Look Before You Grow: Managing Church Growth


When a church begins bursting at its seams, its leaders will sometimes use the expression “This is a good problem to have!” Steady, healthy growth is something most church leaders dream of.

But as with most dreaming, there comes a moment when leaders wake up and see that the blessing of growth brings with it some new and difficult challenges.

How can leaders successfully manage the promises and pitfalls of church growth? This post is part one of a four-part series on managing the phases of church growth: from living room to leased space; from single campus to multi-site; and from plateau to new growth.

Whether your church is just beginning to outgrow its first gathering place or is long overdue for a surge of growth, there are some things your leaders should know.

  • True and lasting church growth is literally the Lord’s work. The Lord is the true builder of His church, according to Matthew 16:18 and Ephesians 2:18-22. It is spiritual work first of all.
  • A church has to know its context and its constituency in order to grow in a sustainable way. Those churches that have sustained their growth have done so because they researched, identified, and embraced their ministry context and the constituency they serve.
  • A church should study its DNA. Regardless of the phase a church is moving into, it’s a good time to evaluate what makes them the church they are. Why has the church grown as it has? If it’s because of qualities that are part of its DNA—say, small groups or expository preaching or caring for the community—then the church should work hard to ensure that those qualities stay central to its identity.
  • Growth brings both new opportunities and new challenges.
    • A growing church can expand its ministry reach.
    • A church that’s growing usually can improve ministry quality.
    • A growing church needs more resources—personnel, materials, property.
    • Growth, especially rapid growth, takes a church into unknown territory.
  • Growth will not automatically continue unabated. Such factors as geography and demographics will place a limit on the growth potential of a given church. Also, growth needs to be properly managed, or the church will get in its own way.
  • Growth can be caused by any number of factors, not all of them good or sustainable.To see this, you need only to imagine 100 new attenders who have just gone through an acrimonious split from their former church. Unless leaders respond wisely, that kind of growth can damage a church.
  • Growth does not always indicate total ministry effectiveness. A church may grow because it has begun a great children’s ministry, for example, but other ministries in the church may be weak and ineffective. In that case, some of the church’s other ministries may need to be reshaped or dissolved so they don’t impede the overall work.
  • Every stage of growth requires these assets:
    • Visionary leadership that can persuasively answer the question, “Why are we doing this?”
    • Effective organization—a structure that serves, not hinders, the growing church
    • Adequate resources—people and money

What’s next?

A growing family requires its members to adjust to changes. The same is true of a growing church—which is also a growing family, after all. Whether your church is transitioning to its first facility, a multi-site model, or new growth after a plateau, the next three parts in this series will answer these questions:

What challenges will you face at this phase of growth? What opportunities does this phase present? What resources are essential? How can leaders navigate the choppy waters of change?

Up next: Look Before You Grow: From Living Room to Leased Space

Is your church currently in a growth spurt? What’s been good about this growth? What’s been difficult? What advice would you offer to other leaders?