A Growing Church is a Dying Church

Whenever a congregation goes looking for a new pastor, the first question on their minds when the committee interviews a new candidate is: Will this pastor grow our church?

I’m going to go ahead and answer that question right now: No, she will not.

No amount of pastoral eloquence, organization, insightfulness, amicability, or charisma will take your congregation back to back to its glory days.

What then can your pastor do?  She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study.  She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary.  She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns.  She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music.  She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion.  She can ignore your phone call because she’s too busy praying.  She can ruin your perfectly balanced budget with appeals for more funds to be allocated toward mission and outreach.  She can take up your precious evenings with kooky new book studies and meditation groups.  She can take up your precious weekends with exhausting volunteer projects. She can open your church building to the ugliest and meanest freaks in town, who show up at odd hours, beg for handouts, track muddy snow into the building, leave their cigarette butts in the parking lot, and spill their coffee on the carpet during their Junkies Anonymous meetings.

She can come off sounding like a Jesus freak evangelical, gushing on and on about the Bible and your personal relationship with God.  She can come off sounding like a smells n’ bells catholic, pontificating on and on about tradition and sacraments.  She can come off sounding like a bleeding-heart liberal, prattling on and on about social justice and the need to constantly question old interpretations.

What can she do to grow your church?  Nothing.  There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow.  She can’t save your church.  Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her.  She can push you.  She can open doors.  She can present you with opportunities.  It’s up to you to take advantage of them.  She can plant seeds and water them.  It’s up to God to make them grow.

And what if that happens?  What will growth look like?  Will all those old, inactive members suddenly return?  Will the pews be packed again?  Will you need to start a second service and buy the lot next door in order to expand the parking lot?  No.  You might see a few new faces in the crowd.  There won’t be many of them.  Some might stick around but most won’t.  Those who stay won’t fit in with the old guard.  They won’t know about how you’ve always done it.  They’ll want to make changes of their own.  Their new ideas will make you uncomfortable.  Your church won’t look or feel like it used to.  You’ll feel like you’re losing control of this place that you’ve worked so hard to preserve.  It will feel like your church is dying.

And that’s just the thing.  A growing church is a dying church.  It has to be.  It cannot be otherwise.  The way to Easter Sunday goes through Good Friday.  The way to the empty tomb goes through Golgotha.  The way to resurrection goes through crucifixion.  When Jesus told you to take up your cross and follow, did you expect it to lead anywhere else?  What Jesus told us about himself is also true of churches: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it bears no fruit.

But what if it doesn’t work?  What if you let your pastor do all that crazy stuff and nobody new shows up?  What if the church still goes under?  What if all that time you spend studying the Bible, expanding your horizons, deepening your spiritual life, and serving your community turns out to be time wasted?  What if it does?

Tell you what: if that’s what happens, if you commit yourself to all this and still feel like it was a waste of time in the end, then maybe your church really needed to die.

358 thoughts on “A Growing Church is a Dying Church

  1. I so agree. Although I’m not a huge fan of Rick Warren’s theology, I do like the first sentence of his book, “The Purpose-Driven Life”: ‘It’s not about you.’ I’ve said for a long time that this applies to churches as well as individuals.

    1. Anonymous

      It is so ridiculous and cliche for people to begin with “I’m not a huge fan of Rick Warren’s theology”. Who cares? If he has something valuable to share, just share it. We’re on the same team, for crying out loud. He loves Jesus. That’s good enough for me.

      1. Yes, Rick Warren does not need the endorsement of anyone else. His success speaks for itself. I have not studied his theology, but when I taught an adult Sunday School for 10 years, I used his book, The Purpose-Driven Church, for a few months when we were trying to grow our church and it was very helpful. Not as famous as his Purpose-Driven Life book, but still a great book. I agree with Anonymous: It is so ridiculous and cliche for anyone to begin with “I’m not a huge fan of Rick Warren’s theology.” Who cares? Right on, Anonymous.

      2. Anon

        re:Rick Warren loves Jesus… Does he? He seems to be falling into the whole Christ-lam thing. If you’re not sure how that’ll turn out, go read CS Lewis’ final book in the Narnia series “The Last Battle”. To sum up, they start mixing Tash (evil) with Aslan (The Lion) into “Taslan”.

      3. I DO love Jesus

        To “Anon | October 13, 2014 at 2:27 pm” below – I just want you to know that “I’m not a huge fan of CS Lewis’ theology” if that allows YOU to decide if ANY other human loves Jesus or not.
        Sorry – I HAD to rebuke YOU in the name of Jesus who I love, regardless of if you think YOU have the right to question IF I do or not. Matthew 7:1-3

      4. Anonymous

        Amen!!!! “I’m not a big fan……” and statements like this are BIG contributors to a churches demise. Hopefully we are ALL “a fan” of God so leave the negative out.

      5. Anonymous

        Thank you for this….I studied purpose driven life and completed celebrate recovery….not for addiction but loss and mourning….deaths, selling land and cattle to keep going…the things from Saddleback are life and yes church changing…never losing sight of Jesus , the cross, the resurrection. Again thanks

  2. newpastor

    Preparing to enter into my first call as a pastor, I’ve already heard some of the things they “want” from me — things I know I can’t deliver because I’m just me. There’s a good chance this article will be a huge inspiration for how I enter into this community as the pastor. Thanks.

      1. Fred

        I am always amazed at the response pure honesty can make. I have had the privilege to watch several persons grow in their spiritual relationship over the past several years in growing healthier friendships fir themselves, just because I have tried to live a little bit like Isaiah and say “Here I am, Send Me”, but no person grow quite as profoundly as a person who came walking by our congregation when I was not even a member yet several years ago. This person expressed that they were hungry and did I have anything that I could so they could buy some food. I did not, but mentioned that this congregation had coffee hour each Sunday after the service and I knew this particular Sunday they were going to have food afterwards and invited this person in for the Service. This person got what was needed that Sunday, but I feel blessed in knowing that physical nourishment wasn’t the only thing satisfied.

        Soon they were singing in the choir and participating in the life of the church in so many different ways. This person got life on track, got themself through college and has been a true blessing to our congregation. Recently this person shared with the Congregation about fighting cancer and asked for prayers, and I have no doubt sharing the struggle has many praying about it including me. I know God has the best in mind for this person after making such a wonderful change in life, I am just grateful that God allowed me to be just one planter or waterer in this wonderful journey that we call Life!…

        Sign me… Grateful Brother

      2. Two years into serving your first congregation? I’m 9 years into my ministry. this blog hit it DEAD on. And how did I find this? My NT prof from seminary shared it on fb. He’s written tons of books, been on a number of tv specials about the NT, etc. So be very proud of what you wrote here. You hit the nail on the head.

    1. Anonymous

      The pulpit is fluid, the pews not so much. The church grows because of both. Pews are vital for sustainability. Society changes, if the pews rest on the laurels of the good old days, then year after year the church will die. The only thing the pews need to consider as fluid, is the changing needs of the way to emit god’s word as generations pass even though the message remains the same.

    2. Jill Deschaine

      How brave for you to say that you know you can’t deliver. I am married to a Pastor of 35 years. If there is one thing I could tell you it would be that you can NOT be everything to all people. You are spot on going in. Trust your God given gifts and know that He has called you to do this on His behalf. Say it loud and clear until the people say AMEN and they GET IT! Help them to find the spirit within themselves so they can be strong where you are weak and you can be strong where they are weak. Once they get that it is a team working for God to minister to the public together your sailing and you just watch the Holy Spirit work in you and your congregation. It’s true love! I have tons of confidence in you. YOU my friend GET IT! AMEN!!!!

  3. Good words. Thank you. I*m on the other end of things (almost 30 years ordained) left parish ministry to serve on the edges of the Church. Took me awhile to figure out this is where I need to be. Sometimes (often) when we preach to ourselves out loud (or in blog) we find the courage to live it out. Blessings on your ministry!

    1. Another FB finder…Your post was shared by two Pastor friends. I’m a “Seminary dropout” from 17 years ago, thinking about going back. This post is perhaps the most truth about church I’ve seen in a long time. In my year as an Intern Pastor, oh how I did learn about the expectations congregations put on their Pastors and staff. It’s one of the things that scared me away after internship, along with a major church blow-up (based on a personality conflict some members had with the Pastor). I’m hoping to go back into my call more mature now, with my children nearly raised and perhaps some more wisdom…hah.

  4. Roberta Wilson-Garrett

    I think I’ll keep this somewhere handy for my own good mental health to remind me I”m not off the wall even though my parishioners may think I am. I’m sure they are tired of me constantly telling them “it’s not all about bums in pews” and it never will be. Thanks for this, it has started my day with a smile and fresh resolve.

  5. I guess what I’m worried about is the people like me who came to a particular denomination or congregation because it *wasn’t* like all the other ones we’d seen out there…and is now changing to be like the others out there.

    If we can make an effort to make a church that’s a refuge for all the “freaks and geeks” out there, does that necessarily mean that we have to toss all of the semi-traditionalists overboard? And I’m especially talking about the semi-traditionalists who said that we should’ve worked some changes in gradually long ago, but were met with resistance from the uber-traditionalists, and now, as a result, we’re at the point where it’s an either/or choice between the new and the old, rather than a both/and situation where we have some of each.

    I’ve been told that when a community is too small to support both an orthodox and a reform synagogue, they build a conservative one…so that both parties are equally uncomfortable. Why have we not been able to do this…until it was too late?

    1. semi-traditionalist tossed overboard

      I’m one of those semi-traditionalists tossed overboard in my (former) church’s pathetic attempt at a body grab. We joined specifically because they weren’t substituting worship with a rock show pep rally. When numbers started falling off, the blame was placed on the music program instead of on the cliquishness of the congregation, the weak meandering preaching, lack of pastoral care, “We have to go contemporary or we’ll die” was the battle cry, shoved through in a single night. Unfortunately, they underestimated the level of effort to produce a weekly “show” and the result not only didn’t attract any new people, it ran off some current (now former) members. I wish growth weren’t synonymous with body count in church planning. And that small churches serve a vital purpose. Not everyone wants to be part of a magachurch.

