Many churches think that quick growth is always a bad thing. Yet that isn’t what we see in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts. During those early years, thousands were turning to Christ in a days’ time. The problem is not fast growth, the problem is unhealthy church growth.
The early church discovered it must be organized to take care of their swelling numbers. That’s why in Acts chapter 6, the church appoints men for specific tasks. By doing so, the church’s needs were met and the ministers could give themselves to prayer, study and ministry of the Word. If a church does not follow this pattern, the result is unhealthy church growth will suffer. They will begin to experience “murmurings” like the early days of the church. If this disgruntled spirit continues, they will lose members and impede guests from visiting.
Sometimes God grants churches a season of unexplained numerical growth. The congregation seems to grow naturally without a real plan. Everything continues to roll along well for a period of time. The folks are excited about the church, they are seeing new faces in the congregation. And, they are encouraged about how God is using their church and are optimistic about the future.
All of this is wonderful and I certainly don’t want to downplay this excitement. And, as a pastor you need members who rejoice about seeing the church reach others and the pews filling up. Plus, you need that kind of encouragement that looks to the future. If you don’t have these two elements, along with a solid ministry of the Word, your church will be a spiritless place that actually repels guests. That is unhealthy as well.
But, when God gives numerical growth, it’s the church’s responsibility to create healthy growth. And, regardless of how exciting your church is, it won’t become healthy by accident. Church health is deliberate and it must be intentional. So for your church to be healthy it must have a plan. You must create systems to insure that your church is moving in that direction and avoids unhealthy church growth.
So what happens if your church begins to grow and you don’t have a plan to produce healthy growth? There are many scenarios I’ve seen manifest themselves over the years. I’ll mention just five and how to avoid them.
5 Ways To Avoid The Heartbreak of Unhealthy Church Growth
Number 1. Be Visionary.
If you are in a leadership position in your church . . . lead! Pastors, you can’t lead from the back or the middle, you must lead from the front. You must be a visionary and see where God wants to take your church in the future. When numerical growth begins to take place you need to know the direction to take them. You may not know all the details, but must have direction. Think about Abraham and Moses. Direction came first and detail later. Things will come in to focus as you begin to move forward. But, if you don’t have a plan, someone in your congregation will. The murmurings, like the ones we talked about in the Book of Acts will begin. Most people like organization, they want direction and they want leadership. But, if you don’t provide it as a church leader someone else will. And that is when trouble begins to brew.
Second. Be visible.
In the absence of clear leadership, a congregation will by default choose other leaders from among themselves. These often aren’t the most spiritual folks either. They have strong opinions and personalities. Think about when Moses was on Mt Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. The people thought he wasn’t going to lead them any further, so they chose others to lead in his absence. Read Exodus Chapter 32, if you’ve forgotten how that all played out. And, while you may be physically present, if you don’t show up as a leader someone else will. These situations always lead to division in your church.
Third. Be Organized.
If you’re not organized, your church will soon become a disorderly free-for-all. In the absence of leadership, your church can mirror the atmosphere in the Book of Judges Chapter 17 and verse 6. “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Ministries will become self-serving, factions will develop and a host of problems will follow.
Fourth. Be Engaged.
Pastors are often the last ones to know about trouble brewing in their church. So, long before you see this coming, other folks in your church already have. Listen to your most spiritual members. Keep a finger on the pulse of the church. Check it’s health regularly. If you don’t, some of your best folks will leave and you’ll be wondering why. You will be left trying to work through some of the toughest problems and the least spiritual members in your church.
Fifth. Be Mindful.
Think about those outside your four walls. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for the news to get around in the community. Soon the number of guests will taper off. Your church, that was growing numerically, will begin to decline because it wasn’t healthy. It will take years to repair the damage.
So what can you do? If God is blessing your church with numerical growth, enjoy it, rejoice in it and be encouraged by it. But by all means, lead your congregation and begin to plan for its future. Remember this season of growth may only be for a short time. Make sure you turn your numerical growth into healthy growth through careful leadership.