Guest post written by: Jason Isaacs
4 Reasons Churches Don’t Sustain Their Growth (Why Attendance Goes Up But Always Comes Down)Year after year churches are stuck in the “loop of doom” with attendance increasing only to return to their historical average time after time. There has to be a way to stop repeating the cycle.
Let’s be clear at the beginning, you can’t grow your church. Well, I guess technically you could scheme your way to increased attendance numbers, but what I mean when I say, “grow your church” is much more than raising your headcount. When I say, “grow your church,” I mean growing people, growing leaders, growing groups, growing engagement, and yes in the process increasing attendance.
The challenge for any pastor or leader in their attempt to grow, is that with new growth comes new challenges. We believe the myth that a bigger church would be an easier church to pastor, but that’s not true. Every level of growth requires a new level of organization, leadership, structure, and systems. A big church is not just a larger version of a small church; it is an entirely different thing all together. What got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to go, and what gets you where you want to go will not get you to the next place you need to go. Each new level of growth requires new levels of leadership.
Go back and read that last paragraph again.
PASTOR: A big church is not just a larger version of a small church, they are entirely different. What got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to go. New levels requires new leadership.
This new leadership, required at new levels I outlined before, is why most churches don’t sustain the spurts of growth they experience. I know based on your Facebook timeline and Instagram feed it feels like every church is exploding with growth, but it’s not. The stats tell us 65% of churches have plateaued or are in decline.
Typically what happens, and I speak from multiple experiences, is churches experience a growth spurt, but within a few weeks, months, or years, eventually the church returns to the place it has historically averaged; that is, if it doesn’t decline even lower than before. Why? Why does this cycle of grow-recede-grow-recede, happen time and time again? The answer is simple, but it isn’t easy. Why do churches not sustain their growth and cycle up and down in attendance year after year?????? Because growth requires change.
Remember that thought, because we’re going to come back to it in a moment. First, I want to show you something that changed my life and leadership.
7 years ago, Matt Keller introduced me to the idea of the S-Curve. You’ve probably seen it before in business or back in high school, but an S-curve shows the growth of a variable in terms of another variable, often expressed as units of time. In pastor terms, an S-Curve shows your churches attendance over time. I’ve provided an example for you to see…
The reason the s-curve is essential for a pastor and the life of a church is that we tend to believe that church growth looks like this….
but it doesn’t. That’s how it looks for .0001 of pastors and churches, but if you’re blessed enough to lead a growing church, church growth looks like an S-Curve: you grow, then you decline a little, then you regroup, and you grow some more, then you decline a little, then you regroup, and you grow some more. If everything works like it’s supposed to, your growth exceeds your decline, and over time your church is larger because the seasons of growth exceed the seasons of decline. Make sense?
I don’t want to belabor this point, but I think it’s critical you grasp this. The S-curve means that, if you have a church of 50 people, in order to be a church of 100 people you don’t need 50 more people, you probably need 100+ more people so 50 will connect with your church. If you pastor 200 people and want to break the 300 barrier, you don’t need 100 more people, you probably need 150-200 more people because not everyone will stick, and you will lose people who don’t want to be a part of a growing church (crazy that these people exist, I know, but it’s real.)
We know this intuitively, but when we get inspired or filled with faith about church growth, we get discouraged when growth doesn’t look or feel like chart 2. If it makes you feel any better, check out this revenue vs. profit chart from Amazon since 1998.