By Carey Nieuwhof
So what’s the difference between a growing church and a declining church? Well there are many, but one of the biggest differences I see is the attitude of the leaders.
1. We Can V. We Can’t
Perhaps the biggest differences I see between growing churches and declining churches is the attitude around what’s possible.
Growing churches believe they can. Declining churches believe they can’t. They’re both right.
One of my all time favourite quotes is Henry Ford’s “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.” He’s correct.
Growing churches make a way when there’s no way, which seems to be what God specializes in if you read the Bible.
2. Them V. Us
Declining churches focus on themselves. Growing churches focus on the people they’re trying to reach.
If your leadership table conversations are all about the needs and wants of your members, it’s a sign that your church is insider focused.
The mission of the church is to reach the world. Growing churches not only know that; they live it.
Besides, who likes to hang out with selfish people? And ironically, selfish people almost always end up in a very surprising place: alone. Because a life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone. That’s also true for selfish churches.
If you’re becoming smaller and smaller, is it because you’re selfish?
3. Principles V. Preferences
Declining churches focus on their member’s preferences.
Todd didn’t like the music. Allison thinks we’re not deep enough. Bill wants to start a new program.
And so the leaders respond, trying to please everybody. In reality, declining churches bend to the preferences of its members.
Growing churches don’t. Instead, they focus on the principles (even strategies) that will help them reach new people.
4. Proactive V. Reactive
This is a close cousin of points 2 and 3 above, but the difference is deadly or life-giving depending on where you land.
Growing churches are proactive. They choose their agenda and immediately get on issues that can impact their future.
Declining churches are reactive, letting members determine the agenda and reacting to problems as they arise. In fact, most declining churches are so busy reacting to problems other people raise that they never get around to charting a course for the future.
If you never get around to charting a course for the future, you will have no future. Growing churches have a strong bias for setting their own agendas, not in the selfish sense, but in a way that determined leaders see what the mission requires and decide to deal with it.
The leaders in a growing church simply refuse to yield to the agenda of others that would take them off mission. And as a result, they are far more effective.
5. Now V. Eventually
Growing churches act. And they act now.
Declining churches don’t. Declining churches don’t actually say they won’t act, they’ll just say they’ll get to it ‘eventually’, or someday, or ‘when the time is right’—which means never.
If you want to be effective, you act. If you want to be ineffective, you don’t. Talk without action has little value. And too many church leaders specialize in talk.
As my friend Casey Graham says, action produces traction. So act.