Church growth can be cast negatively and positively.

Negatively here are five reasons churches don’t grow (not an exhaustive list, but a good place to start). None of this is rocket science but it might give some structure to the process of skilling up for planting and growing a church so that it's best positioned for growth.

In short, I've found five key points of blockage –

  1. Spiritual problems
  2. Competency problems
  3. Architecture
  4. Sociology and culture
  5. Process/management problems

Now let's unpack them a little…

1. Spiritual problems

A church can fail to grow because of spiritual problems in the community, in its leaders and its congregations. We are clearly in a spiritual battle which needs to be engaged in with humility by word and prayer. The Lord gives the growth. The same man, preaching the same word with the same prayerful humility may see very different responses in different communities, or at different times. There may be a number of factors at work which contribute to these different responses but fundamentally it is a spiritual issue.

In addition it is often the case that some churches fail to grow because the spiritual problem exists in the congregation or leaders. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. Getting leaders going and getting congregations mobilized is ultimately a spiritual thing.

2. Competency problems

This relates to the problem in the leader himself. Godly leaders may simply lack the necessary gifts or temperament to engage effectively in a community or mobilize a congregation. Hence there can be little growth. This may be seen in inadequate people skills or communication gifts or a high degree of risk aversion or an inability to analyse well and so engage effectively in the culture.

3. Architecture

Tragic as it may be, the character, shape, size, age of the buildings (or homes) we choose to meet in have an effect on a church’s impact. Even the way we fit them out and light them can be a significant disincentive to growth. We can insist that it shouldn’t matter, but it does. Humans are physical creatures and they are affected by their physical environment.

4. Sociology and culture

A leader's failure to grasp the sociology of the size of groups will often lead to a church hitting growth barriers that are simply a product of group dynamics. His failure to appreciate how culture works and what he adds to it, and who he is going to, will all impact his ablity to grow the work.

5. Process/management problems

Many faithful leaders have failed to grow churches because they have failed to think wisely about managing the resources God has given them. Leaders can often fail to grasp the need to think carefully about how to marshal and moblise and direct resources in such a way that the work gains momentum, and so the power to penetrate. They can fail simply at the level of formulating strategy and then implementing it.

However, the same 'problem areas' also represent five areas to work on to create a platform for growth – should the Lord give it. No doubt they are of differing significance, but each play their part. It's important to plant a church with an awareness that each area above needs to be given attention. Some aspects of each may be beyond us, but a good church planter (leader) will determine which aspects of each are within their control and give themselves to working over those parts that they can change.

To address spiritual problems, pray and preach for the spiritual health of all involved. Pray for the grace of God within the area the plant is going. Pray for the mercy of God that he might pour out his Spirit on whatever region you are working within. Pray and keep praying.

To address competency problems, get assessed properly to determine your aptitude for planting, then seek to develop whatever gifts and skills you have.

To address architecture concerns, think about the building you meet in and its impact on the attractiveness of the gathering. Don’t pretend architecture ought not matter.

When considering sociology and culture, skill up on the sociology of groups and get your head around sociological barriers to growth.

Process / management problems? Learn good management skills (perhaps better called leadership skills?). Consider deeply how best to mobilize whatever resources God gives you to build the capacity of a group to make the best impact. Do you need to develop delegation skills? Analytical skills?

In other words, pay attention to the five areas.

But of course, finally and always, grow in faith in Christ and take heart and courage from the Lord of the harvest who will build his church. It is ultimately a spiritual battle, so preach the word in season and out of season.

Got a question for Andrew? Each fortnight Andrew Heard will be drawing on his experience to answer a real-life church planting question posed by supporters of The Geneva Push. Click here to submit your question and see what Andrew has to say.