      1. Amen, Semi. The cry to “love one another” was always immediately followed by calls for support of poorly thought out ideas to grab “the unchurched” and haul them into the sanctuary. The bad leadership never recognized that we could get new people in regularly, but we could not keep them because we had some rude, cold, difficult people who made it their mission to control everything. Weak preaching, poor scholarship, shirking of pastoral duties, and whoring after fads and dumbed down “bibles” like The Message drove off the faithful and could not retain the new.
        Too many churches are unhappy with what they are, with their own pasture, and lust after the greener grass on the other side of the denominational street. Be what your parish is, not what it isn’t.

      2. (I hope this shows up in the right place) As I hope I implied earlier, I have nothing against change, but sometimes it’s done too quickly and too hamfistedly. I learned in a comic book once that rusting and burning are the same process of oxidation, but at different speeds, and if you go too fast with the process, you can have a destructive, out of control wildfire.

        Change is good, but if you change too quickly, without giving people time to properly assimilate it, they won’t be able to handle it, and you’ll push them out.

        I’ve heard “people don’t listen to classical music anymore” as a reason for dumping hymns as we grew up with them. But maybe the problem isn’t the music, but the way it’s played. Nobody wants to sing dirges. And yet, when you suggest picking up the speed and putting a little swing into the hymns, organists cry bloody murder, as if it’s their job to maintain the Museum of Bach.

        The problem I see is that most people wouldn’t know a theological difference if it bit them on the nose, but know what they like (or are used to) in terms of music. I’ve often said that given a choice between a Baptist church that did Bach and an Episcopal church that did Gospel, my mother would go with the Episcopalians.

        That having been said, I see a lot of more liberal churches with “old stodgy music” losing the younger generations to the more conservative ones with “cool music;” and the kids don’t realize what they’ve signed up for until it’s too late.

        I’m definitely with Athena1949, who states that too many churches are unhappy with their own pasture, and lust over the “greener grass” in some other congregation or denomination. These differences exist for a reason, and it’s not all bad. I was a teacher for 19 years, and you don’t reach all the kids with the same method. Some of us need to be Episcopalians, some of us need to be Baptists, some Lutherans, some Catholics, etc.

      3. Wow, that is a really interesting fact about rusting and burning! I learn something new everyday.

        I’m concerned about biblical illiteracy and theological apathy as well. I know one pastor who tried a clandestine experiment with his congregation: preach an entire sermon without mentioning God. Guess what: no one noticed.

      4. Funny thing about the sermon where you didn’t explicitly mention God…maybe you don’t have to. I mean, do I say “Oh look, there’s the operating system” every time I run my computer? Of course not, it’s a background process, without which nothing else would work anyway.

        Perhaps your people were used to God being a “background process,” and didn’t need his name mentioned explicitly every other paragraph in order for the point to be made.

        By way of example, CS Lewis once said something along the lines of while it may be true that no one gets to the Father but through Jesus, that doesn’t mean that we have to know that it’s him at the time. I tell people that’s like being in a burning building with Clark Kent, and while Superman never arrives, Clark somehow gets you out safely.

        So if I’ve mentioned over and over what a stand-up guy Clark is, and how he’d do anything for anyone, but haven’t mentioned the guy in the red cape once, does that necessarily mean that I haven’t talked about Superman?

        Maybe you don’t have to beat us over the head with God. Maybe most of us who are there get it in the first place, and are looking for practical applications to our lives.

      5. Nemo

        How I long for a voice and an acoustic guitar. No speakers. No amps. Seriously, in a small hall, do you really need them?? My sons are on the autism spectrum. The amps start, and they flee the room. They simply can’t take the noise. We joined our neighbors at the Church of Christ for a special guest. If you’ve never been to one of their services, they don’t believe in using instruments at all. it’s all a-cappella, and they do it beautifully. Our boys saw no need to flee.

  6. Well said. If your church is growing like crazy, ask why and then pray like crazy that it stops before it spiritually rots. Big parking lots (although nice if you can get ’em) often mean little souls.

    1. OK, why do we naturally assume that big churches are bad (or rotting) churches? Why does everything have to be either/or? Can’t there be some big churches that are good and some small churches that are rotting…and are small precisely because they are rotting?

      I have nothing against small churches per se, but when I see a bunch of small churches of the same denomination all within five miles of each other, all struggling to keep their heads above water, THAT tells me that something’s wrong. It tells me that no one wants to be the first to give up their building, it tells me that no one understands certain economies of scale, it tells me that some people don’t understand good stewardship.

      And yes, I understand that it’s a very emotional issue to let go of the place that you worshiped for umpty-ump years, and yet we do it when we move.

      When I was a kid, the Episcopal church I was a member of decided, along with the other Episcopal church in town that South Orange couldn’t support two separate Episcopal congregations, so instead of having both wither and die, they decided to become one and thrive. And for the past 40 years, that congregation has done just that.

      I also wonder exactly when did the our understanding of the nature of the church change? Is it education and worship or is it service and outreach? Can it be both? Does it have to be one or the other? Can the two different expressions coexist?

      And again, if it’s service and outreach, then did things change without a lot of us knowing it, or were we just not paying attention in the first place?

      Maybe it had always been both, but the proportions of each have changed slowly and imperceptibly over the years, so that those of us who grew up with the old understanding are all going “Hey! What happened?”

      1. All well said. My case is often overstated to have the privilege of repartee. I have been blessed to have worked on the staff of an enormous Willow Creek Association church followed by a smaller ABCUSA church and now at another 300 soul PCUSA congregation. They all have deep places in my heart, for very different reasons. They all provide ministry functions of a differing but needful character.

        Earlier in my life I watched in wonder as the North American Baptist church at which I was an intern merged with a Southern Baptist church to become a single entity. It was unprecedented in Canada at the time. The ministry and solidity grew. The quality of spirituality all but died.

        Hence, my cryptic and overstated comments. I can deal with the free market style row of denominationally and ideologically unique but all struggling congregations lined up on main street, all competing for the same spiritual clientelle, if I am convinced that, at least to some degree, interiority doesn’t become victimized in the pursuit of economical feasibility.

        Thanks for wading in…R

  7. nkeithf

    Thanks for a great article… I posted it last evening on Facebook, and by this morning noted that there were 11 “shares” listed…and when I looked at those, I saw that their friends had then shared beyond that. You’ve really captured what a lot of us are realizing. BTW, I’m also in my first call, coming up on three years next month…. I plan on sharing this with my Council at our retreat. Some of them have begun to be anxious about “growth,” defining that purely in terms of numbers. I think this may help reduce some of their anxiety. Peace to you!

  8. Thank you so much for speaking so eloquently what I’ve known in my heart and intuition and have not been able to articulate! With your permission I will share this with my board members….perhaps in our newsletter? I am grateful. And, I found this posted on facebook by a Moravian Clergy colleague.

  9. I recall a former seminary dean reminding us that the biggest lie search committees tell candidates is that the church wants to grow. But if a church were to tell me “we want to learn how to die” I’d be all over that!

    1. Right on target, Christ died and in walking with His Holy Will, I too die.
      Dead in Chirist, sanctified life in Him, taking what ever risk necessary to follow God’s will. The “dead” church begins with me. Looking back on God’s rich blessings, the “dead” church will LIVE! spiritually, as Christ Jesus grows in, around and through each member. Thank you, Cynthia for your reply and than you J. Barrett Lee, for expressing God’s will today. Sincerely, Mrs. Miriam W. Dixon

    2. Shibui

      A friend moving out of town, with whom I was having lunch, said he and his wife we’re pondering starting a new church where they were going, because there was none that fit them and their theology. So we spent lunch talking about what your goal should be asa a new church. We decided it was to die. To die because you had been faithful to your vision of Jesus’ call and creating a new church just had not taken. To die because you grew so much you became too large and expanding into a couple of congregations, as Church of the Savior did to keep its close, service commitment alive. To die because so many members were called into serving the kingdom that that’s what they were doing rather than coming to or staffing or inning church activities. It was a congregational model of Jesus’ faithfulness even unto death.

  10. Churches that cannot accept a new reality are stuck in a stage of lament. The lament is “we are not as great as we once were”. Indeed the disruptive spirit of God is at work. However, there is a need for leadership. Pastoral leaders need to encourage folk to step up and take risks.

    1. This is a great post, but this line in your comment might be the best sentence I’ve read to describe the condition of the church:

      “Churches that cannot accept a new reality are stuck in a stage of lament.”

  11. Good thoughts here, appreciate your contribution and have shared it with my congregation on our Facebook site. Hopefully will stimulate conversation.

    That said, I would push back when you say that the pastor can do “nothing” to grow the church. Leadership is a vital part of the process and you point that out well. I realize you are challenging an assumption, but too often I think pastors use that line of thinking to justify not doing the very challenging leadership things that do grow a church. The things you identify clearly.

    Those things, such as challenging the status quo, focusing on scripture and prayer, pushing for missional budgets, are indeed leadership tasks that a pastor can do to help a church grow. Frankly, too many clergy aren’t doing those leadership things, they accept the status quo and as such aren’t fulfilling that challenge.

    So I agree with your article, just a friendly challenge to us clergy out there who might use this to justify not working as hard as we can to ensure our congregations are “dying to grow.”

    How can we be nuanced enough to say that yes the leaders can do things to grow a church, but they are probably not the easy things either the leader or the congregation think they are?

    1. Todd Scranton

      Erik, I agree to a degree, but at the same time there’s the old saying – “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I’ve watched pastors work VERY hard at the tasks you describe – preaching, teaching, challenging assumptions, modeling the kind of missional outreach they want to see in their congregations. And in many cases, most actually, their congregations continued to decline anyway. And in the larger church polity many were branded as “ineffective.” I know “leadership” is the current buzzword in the church (trailing the business world, as usual) but I’m skeptical about the priorities we set and the measurements we commonly use to assess it. We seem to be preaching mission, but measuring attraction (and rewarding those who “attract” whether or not there is any real sense of mission in their ministry.)

