusions from the feedback of the larger group. In my experience, you will produce some key thoughts from an exercise like this, which will spur momentum in addition to creating renewed energy among these key leaders. (But you’ll have to act on some of the suggestions.)

3. Pay a community member (or a professional consultant, if you can afford it) to “secret shop” your church and give you honest feedback. You can often find someone to do this free of charge simply to help the church, but there are professionals who know what to look for in a church visit. Many times we can’t see what’s missing on our own.

The bottom line is that you’ll have to do something intentional to get the answers you don’t have. There are good church consultants out there if you want to take that step. Let me know if you want some names and contact information. But keep asking the questions you’re asking. Our mission as a church hasn’t changed, but the culture around us is changing rapidly. We must continue to grow as church leaders in order to continue to make new disciples.

Praying for you. How would you respond?

Ron Edmondson is a pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. He is also a church leadership consultant who is passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Prior to ministry, Ron had more than 20 years of business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner. Follow Ron on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog at ronedmondson.com.

For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.

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