    2. Anon

      Isn’t the point of the Christian Church to spread the good news? By asking for growth, a congregation is asking if this pastor is going to touch people in his/her sermons and inspire a familial relationship therefore wanting them to return. Is he or she helpful, warm, and genuine? Those are leadership qualities that will help a church grow that a pastor must have. I agree that it is the wrong message that the pastor can do “nothing” to grow the church, as Pastor Gronberg noted. I also find it odd that this was written in the female gender by a male blogger. Some say coffee houses holding more spiritual meetings than churches which is a sad statement about our current church and society but perhaps if this is the message to clergy, the death of the church as we know it, is imminent.

  12. Pastor Phil

    So often the church (our church, your church, The Church) turns to evangelism as a last resort when nothing else works to meet the budget. Thank you for articulating clearly what so many know, but we either cannot find the words, or we cannot find the courage.

    I will also be sharing this on Facebook, which is where I found it.

    1. Your point is well-taken, Dave. I’m actually a former substance abuse counselor and a huge fan of 12 Step. In this post, I was intentionally trying to mimic the tone of a hypothetical congregant who might not understand the importance of ministry to addicted people. No offense was intended.

      1. confounded

        I read your post and laughed because I got it. I’ve worked in a church for 13 years. I’ve had substance problems because I suffer from depression. My substances are all prescribed to me. I’ve seen what u are talking about in person. The old guard won’t allow the newbies to do anything. They gossip and let everyone know that this newbie can’t do anything right, so don’t let them do or take over any programs. That is truely a shame. smi

  13. Carla Powell

    I’m impressed. You have spoken what needed to be said. Wow.

    I’m at the very beginning of a redevelopment ministry on the south side of Chicago (installation this Sunday), and I feel like you’ve stumbled onto exactly what I hope to express in one way or another over the next few years in this ministry together!

    Church renewal is tough and involves as much death as life (maybe more). We have to die to all sorts of stuff that we like to hold onto.

    Thank you – a million times.

  14. This is a powerful piece–thanks for sharing. I will be sharing it with our church leadership too.

    I appreciate Erik’s words about leadership. I believe that leadership does matter, and that clergy can help a congregation to grow in faith and openness to the new. However, people have to be open to growing, and open to sharing. The pastor can help, but not make it happen.

    Enjoy your viral hit in clergy circles on Facebook!

  15. Becky Erb Strang

    May I share this with my Church Council and Membership Team?

    -Becky Erb Strang
    Senior Pastor
    St. Paul United Church of Christ
    New Bremen, OH

  16. This is a wonderful perspective that I wish I could have shared when my church decided it wanted a younger pastor with kids; a pastor called for 12 hours a week to circulate through the town and become known as “the” pastor of a local church. It was then that I decided to retire. Praise be to God.

  17. Reblogged this on Parson Seth and commented:
    Jesus has saved us from death and at the same time Jesus has saved us to death. For many churches growth is a first thing, meaning they want growth to just happen. In reality growth is a second thing; it is a result of something. J Barrett Lee expresses this in a wonderful way framing it with scripture.

  18. I’ve posted this on our seminary FB page. I work in church relations here at Phillips Theological Seminary, and you have named and addressed very well one of the major challenges faced by the church today. Thank you.

  19. I spent three years in a congregation preaching this (although not quite so clearly and concisely I’m sure). Strong resistance and ultimately, “because God was calling us to different paths in ministry” my departure. The hardest part has been watching all those seeds, which I thought were spread on paths, rocky places, and thorns, spring up in good soil. Some plant, some water… But it’s hard to watch the new life spring up when the death it came from was your own ministry.

    Thanks for posting this. It provides support, encouragement, and motivation to not give up.

  20. Saw your post via a friend’s facebook share. Just finished a D.Min. in congregational renenwal and you sound like you’ve read some recent stuff, which I think is all very accurate and takes a good deal of time to do effectively. Some churches may indeed need to die, but strong, well-equipped pastoral leaders can navigate both congregational pastoral care during death as well as the nurturing of new growth, albeit such growth may come in a variety of ways. McFayden is particularly keen on this dynamic (see “Strategic Leadership for a Change”). Thanks for the post.

  21. When I saw the title of this post on a FB friend’s page I was prepared to be offended. Happily, I am not offended. Rather, I am motivated to say, “Hear! Hear!” and pass on your message.


  22. I’m been at my first solo pastorate a year. This morning was an ‘I’m wounded’ morning of isolation. This post was exactly what I needed. Exactly what my heart needed. I’m crying because this story is mine. My heart is broken and put together again by God basically every other day. Thank you so much for these words.

    1. Thank you, Kelli. It means so much to me to hear you say that. I wrote this as preaching to myself, and I’m blown away that others have found it helpful as well. I don’t know what to say…

  23. Jay Roberson

    Rev. Lee,
    I beleive the nail was fully struck when you hit it with this hammer! I disagree with my colleague Rev. Gronberg, about the role leadership plays in the church, as i do with most of those in the modern church. We are leaders, but in no way do we coerce followers. We offer and those who accept are God’s, not ours.
    As a Pastor, i offer myself, not my ldeas, my theological stands, or my ideals. It is me, cross in hand, who serves.
    Bro. Jay

  24. Pat Pope

    “Your church won’t look or feel like it used to. You’ll feel like you’re losing control of this place that you’ve worked so hard to preserve.”

    So true and I’ve seen people rail against this very feeling by digging in their heels, employing the latest marketing scheme (because after all, it’s worked in the past) and doing all they can to “grow” their church. They want it restored to the previous glory days and feel all they have to do is rely on the old tactics. They’ll even step all over anyone that gets in their way. These people are really the church’s worst enemy as they keep it on a frenetic pace to gain more.

  25. 2BCer

    I came to your blog through a share on Facebook as well :). Our church is going through the pastor search process right now and I feel that our congregation has traditionally elevated the pastor to a level that is unrealistic. My prayer during this process is that my fellow congregants and I will realize our own responsibility for growth and will discern healthy expectations for our new pastor. Thank you for sharing these insightful words. Blessings to you!

  26. Great essay. I’ve linked to our blog and reflected on what it has to say to those specifically engaged in youth ministry within the church because I think it all applies in miniature to that setting as well.

  27. Brennan Hughes

    Mr. Lee, I appreciate your post very much. This post was disseminated on my Church of Christ young adult Facebook group. Our congregation is in preacher-search mode. The previous two churches my family attended also went through minister changes. The expectations indeed often are unrealistic. I used to be a campus minister, and there was always so much pressure to grow. The ministers at our university prayed constantly for “revival,” and most of us envisioned that as increased numbers. I would rather see a community that sacrifices its will wholly to God — even if that means dwindling or being destroyed — than one that swells because it meets the felt needs of unregenerated people.

  28. This is quite timely considering September 16th the reading is “take up your cross.” My church is getting a new vicar on Oct 1st and I was wondering if I could use some of this in my sermon to help prepare the congregation for the transition.

  29. Clergy spouse here. Great read. Two women clergy friends shared on FB this morning. A good question for candidates to ask back to their nominating committees might be: How do YOU define growth for your church? Is it numbers alone? Is it growth in commitment toward certain ministries (though this may mean the death of other ones)? Etc.

  30. Pastorfrog

    To answer a question you posted above, J. Barrett Lee, I came across a link to this from the ELCA clergy facebook group. Thanks for framing the issues so eloquently!

  31. femchap

    I am involved in transitional/interim ministry and boy, are you right! The pastor – interim or settled – is charged with growing the church etc. and when things need to change in any way to achieve that goal …watch out! You are on “holy ground”! Great article — will be shared at Church Council!

  32. Becky McNeil

    I read this on Facebook, and am in the middle of planning a retreat for a congregation seeking transformation. I’m now planning to include a copy of this blog in the hand-outs I provide for that congregation. Blessings!

  33. In one word, this article is “strong.” Thank you.

    I too am in my first call. 3 years this month. My congregation has grown (70 is not a rare worship attendence, but neither is 50), is still very financially stressed, and now we have serious growing pains (like distractions during worship that didn’t exist when we worshiped 39 on a Sunday). We are also substantially more racially diverse. But after continous 60 & 70 hour work weeks, knocking on doors, talking to anybody with a pulse out in the community, attending countless community and congregational meetings and events, and trying to liven up weekly Bible Study (which I find a much less threatening invite for new folks) … it has taken its toll on me.

    So, yes the pastor has something to do with growth. But it’s not healthy when the pastor is doing that much.

    As I am starting to learn, I recommend the book “POWER SURGE” by Rev. Mike Foss. The book focuses on the Great Commission (Mt. 28) that calls us to make disciples, not members. Today it no longer works to be a church of members; today we need to find a way to be a church of disciples.

    I would bet most of our congregations would benefit more if we did not get a single new member but rather our members grew in discipleship. Daily prayer, Bible study, financial stewardship, and service at and beyond the congregation are what I think of as marks of discipleship.

    This is where leadership comes in. As the pastor lead your people into discipleship (prayer, Bible Study, financial stewardship, and a life of service). And I believe we’ll see our congregations explode with growth, build up the Kingdom of God, and the pastor may not have to invite a single person. At my ordination service, the preacher preached “Shepherds don’t beget sheep. Sheep beget sheep.”

    Use pastoral leadership to teach discipleship. Jesus only got 12 uneducated fishermen, but He got them to change the world. It took Jesus 3 years. Don’t expeect to change your community’s (long-time) culture overnight, but stick to it. Thank you for your committment to building up the Kingdom of God and God Bless you.

  34. I’m printing this out and distributing it to our church council as part of this month’s pastor’s report. Very well written, insightful, appropriate, and timely. Should ignite some great conversation. Thank you and peace be with you.

  35. The farmer doesn’t make the crop grow, but he sure does plant, water, and harvest. There is a powerful symbiotic relationship between divinity and humanity when it pertains to the Kingdom coming and His will being done. (the church growing) Without Him, we can not. However it seems, without us, he won’t.

  36. Roland Noreika

    You are absolutely correct. However, the last time we went looking, we actually need someone that could help to keep the doors open. We are in the middle of a university campus. What was formerly a large vibrant residential neighborhood gobbled up by the university in the 1960s-1970s. Our number stabilized and grew a little bit (enough to keep the doors open). However, what our pastor did, was to make alliances with the university (the music, the arts, the architecture schools) and allowing the use of our facility (for a “small” donation). Since our sanctuary has wonderful acoustics, it is now used quite a lot by the university for concerts, etc.

  37. David G. Flinn

    Interesting statements. i agree with some and disagree with others. I can understand the basic philosophy, but I don’t think any church has to be all about the “new stuff” or all about the “old traditionalists.” People have got to learn to accept change, but I don’t see why we can’t have the best of both worlds. No, I don’t expect a new pastor to bring our congregation totally back to what it once was; but I hope that we can recover a few long-time members and friends who have left. At the same time, yes, we have to get the new folks in the door and keep them there. I’m an old timer, having been involved for over fifty years, but I don’t consider myself “an old fogie” either. I want to embrace change, as long as it is for the better. Some changes don’t make it, though.

  38. I am attending a meeting tonight with a committee that is preparing to search for a new pastor, and plan to share your reflection with them. It is a sobering, realistic, and liberating view of church life.

  39. Wonderful. I’m serving a church that clearly told me, “We’re looking for a Pastor, not a Savior – we already have one of those.” Still, the comments are there; because I’m fairly young, married with young children, people seem to think young families will be attracted to the church like iron filings to a magnet. And it doesn’t work that way.

    I would agree with Erik, though: while we cannot bear the responsibility for renewal alone, we must bear some of it. Like the responsibility to have this very conversation with the congregations we lead.

    Blessings in your ministry!

    1. Pastor C Welch

      There is research by the Barna group that indicates that mothers under 30 with small children will embrace a church if they meet people when they come. If they learn four names on their first visit, they are likely to return with the family. And only half of families with children under 12 prefer large churches.

    2. My congregation also told me that – two years into ministry here it seems that was what the congregation *really* wanted. Now we have issues. Unfortunately I also now have a committee which treats me as a “newbie” to ministry even though I’ve been doing it.for a few years and am older than they are. 🙂 Somewhere here I thought I posted and asked permission to reprint….so I am going to err on the side of assumption, since I really want it in the church newsletter this week. I’ve discovered that there is a whole lot of work to be done here, and there is only one year left in this contract.

  40. If it’s ok with you, I’m going to use this as part of my sermon on Sunday. It will be my second week in a new call, and I think a message we can all stand to hear (going to use Matthew 6:25-34 as the text).

  41. Very well said! The facebook sharing (as well as with my church council) will continue with me. 🙂 I am also mindful of Erik’s comment that not all clergy are doing all the things we CAN do to help our congregations. This is true. I find that often times this becomes so because pastors allow ourselves to get lured away from our true purpose by the demands and desires of our people. Sometimes the way of leadership is fraught with challenge and a sense of isolation. But articles like yours are wonderful reminders that there are MANY of us in this together… seeking more than anything to be faithful to the One who called us into pastoral leadership to begin with. May the Peace of Christ dwell in our hearts, strengthening us all to do and be what we should while resisting the temptations to do and be what we should not. Shalom!

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  43. This thought-provoking article is timely — for all time and unabashedly straight to the point. I am a layperson in a non-profit organization partnering with churches to help the homeless population and have seen first hand that some parishoners have a very difficult time with the concept of outreach; particularly to those who don’t “behave” themselves very well in our churches.

    One of your final comments, “a growing church is a dying church” is true for Christians in general. Thanks for reminding me that in order to live I must die.

    God bless you and the work He has given you to do abundantly!

  44. Sue

    I’ll be sharing this as well! I’m an intentional interim minister and your description of what the pastor can do fits very well with what I try to do; especially this part–

    “She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them. She can plant seeds and water them. It’s up to God to make them grow.”

    In interviews, I often tell congregations that I can’t “fix” them. I can encourage, challenge, ask questions, even provide some tools, but they need to do the work and constantly turn to God for wisdom and discernment.

  45. Wilma

    Thanks! Think I’ll read this to our vestry at our meeting this evening – very timely as this relatively new pastor begins some ‘new’ things here. Who knows where it will lead. It is so comforting to know that its not about me – I don’t fix anything

  46. Reblogged this on Disableme's Weblog and commented:
    “Those who stay won’t fit in with the old guard. They won’t know about how you’ve always done it. They’ll want to make changes of their own. Their new ideas will make you uncomfortable. Your church won’t look or feel like it used to. You’ll feel like you’re losing control of this place that you’ve worked so hard to preserve. It will feel like your church is dying.”

  47. I often say to people, “If you are waiting for your pastor to grow the church, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. It takes every person living passionately into their spiritual giftedness to cause great spiritual growth to take place in a particular community and beyond.” Thanks for the courage to share your words. (I read your blog as a result of a friend’s FB post and now I have had my friends “share!)

  48. Would you consider changing the copyright notice on just this one blog post, to permit free distribution of printed and photocopied media? There are parish selection and search committees everywhere that could benefit from this brief post as a part of their kit of materials.

  49. Mad God Woman

    Well, O Church, you don’t HAVE to grow if you don’t want to. If that pastor troubles you too much, just run her off and call another one who’ll preach you what you want to hear. Until he doesn’t. Then, you can run HIM off and repeat the process for as many iterations as it takes until you comfortably live to death…

    Speaking less flippantly – Thank you, Brother. You knocked this out of the park and obviously spoke a truth to power. May the seeds scattered by your post take root, grow where they should, and cause all the holy mayhem God means them to cause.

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  51. Marcia

    Thank you so much for this. You have uplifted and inspired me after a difficult meeting this evening followed by a worse conversation with a member of my church who told me I should be concerned less about things he considers unimportant, and concentrating more on “getting people into the church”. I was left feeling upset, frustrated and angry and your words were very timely and so apt.

    Read and shared on Facebook!

  52. Glenn

    I am in my 3rd pastorate in a denomination that emphasizes and rewards “growth.” My first two congregations doubled in size, my 3rd has not so, so much of your blog resinates with me. A few thoughts: 1. Leadership in both growing churches came to me and graciously confessed that they had prayed for growth,but did not like it, because they were losing control. 2. I discovered the more the church grew,the less of a pastor I became. I discoverd that God had given me the heart of a shepherd, not a rancher. so…3. I accepted a call to a smaller congregation. Friends told me this was a career killer. (Interesting thought for a minister.) 4. My current congregation, based on the previous two churches, expected me to be the magic pill for growth. That has not happened, but God has certaily put to death the oversized ego of one of His under-shepherds, and my flock is starting to learn the lesson of dying to self, so stay tuned…. Thank you for a wonderful article.

    1. Glenn:

      I like the distinction between a shepherd and a rancher. But what are the parishioners to do when the goal of growth is expounded by the *pastor*. What if the congregation is happy being a little flock, but the pastor feels that he’s supposed to be working with a large herd, and *he’s* the one pushing for a growth that the people in the pews are uncomfortable with?

  53. bartster

    A FB friend posted this link. I read. I’d like permission to share with our group of pastors and with our congregation’s leaders. I’ll also be bookmarking this blog on the strength of this article.
    Meanwhile, I’ll also try to get a grip on what’s being said! Powerful indeed.

  54. Laura

    Like many others who have already responded, I found you via a FB link from a clergy colleague. As I read it aloud to my husband, he chuckled many times and believes that it is well worth sharing with my congregations. Since I wholeheartedly agree, I am asking your permission and will certainly give credit where credit is due! (Thanks in advance!)

  55. Adrienne Koch, Special Assistant for Communications at Duke Chapel

    Please remove the photo of Sam Wells preaching in Duke Chapel from this blog. You do not have rights to the photo, which was taken by one of our photographers. If it is not taken down within 24 hours, the matter will be pursued further.

    1. Ms. Koch,
      There seems to be a misunderstanding.
      I found this image at this web address:
      The licensing information given at Wikimedia Commons clearly states that I am allowed to distribute this image, so long as I give credit to Duke Chapel, which is listed as the author. I acted in good faith and conscience in making use of this image, carefully abiding by the criteria delineated at the website where I found it.
      Since it is not my desire to enter into a dispute over copyright privileges, I will remove the image immediately. However, if you do not wish for this image to be distributed in the future, I strongly recommend that you remove it from Wikimedia Commons in order to avoid further confusion.
      Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention.
      J. Barrett Lee

      1. Adrienne Koch

        Thank you for letting us know that it is on wiki commons. It should not be. Please remove the photo. I will have it removed from wiki commons as soon as possible.

        Sent from Adrienne’s SmartPhone

        The Theological Wanderings of a Street Pastor wrote: J. Barrett Lee commented: “Ms. Koch, There seems to be a misunderstanding. I found this image at this web address: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sam_Well_Preaching.jpg The licensing information given at Wikimedia Commons clearly states that I am allowed to distribute this “

      1. It’s okay, slycivilian.
        Ms. Koch is just doing her job.
        My email address isn’t listed here, so she had no way to contact me other than leaving a comment on this post. I fully intend to call her office in the morning, just to make sure that everything is now kosher.

      2. All is well, indeed. Ms. Koch and I communicated yesterday and the matter is now resolved. We parted ways with mutual pleasantries and blessings. No ill will or bad blood here.

    2. taizegoose

      I have communicated personally with Sam Wells fairly recently by email; perhaps he would let you have one of his photos of him preaching in his new place of leadership: St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, UK

  56. Anonymous

    Thanks for your words. I’ve been a pastor for 10+ years and have been in this congregation for 21/2 years. It sounded like you were talking about me and all the things I’m doing. How I pray for spiritual growth – for myself and for the folks in my congregation. I’ve been telling them I can’t grow the church – only God can grow the church. You’ve given me a lot about which to pray, a lot to hold onto, reminded me of some things I have overlooked and said so well what I’ve been trying to say since my arrival. Thanks so much. God bless.

  57. Jen

    I started my first call about six weeks ago in a small church that desperately wants me to help them grow, and this piece is exactly what I needed this week. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not the savior of the church, and for giving me permission to push and prod and stretch the congregation. Thank you also for writing this whole piece with the female pronouns… it may seem like a small detail, but it was amazingly refreshing.

  58. Pastor S.

    I appreciate that you did use a woman pastor in this hypothetical scenario. The majority of writers use the male persona. And loved this post. So true- so true!

  59. Charles Ryu

    Just like many pastors, may I request your permission to use this blog for for a newsletter, and sharing it in some small group setting, perhaps incorporating into my sermon. Blessings.

  60. Cam Conover

    When we ask this question: “Will this pastor grow our church?” or this question, “Will this person grow our youth group?” we are looking to the wrong source. Only the Holy Spirit grows the church. We should ask ourselves, “Are we seeking and following the leading of the Holy Spirit?”

  61. David M

    Our church has been in debate about the location of the American Flag in the sanctuary. Someone left this quote under my door today, anonymously.


    “When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.”


    What caught my attention was the the term “superior prominence”.

    1. Woah, that is really creepy. No way is that going to happen in my church. I avoid the issue nicely by keeping the flag tucked way back behind the choir loft. You can barely see it. It can stay there for all I care. This reminds me of the scene in ‘Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace’ when Dietrich rips the swastika flag from the front of the church and tosses it in the river.

      1. David M

        That is what started the whole issue, the flags were moved and people threatened to leave the church, etc. etc. So much anger, not much grace or desire to understand a different point of view.

      2. I think it helps to keep in mind what people were brought up with, and work with that. If they always grew up with a flag being in the church, then the arrival of some newcomer who says that they don’t belong there, without understanding the people, and explaining the history, is gonna ruffle a lot of feathers.

        When I was a kid, singing in the choir at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, right after the Doxology, we sang the last verse of “My Country Tis of Thee,” the one whose words are:

        Our father’s God to thee
        Author of liberty
        To thee we sing
        Long may our land be bright
        With freedom’s holy light
        Protect us by thy might
        Great God our king

        Nowadays I know many pastors who would have not only serious problems with that, but even with the tune being played as the postlude on the Sundays around Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Veteran’s Day.

        And quite frankly, an American flag in an American church is not quite the same with the Nazi flag in a German church. Our government is not demanding that we put it there, and our government allows us the freedom to remove it. We are not all Bonhoeffer, and we flatter ourselves to think that we’re all in his position.

        But once again, the key here is understanding…not only of the people, but of how change done too quickly and too hamfistedly can destroy a congregation. Some of you all too blithely say that if the placement of the flag in the church is such a big issue to them, then maybe they don’t belong there…without understanding the people, without understanding what they grew up with, without understanding that some of them (or their parents) fought to protect our ability to NOT have a flag in the church.

        Keep in mind that not everyone’s at the same intellectual level as you are, and remember that a lot of them are riding on emotions that they don’t realize they have, or that they can’t articulate well.

      3. Keith, I appreciate your comments. A few years after seminary, I’m much less likely force to my ideals on others. There is something very “faithful” about people who have stuck to a church and a community for generations. What good is pastoral leadership that does not respect the faithful?

  62. What you have said here is very much in line with Jason Vickers’ new book Minding the Good Ground. Renewal is God’s work! We cooperate, but we don’t program it. Thanks for this.

  63. I do understand the point. Fundamentally, numbers can never the aim. If they are, then you a. havne’t understodd what the churhc is for, and b. it won’t work (visitors semll desperation). BUT if a church is doing and being what it’s meant to be, sometimes (not every time) the numbers will folllow. It’s about being clear about the difference between purpose and result.

    1. Numbers *should* not be the aim, but in the end, putting bums in pews becomes the aim because certain people want to keep the church open and they need people to pay bills. Unfortunately in most cases the definition of “successful” ministry is how many people are there. Just go to a meeting of clergy who don’t know each other. What’s the first question they ask? How big is your congregation? If you missed the point, you’ve been missing a lot more along the way.

  64. Jen L

    Thanks so much for your wonderful words. You speak directly to where my church is currently at. Like many others, may I have permission to share this with my congregation, giving you full credit? Thank you!

  65. kevin hopper

    The church that I have now (unofficially) left is looking for a new pastor. I wish them ‘Godspeed’, but a clique of controllers and ‘Empire Builders’ have taken the focus from “Christian Community” to “Church Re-Construction”. Those who have been interested in a greater development of a deeper personal faith have quietly left, and I fear a new “Dead” church will arise out of the renovation of what was a faithful one.
    Churches are about people, NOT about buildings. Jesus knew this when he threw the money-changers out. I no longer get upset when I see a church being renovated into condos. It was probably dead long before the developers got a hold of it. And when the preaching of God’s Word is less important than ‘bums in seats’, not even a new pastor can resurrect that rotting corps.

    Thank you so much for your honesty as a pastor. It is definitely about the body of Christ—all of us as professing Christians—not about a single minister with all the weight of a church building falling onto their imperfect shoulders.

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  67. Richard Hong

    A faithful church is a growing church. Yes, there can be growth without faith, just as there can be works without faith. But just as faith without works is dead, faith without growth is dead. Because the gospel, faithfully preached and lived, inexorably draws people unto it. And if this author doesn’t believe that, he needs a spiritual reawakening.

    1. John 6:66 is one example of a very faithful community (Jesus’ community) that greatly decreased in numbers. Jeremiah was a very faithful prophet who suffered greatly because of his faithfulness. It is naive to assume that faith “inexorably draws people unto it.” Faith calls us to follow Jesus to the cross, not to follow Jesus to a 6-figure paycheck because 100s join your congregation. And, at the same time, I will argue that a faithful congregation is more likely to grow – but don’t tell me that Hosea wasn’t faithful.

  68. Anonymous

    Would love to share this with my church mission team! As a mother of a pastor and a life long church employee, volunteer etc. I really appreciate how well you spoke the truth about our churches today.

  69. Garry Hammontree

    From death you will be reborn. Everything changes – Everything stays the same. Personally the chaos in a changing church is painful. It kicks me into aviodance behavior. I understand the need for a church to be flexible and adapt to change. Hopefully this can be accomplished with willing Christian hearts. Unfortunately “good Christians” react to change in often unchristian words and actions. May God bless us all and give us the courage to stand in the fire of change and die to our personal fear and be reborn in the continued hope offered by Christ.

  70. Anonymous

    I loved your post and yes, found it on FB, with your permission would love to use it in my sermon to get them motivated for the new year, back to church Sunday and dieing.
    Thank you

  71. For those of us who are over 50, of which I am one, I believe we really need to reprogram ourselves on the fact that “the church” is not “the building”. “The church” is the people of God established by their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. “The Church” is the followers of Christ who have taken up the call to love God with all their being and love others as themselves. Far too often we look around us on Sunday mornings, remembering the way it once was, and want more people with us in “the building” to help us pay the bills to keep “the building” open.

    If we truly want to serve God and be “the church”, not “the building” that Christ has commanded us to be then perhaps we need to rethink where we are now and realize that in order to be “the church” we must spend time studying our Bibles, seeking God’s will, not ours, expand our horizons beyond our walls, deepen our spiritual lives and serve the community where we live to take Christ to the world. This is what Christ expects of us and it can never be a waste of time, even if the number of people that come to our church building doesn’t increase as much as we would like. Because in doing these things lives have been, and are being touched with Christ’s love by our actions. Christ calls us to be “the church”, not the church building, in the world. Jesus before he ascended back into to heaven gave us the great commandment to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Jesus commanded us to go and be the church, the body of Christ, and make disciples of all nations, not stay within our walls and wait for them to come to us. As one song writer once put it: “Bring them in, bring them in, Bring them in from the fields of sin; Bring them in, bring them in, Bring the wand’ring ones to Jesus”… not stay and hope or expect they will come to us in our church buildings.

    That being said, followers of Christ correspondingly have “the building” a place where we as the body of Christ can gather to celebrate the risen Lord, to worship, sing praises to Him, hear the Good News and study His Word together; a place where we can be built up to continue to go and be the church in the world. And this place should be a place of refuge and solace for us and others to come and learn and grow with us so that we can better serve others for our Lord. It should be a Holy Place; a place where when anyone walks onto the parking lot and into the doors can feel the powerful, peaceful, loving presence of the Holy Spirit.

    In view of this, I believe that neither “the church” as the body of Christ, nor the building that houses us as our places of fellowship, study, and worship, can grow without leadership. Pastoral eloquence, organization, insightfulness, amicability can be helpful in leadership roles. And I agree with Rev. Erik Gronberg that “leadership is a vital part of the process for this growth”.

    Although I too understand that in this blog you are challenging an assumption, too often I also think pastors use that line of thinking to justify not doing the very challenging leadership things that do grow a church. Focusing on scripture and prayer, challenging the status quo, pushing for missional budgets, and challenging our congregations to rise to the call of the great commission are indeed leadership tasks that a pastor can do to help a church grow; that can ensure our congregations are “dying to grow for Christ”.

    I also agree that too many clergy today, and church leaders, aren’t doing those leadership things because they have accepted the status quo and as such aren’t rising to the challenge. I also imagine that the things that need to be done are probably not the easy things either the leader or the congregation assume they are.

    What did the early church leaders do to grow “the church”, the body of Christ?

  72. Bruce Hiner

    May I also have permission to share this with my congregation? Many are not of Facebook, and so I would like to print it (with proper acknowledgment, of course!) and include it in our bulletin.

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      1. Anonymous

        Well,I suspect that you would be welcomed back at any time!()My name is actually Joan Gilligan-I was only anonymous because I pressed the wrong button)-I am so happy to have access to your blog-I will follow it with interest and share with my Sunday morning discussion group -Thank you

  74. Wow, lots written. True growth requires death and change, without we would just remain the same! If ones faith isnt changing them, it isnt saving them. So why would one not want to die daily and experience regrowth that is better than the day before? We christians are so worried about what each other is doing that we fail to take care of our own growth!

    wonderful blog.

  75. Such an essential message! When I was studying for my project management certification, I was struck with the apparently simple but actually profoundly complex reality of this sequence, the human-nature response to change:
    1. Confusion
    2. Fear
    3. Resistance
    4. Resentment
    5. Interest
    6. Enthusiasm
    7. Excitement
    As a veteran Vestry officer, I make a point of reciting this list whenever we seem to be getting down in the weeds when dealing with change in our life together. Change is inevitable, constant, and irresistible. How we recognize, accept, and support our parish family in transiting this sequence prayerfully, with eyes on the prize, can make all the difference between going aground on the shoals, or navigating the seas of change with flags flying. And we must always recognize that there is no single stream of change, but a multitude at any given time, at all stages of response, mirroring what happens to us individually and to the nation and world. The responsibility of any parish leader is to make this pattern of response visible and understandable to all, so our parish families are less likely to become mired in the first 3 or 4 stages; and so those who have reached the 5th, 6th, or 7th stages can reach a non-judgmental helping hand to those behind them.

  76. Everything you wrote sounds remarkably familiar! As a lay leader at a once large, now transitioning (read: dying) congregation that is figuring out how to remain relevant, those death throes are awfully challenging to put up with at times!

  77. Richard

    As a former member of 3 call comittees, the most recentl ending just a few months ago, I can say with confidence that asking ourselves the question of a pastor’s ability to grow the congregation was not on our tongues or in our discussion. We wanted a pastor who would love us, let us love him or her and challenge us to get out of the comfort of the walls of the church to be Christ’s light in the world. We wanted a pastor who could relate to our youth and help them understand that their faith could be an important and signifcant part of their growth….and relevant. The only issue I have with this article is the inference that pursuing social justice is limited to bleeding heart liberals. If we follow Christ’s command to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor, political ideology is irrelevant.

  78. Gloria Y Fredericks

    Not a Rick Warren fan. This may be true if growth is equated with numbers alone. But the fact is that although the actual body count in attendance may be on the decline there can still be an incremental renewal and expansion of Spiritual growth and development among the faithful few. Truth is that we ARE the church, and whether there are two or three gathered we are still a church. We have tangible proof that a mega church with millions in tithes are devoid of truth and spirituality the basic tenents of what is indeed the church.

  79. Pingback: A Growing Church is a Dying Church? « Ken G Crawford

  80. Your blog hits home for me. The congregation I now attend church with sounds almost exactly like your blog. The church is 105 years old, and its heyday was in the 60s and 70s. It was severely damaged by a flood that hit our city in 2008, but the congregation didn’t want to leave and they rehabbed the main floor. The basement is still a shell and probably never will be rehabbed. After fighting so hard to get back into the church the pastor of 38 years retired and for his retirement he went to help out at another church on a part time basis and not as a pastor. Over half the congregation left and went to the church where pastor had gone. Sunday services are now attended by 20-25 people most of whom are on Social Security. Bills have been outpacing offerings. It’s a struggle to pay bills each month. Recently a congregational meeting was called. 34 members showed up for the meeting. A vote was taken with several options for the church’s future. 20 of the 34 voted to close the church. All of the 20 are technically still members of this congregation, but most of them attend church elsewhere. Several members are scouring documents to see if they can come up with a technicality to void the vote, but I’m afraid they will come up empty. Unless there is a miracle, and a bunch of money drops into our laps I, personally, see no way the church can remain active even though I voted to keep it open. I felt we could find some way to keep going. It will break my heart to see this church close. I’ve been a member for less than two years and came from another church, different denomination, that closed due to an out of control pastor. At this church I have seen the same things you mention in your blog…..not liking the changing of the sanctuary, not liking the new pastor’s sermons, resistance to suggestions for some more modern music, which we were going to do gradually, by the way. I’ve heard over and over, “this is the way it’s ALWAYS been done”. I think you must have been hiding somewhere in our church observing and that’s how your blog came about. Just kidding. It’s sad, very sad. It appears I will be looking for another church to attend in the very near future unless that miracle happens.

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  82. jumeirajames

    If Christians (and others) stopped hanging round their church and being ‘led’ and got out into the community where the destitute, the diseased and the damaged live – the world would be a better place.

    Hymns, bibles, prayers, sacred buildings, rituals, proselyting, Sunday preaching – they are all meaningless, they are not what you are here for.

    If you must be a Christian for God’s sake follow him, do what he did. If you don’t? You are no Christian.

    Sorry, that’s the rules.

  83. Reblogged this on I Am with you always and commented:
    I had the privilege of a year of internship with this amazing and brilliant minister at West Point Grey Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, BC. I couldn’t have said it any better. In fact when I was seeking a call one congregation ask what my plan was to grow the congregation was, I asked, “What are your gifts? Its not what I will do, but what you are willing to do.” I didn’t get the call.

  84. anonymous

    I went to a church years ago and over most of a decade did much of what you described – rather than sanctifying the habits and arcane customs of a moribund congregation I went about breaking the stranglehold of a small group of power brokers and insuring the entire congregation had equal rights – I stopped the bullying and lies that had passed for `lay leadership` and revitalized the silent majority into an enthusiastic group who noticed with me that there were hungry children at an impoverished neighborhood`s school who needed to be fed.

    Instead of raising money for the bricks and mortar, we raised money for the hungry children, and then fed the whole school once a week. Suddenly there were teens in the choir and a rambunctious Sunday School. Attendance was up, marginalized people began to be active, wounded people found safe space. The Out Of The Cold coordinator cried because he finally felt supported. The worship space changed to be inclusive, accessible and welcoming to all ages, and children gathered around the altar on occasions as the eucharist (which was now weekly) was explained in ways that let them know they were not junior members, or future members, but Christ`s baptized beloved and full members.

    The vocal minority went to the diocese, determined to be their familiar country club-at-church once more. The diocese sent in a secular professional consultant who affirmed I was doing everything right to move the church into healthy patterns of relating, worshipping and living out the simple command `feed my lambs`. Once the Diocese had all the reports they did the only logical thing.

    they fired me.

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  86. Kathy Anne Price

    There are not adequate words to use to tell you how much this article encouraged my heart. It was nearly prophetic! I am a clergy woman, and what you have written has been my experience on just about every appointment. Our system simply lets the church “get another pastor” when they tire of my words about relationship, sacrament, social justice, mission, and so on. I place my hope in Christ that seeds of kingdom truth have been planted and that the harvest will be there after I am gone. That is something we must do; be willing to till the soil, plant the seed and then walk away and let the harvest come through the work of the Spirit. Again, thank you for writing encouraging words to me! Quite frankly, I was amazed that you used the feminine gender, and that made this so much more powerful. I printed a copy for myself for later dates. Blessings, grace and peace!!
    Rev. Kathy Price

  87. brotherbob

    I posted this to my parish website. It got one really personal attack from a new member who has joined the cadre of new members taking over, and a strange comment from the priest and a supportive (of the priest) comment from a cadre member, and then it was taken down. Ah, me, we are so busy biting back that we don’t notice Jesus sitting in the corner patiently waiting.

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  89. Thank you… thank you… thank you… thank you… thank you… Your words seems to lift a huge burden as I start my second year of parrish ministry while feeling under the gun for not having the numerical increase that so many desire. I was instructed to “grow the church” deep and wide; yet the only possible numerical measures would be in the wide department and there is no true way to account for the deep department. Maybe your words (which I shared with my session for their thoughts) will shed some sort of light on the ability to accept change by knowing that transformation requires death!!

  90. E Phyllip Jenyus

    The new Minister can kill your church. I am watching my church be destroyed by a new Minister who actually posted this on his FB page. He is egotistical and thinks that He is the church. A good leader does not ram down the throats the of his congregation the programs you describe. He leads the congregation and prepares them for the programs you describe. He fertilizes their minds during sermons and opens up the possibility of truly loving your neighbor, no matter who they are. He leads by example. The new minister cannot grow a church. The Minister is the fertilizer who grows the garden. Too much fertilizer will kill a plant. The minister at my current church is organic and there is way to much of him.

    1. David M

      Have people spoken to the new Minister about their concerns? If not why? If so and he or she refuses to listen to your concerns what plans or consequences does your church have in place to correct the situation?

      As a pastor I can say one of my biggest frustrations is the lack of communication. A plan of action I propose can be approved for implementation when in reality few want to approve but are reluctant to say so until they are in the parking lot and I am absent.

      A good congregation does not stay silent when they feel they are not being listened too. A good congregation is open, honest and confessional to each other and their pastor while striving to not be divided by the differences at hand.

      I completely agree with your statement “the new minister cannot grow the church.” If the church wants to grow the church must take responsibility for when a minister is throwing too much fertilizer. But at the same time communicate with your minister (and you may have, I am not sure) to see what his or her point of view may be.

  91. Jennifer

    May I print a copy of this blog entry (with author credit and web address, of course) to share with my Pastor Search Committee meeting?

  92. I really appreciate this blog entry, as it truly speaks the truth. It echos a good deal of what I write about in my new book Grieving Hearts in Worship: A Ministry Resource, published by AuthorHouse May 2012. One of the chapters is titled “When A Church Dies: Spreading Seeds of Faith – this chapter chronicles my journey with a congregation through the process of accepting death as a reality, but not as the end; rather as invitation to live out our faith in a new way.

  93. Your article brought me to tears as I read the story of our church as it currently stands. I would love to reprint this article for our newsletter. Where do I go to ask for permission to do so?

  94. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this…I too am asking permission to share this with my councils and possibly in a newsletter…of course giving full reference

  95. I find it fascinating that on one fb page the thread has sidetracked into a criticism about the use of non-inclusive language. I think the article is more powerful because of it, since, unfortunately in many places the thought of a woman minister itself is a change people dig in their heels over. As a woman minister, I probably find it much more amusing because this article has my context written all over it!

  96. revshelton

    Thank you so very much for this StreetPastor. My youth minister found this and sent it to me via Facebook. So very timely and appropriate. God bless you as you bless God. Js

  97. Robert

    as everyone is saying thanks for the post, want to use some of your ideas in my sermon this coming Sunday, perhaps might use your title for this post in the body of the sermon, was hoping to have your permission- many thanks!

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  99. Michael

    Pastor Lee: new to hearing this, and like the rest, blown away. First, thank you. Second, also wish permission to share some of it in my sermon this Sunday. I am 4 months into my new call after 6 years out of parish ministry. Your words are fitting and prophetic. Peace…

    1. Thanks Michael. It honestly means the world to me to hear you say that. In fact, that’s where this post comes from: my ongoing struggle with my own sense of call to ordained ministry. I feel like I’m constantly like Jonah on his way to Nineveh in the belly of the big fish. Hearing the voices of so many others with similar struggles has been extremely validating and empowering to me, personally. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. By all means, please do share away in your sermon!

  100. Thank you so much for those insightful and honest words. They have inspired me this entire week. I hope it was OK to blog about it at revchriscarrasco.blogspot.com I also plan to make copies for my Session and maybe even excerpt it in the church newsletter. As a Presbyterian female solo pastor in a declining church, this is exactly where we are and what we need to hear. I’m so glad you’ve gotten such an overwhelming response. It demonstrates how there’s so many in the same boat. Thanks again and blessingings on your ministry. Peace.

  101. Pingback: A Growing Church is a Dying Church « The Theological Wanderings of a Street Pastor | My Shoegaze Faith

  102. Thanks for this very informative and inspiring article (again shared through a few friends on FB)…

    Why would a single church want to grow to be huge anyway? Too many churches seem to be becoming a homogenous mass of one particular variety aimed at the youth culture (in my experience in the UK anyway), where older leaders are pushing for more youth to be involved in leadership (which is great, but when that’s all there is, where is the wisdom of the grey haired brigade?). They aim to become large, not by transforming peoples lives, but by rebranding other churches which seek to buy into the dream of being part of something that appears alive and well. Only after they’ve signed over the deeds of their property etc, and had their original pastor removed and replaced with one from the mother church do they realise it’s too late to do anything about it, and so either leave the church completely, disillusioned with church, or fall in with the new party line.

    One thing I can’t find mentioned by anyone on here is the way that churches that plant do seem to make a carbon copy of themselves, or believe that by copying another church’s methodologies, they’ll see the same pattern of numerical growth – eg lots of churches seem to want to be copies of the famous megachurches, so buy their merchandise expecting exactly the same result and sadly it doesn’t work for most (the copied church does get exceedingly rich from selling their products however). A local church is something that is a local phenomenon – what works in one town / church won’t work for another. There are different kinds of people, all connecting with the Divine Creator in different ways – eg a megachurch in Glastonbury, UK probably won’t occur simply because of the culture around in the area. Trying to copy a traditional church style there simply won’t work due to the spiritual nature of the large number of dwellers there. Church plants need to take account of this and maybe even take some risks by “doing church” (I hate that phrase!) in a very different way to the normal pattern of things. Modality and sodality are something the church needs to wake up and listen to in terms of how church can be in the 21st Century. http://sheffieldcentreresearch.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/why-modality-and-sodality-thinking-is-vital-to-understand-future-church/ has some interesting docs which can be downloaded explaining this, especially how we “grow” church from Jerusalem (the churched), through Judea (the fringe), to Samaria (the dechurched) and to the Ends of the Earth (the non-churched (or unchurched)). My wife and I are in the first few months of having set up something called Forest Church in the UK, where we facilitate spiritual seekers from all sorts of New Age / Pagan / Christian backgrounds to come and “taste and see that the Lord (Divine Creator in our tongue) is good” through the medium of the Creation around us – literally church without walls and in nature. People are coming along who fit all of the 4 areas mentioned in Acts 1:8 – an interesting balancing act, especially when pagans turn up 🙂 – but then even Jesus was partial to helping a Syrophonecian woman etc. It’s early days and we’ll see which way the face of God points, but we’re attempting to be true and listen to the Spirit. This is a sodal ministry, very different from the modal ministries which people often see as a church plant, and very different in style to the usual church service we see – lots of meditation (Ignatian / Lectio Divina), participation with nature in the worship of the Divine Creator etc (and yes, we do have a “mother” church (modal style) where we regularly worship and have a minister friend there with whom we have accountability – eg the churches of Antioch and Jerusalem).

    If you want to “grow” a church in the 21st C (in terms of numbers), you need to realise that we’re in a post-modern consumerist culture where spiritual shopping is de rigour. People are looking for experience rather than head knowledge these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m trained as an apologeticist so can reason well the fundamentals if required, but have experienced more success in pointing people to Christ with the “come and see”, “taste and see” approach. Some may label me a liberal, others a dangerous person to know, others an outright apostate – but then that’s exactly what they called Jesus. So, I reckon as long as Jesus is at the centre of everything we do, the principles are sound, then the practice is flexible / plastic (as long as it doesn’t compromise the principles). “Doing church” as we have done even 30 years ago simply won’t cut the mustard with a modern populous, despite the fact that those who were in church 30 years ago and are still there continue to try and do things they did 30 years ago simply because “Well, it worked back then, let’s get back to the good old days and do it again!”.

    If you want to “grow” a church in the 21st C (in terms of spirituality), seek the ancient paths and walk in them (Jeremiah 6:16). New fangled gizmos and high tech presentations won’t increase the spirituality / depth of the congregation. Teaching them how to access God / what a real quiet time means (compared to simply being a bible study – the two are not necessarily the same and shouldn’t be always so) and to take their spirituality “To Go” – out into the world 24/7, loving God, themselves and their neighbour in heart, soul, mind and strength. That will grow the depth which will always lead to an increase in numbers due to the “I want what they’ve got” mentality people have – the love for each other in the church and outside of it. Going into the dark places and being light. Greater is He that’s in us than in the world – remember that. There are no “No go” areas for God, and as his ambassadors, neither should there be any for us if we walk in his light.

    Ultimately, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. As long as you’re pleasing God all the time, don’t worry about the rest, God will bless you.

    Be Blessed for your amazingly honest and open article!

    1. Thanks Matt, I really dig the creative kinds of stuff you’re working with. I recently finished Diana Butler Bass’ ‘Christianity for the Rest of Us’ and it’s got me all jazzed up about spiritual practices in the congregation. Looking forward to seeing where it leads. I’m also stoked to hear about you making relational inroads with folks in pagan communities. I have a close friend who is an Asatru priestess (I was one of the witnesses at her ordination). The need for reconciliation and healing of past relational wounds (some of them a thousand years old or more) is deep, but too many Christians are scared to initiate dialogue with pagans. Keep walking the path…

      1. Cheers! Good to hear you have kept friends with those of other faith paths. Too many Christians go into ghetto style holy huddles, preferring not to speak to those who hold a very different worldview. There are many hundreds of years of “history” for Christians and Pagans to come to terms with (in both camps there is need for repentance and forgiveness and a willingness to share and learn from each other’s ways – if Daniel could do it and stay true to his faith path, why can’t we?).
        I will take a look at the book you mentioned – sounds good.
        I have a recommendation for you regarding Christain and Pagan dialogue… Beyond the Burning Times (a Pagan and Christian in Dialogue) by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega. Touches on the main aspects of each other’s faith and attempts to learn from each other. Taught me a good deal 😀
        Keeping on plodding along 😀
        Be blessed!

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  104. Ryan

    Thank you so much for this. I have shared your blog on FB as it was shared with me. I just finished the second year of my first call, and your blog speaks to my experience from top to bottom. I believe you have concisely named a widespread phenomenon that all who minister in “dying” churches wrestle with. For example, they say they are interested in new members, but in practice, they are only really interested in the ones who think, talk, look, behave, and are just like them. With your permission, I would like to copy and distribute this within my church, and maybe even presbytery. I would also humbly ask if you could keep my ministry in your prayers these next critical months, specifically that hardened hearts who are loud and afraid of losing their status-quo will not be a stumbling block to a silent, hopeful majority who are actively discerning new ways of being faithful.

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  106. Hi Barrett,

    Thanks for this. My friend Jason Derr showed me this a while ago; my church just tried a development project which didn’t work out the way we’d hoped, and I had to track this down and read it again for my own encouragement and (re-) education.

    1. Thanks for reading, Tim. They say our churches are dying just because we’re shrinking. I don’t agree. I think our qualitative growth just happens to be at odds with our quantitative growth at this particular moment as we begin to reorient ourselves in a post-Constantinian context. To reverse a biblical metaphor: we are going from being a “Temple people” (expensive, extravagant, stone structures) to being a “Tabernacle people” (light on our feet, mobile, flexible). From this new vantage point, we will be able to reclaim our potential as a community that knows how to “speak truth to power”. The last Reformation restored to us the priesthood of all believers. This next Reformation will restore to us the company of prophets.

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  112. Reblogged this on Starting Tidelands Missional Communities and commented:
    I find this post powerful and thought-provoking even though I am not engaged in a traditional pastoral “call” and Tidelands isn’t even close to an established congregation. Nevertheless, there are two truths here, that we already know, but I find very powerful because we need to keep reminding ourselves of them as we wrestle with change: 1. Jesus is the Savior (not the pastor, the budget, the programs, the building etc., etc.) 2. Following Jesus leads to the cross.

  113. Don

    This is the most ironic article I have read in a very long time. It criticizes the modern, the attractive, and the new and gives way to the undying truths of death. The second thing I noticed was the intricacy of the specifics used to describe all of the “wrong” ways of doing church and the broad generality of the “right” way–death.
    Had this article taken the same enlightened approach in applying the doctrine of death instead of just, what, “pontificating” about it, it would had discussed dead traditions that make God’s word useless and dead church members filling churches whose reputation is that they are still alive.
    One such modern tradition in the church is the woman pastor. Historically quite new, and numerically relatively few, the article meticulously and meaningfully makes sure his readers know he is willing to go against common grammatical use and let the world know that “she” and “pastor” can be synonymous.
    You see, having women pastors is one of those crazy, modern things that churches have embraced to save themselves. Despite the dogmatically unambiguous qualification for a church leader as being a “one-woman man”. The modern church with its newfangled ideas has determined that neither gender nor sexuality has any bearing in determining biblical leadership and has, as was prophesied by the apostles,”heaped to themselves teachers because of their ticklish ears.”
    Churches that defend their identities by calling themselves “progressive” might note that such a word is a comparative term to both past practices and to other churches who are not as “enlightened”. In other words, such a term denotes the kind of pride that must die in order for a church to truly move forward with God. Is this the kind of death this article was about? If so, I applaud.
    So, I say this: don’t try to grow your church by getting a new pastor, and by “new”, I mean that which flies in the face of centuries of applied doctrine. More specifically, don’t preach a doctrine of the crucified church while covertly touting a doctrinal belief that is diametrically opposed to allowing itself to die. It is the stuff of which beams and motes are made.
    As to the premise of the article, I fully agree. A church cannot look to anything except Jesus Christ for their security, hope, forgiveness and purpose. This includes pastors and preconceptions, modernism and mechanism, dangerous dogmaticism and helpful heresies. Otherwise, your church may find itself looking for just anyone to fill one of its pulpits–anyone, whoever she may be.

    I’ve always loved this quote: “Don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out.”

    1. My wife happens to be ordained, as a matter of fact. She came to it, not to save a dying church or “win one for feminism,” but because, after many years of study and prayer, she discerned the calling of the Holy Spirit. The Church has affirmed, guided, and blessed her in that calling. I thank God for them and for her.

  114. I too just saw this on Facebook and found it to be particularly apt since I will finally be starting my first call on Nov. 1 after a 6 month search. I can well remember too many confusing conference calls with search committees who wanted me to explain my strategies for growing the church back to what it used to be, and wondering how in the hell am I supposed to answer a question like that anyway. I believe that the churches I have been called to serve are very open-minded and willing to make changes and embrace new ideas, but reading this post reminds me that change does not come easily to most people – regardless of our best intentions. So I really appreciate this post, and hope that I will be able to find it on that day when I need it the most. Blessings…

  115. Reblogged this on Random Scraps of Thought… and commented:
    I don’t reblog very often, but every once in a while a true nugget of gold comes along that I simply have to share. I found this post to be particularly apt to my situation since I am starting in my first call in a couple of weeks. I believe that the churches that I am being called to serve are very open-minded and ready to embrace change, but this post reminds me that change does not come very easily to any of us, and we have to be gentle with each other as we try to figure out together what it means to be church in the 21st century.

  116. slh

    I just served as the chair person on our call committee. Our new pastor will begin in November. One of her strengths is growing a church. We did not call her because we want her to grow our church, but to lead us in teaching and worship so that we, the congregation, will be fed spiritually and filled with the Holy Spirit to work the Great Commission. I see it that she has come along beside us to work with us and guide us on our journey to understand and grow in faith to serve others. This sounds “churchy” but our congregation is many ages, many likes and dislikes of worship practices, and struggling to meet the desires of everyone. Which of course is impossible. Allowing the Lord to take the lead and waiting on His timing is what we need to remember and be patient with.

  117. Misogynist

    “He” is the accepted English gender-neutral pronoun. Furthermore, Paul tells us that women should not be in positions of spiritual leadership over men (such as a pastoral role). Unless “she” is a pastor of an all-female church, it’s biblically questionable.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly, Joe. In fact, I was a substance abuse counselor before I worked as a pastor. My career in ministry began among people in the earliest stages of recovery. When I wrote the phrase like that, I was trying to voice the inappropriately cynical tone taken by the kind of self-righteous Christians who look down on the very people Jesus loved most… because they needed love the most. I’m sorry that the message wasn’t clearer in my post.

  118. David

    The thesis is sound that for Life to happen there must be Death. Death can be “old ideas and presuppositions.” Many of Jesus’ parabies suggest that theme; mustard seed and leaven/yeast. The theme of life out of death can be found in any field of study or endeavor. To learn and develop as a species we must learn how to die daily…so that new life may emerge.

  119. Thank you for this very well written, thought-provoking article. It was shared with me via Facebook, and I have reposted the link. I hope it continues to get the readers/attention it deserves!

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  121. And, sometimes your pastor won’t do any of the things you listed. But you will pray because all your efforts to help revitilize your church, have been killed or shot down. You will have seen scores and scores of younger (30-55 year olds) leave the social club you call a chuurch. And when you pray, you will hear a voice say: “why are you trying to build up, what I am taking down”. And then you will understand that the church you have been trying so hard to fix, is to far gone, has hurt to many people, and He’s ending it.

  122. Robert

    Well, I’m seeing this for the first time after being online for several years. While I agree with a lot of it, some of it is not right. I’ve had 38 years of ministry. With the exception of two years, all the rest saw a significant increase in attendance and change. Three of the last four were very broken when I arrived. What they needed a positive person with a vision. Part of the change is that I followed Pastors who were dead from the neck up. Some were just holding out till they could retire. Went to a 1,000 member congregation with less than 130 in attendance is a large urban congregation in an ethnically changed community. Church had a 60% increase in attendance in four years. Many of the older people died off. Many Baby boomers did come back, bringing friends. This was in the 90’s when praise music was just beginning in older churches. We had a mixed service. Older hymns to newer tunes sometimes. It was an intergeneration/ethnically diverse congregation when I left for personal health reasons.
    The pastor can be the key to change, a catalyst for change. Or the Pastor can be an obstacle. The Pastor who follow had never been in any church but single cell, family oriented churches. He didn’t shake hands with people, could not be found during the week, finally after a year and a half went on medical leave and people still don’t know know what was the problem 10 years later. He was followed by an arrogant, pushy pastor who had a very visible affair. The two of them destroyed everything I had spent years building. But the people who left dispersed to other churches where they were able to be change agents, so I am grateful, but very disappointed. Church is back to less than 130 attendance now. Huge building/ 600 seat built in 1920’s Monumental style. Children/youth building which could hold 300 which was empty. Rooms rented out to non-profit ministries. Only thing keeping it open is six millionaire families. Pastor is now expected to do everything. Use to have a staff of a number of professional ordained clergy. Now just one. Their only outreach is hosting a community band couple of times a year.
    Just ranting

  123. Anonymous

    You might be one of those Christians that doesn’t get it if you start your response with:
    “I’m not a fan of Rick Warren”

  124. Peanut Gallery

    The indefinite third person she is annoying, and therefore detracts from the article. Then again, perhaps it reveals something. If there’s no indefinite third person he, neither is there an indefinite thirds person she. To affect it, as here, is to proclaim that the author is firmly in the camp of Leftism. The past 50 years have witnessed a number of Leftward movements in the church, and as Leftism has dismantled traditions, the church has declined. Leftism has failed the church, and yet the prescription from the Left is… even more Leftism. This baffles the mind. You could not sell this if it were snake oil, yet the church continues to throw good money after bad, so to speak. In any other organization, policies that led to failure would be revoked and the policies in place during a period of success would be reinstated. Once you notice the grip of failed leftist policies on our national institutions, you’ll see it everywhere. Enjoy the decline!

    1. Rick Warren she is the pastor to Saddleback church, which has leant its name to a new kind of birth control. Not to be confused with Rob Bell, who has been cast into the fires of hell by her church. (Suspected of being pastor to Natasha and Boris)

    2. That’s quite a bit to extrapolate from pronouns.
      I spend most of the article advocating for more Bible study, community outreach, deepening our relationship with God, and following Jesus in the way of the cross and resurrection.
      Does any of that sound particularly ‘Leftist’?

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  130. I have listened to Joel a few times while waiting for time for me to go to church. He tells things that this old fella said, that are cute and keeps your attention. He dont preach a lot from the bible.I like to hear a preacher ,preach what Jesus said,not uncle Joe or Aunt Sally said. Judging from the attendance that is what they want to hear. What ever gets people to church is what is important .

  131. Dr. Leonard R. Ezell

    Reblogged this on Musings On The Mysteries and commented:
    This is indeed a hard word to hear, but a necessary one in our time of shift and change. I might add that what often happens when the pastor (as hero leader) does not “save” the church – she or he becomes a scapegoat. And the cycle happens all over again with the next one.

  132. Lloyd R. Jphnson

    New people will always visit your church. How do we get them to come back? Answer that and build a thriving consultant’s business.

  133. William R. Memmott

    They let you get away. They hired a nincompoop with endless ridiculous “paradigms.” They pushed me away, and they wonder why they closed their doors. We just hired a new secretary who is a professing Christian. Wow! And Sunday, we sing “I will arise” and “It is well with my soul.” And they wonder why new people keep coming and taking hold of ministry.

  134. Pingback: A growing church is a dying church | Baptist News Global Perspectives - Conversations that matter

  135. Pingback: Church Growth and Death of a Church | Musings on the Metro

  136. Pingback: More Grace. A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 | Seeking to Build a Bridge

  137. Mark

    People who want to be entertained, expect their pastor’s charisma to be a magnet to increase membership. Some pastors are cut out for that. If the congregation is willing to pay for a rock star, they will find one.

    Unfortunately, genuinity requires the people to do the real work. Most faith communities cannot afford the magnetic priest, anyway.

  138. Seve Pudinski

    Great article. Would like to share it with a few close Methodists I have the pleasure of serving every week. It might stir something in them. May I have your permission to use in my church. Blessings and thank you in advance.

  139. Anonymous

    Good article. I do have an issue with all the “she” s. Other than the phot, one would infer that there are no male pastors who would focus on sanctification and evangelism.

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  141. Very many of the “warehouse” churches that brag about how they are growing yet say nothing about their high turnover rates. It’s good for a mission church to be growing but not every church can grow. This is very true for churches whose long term pastor retired. People quit coming because “their pastor” abandoned them and there’s little or nothing the new pastor can do to reverse that.

  142. James Berreth

    Constantly referring to a pastor as “she” doesn’t make you cutting edge or show how progressive you are. It only shows how little you know about church structure.
    And when you say, “sounding like a Jesus freak evangelical”, is this supposed to be an insult to evangelicals? If calling us Jesus freaks is supposed to be an insult than you failed! I will endure and even find fulfillment and joy in any insult you throw my way.
    Lastly, whether a church is growing in numbers or not is not indicative of its health. What fruit it’s providing for its people and for God is what is important.

    1. Friend, it seems you have misunderstood the thrust of the article. I agree wholeheartedly with your point on qualitative over quantitative growth. The post is a call for spiritual renewal and missional engagement for its own sake.
      The death I am encouraging is the death to self that Christ calls us to undergo in the gospel.
      My comment about evangelicals is not an insult, but an echo of the kind of insults that good pastors often receive from their congregations, see similar comments made about pastors being too liberal or too catholic for their congregation’s taste. The best pastors are accused of being all of the above.
      As for the question of gendered pronouns, I addressed this in another article, link below:

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    1. Wow. Thank you! I had no idea I was on the radio today! Which sermon was it?
      Funny coincidence, I am from NC (in Michigan now) and my wife is a Davidson alumna. In fact, she worked at WDAV while a student.

  144. Pingback: Mi-ar fi plăcut să spun eu asta, dar e doar o traducere | Pasarea Phoenix Remixed & co

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