I’ve noticed in talking to different church leaders that they can use language to describe an unseen barrier that is restricting their church growth. They may say they are ‘stuck’, or describe a glass ceiling. A number may be put on it, meaning the leader isn’t sure how to push part the attendance number of 100, 250, 400 or whatever.
Leaders Can Help Or Hinder Church Growth
Churches either grow, or they do not. This growth may be quick, or it may be slow. There can be seasons of acceleration, and times where the opposite is the case. Whilst growth may seem arbitrary and random, there are certain decisions church leaders make that impact the church growth of the congregation they lead. Jesus does indeed build the church and cause it to grow, but we, as shepherds, most definitely have a part to play. Having a flock of sheep is one thing, but knowing how to lead them, where to lead them, when to lead them, and how to lead them in different seasons is another thing entirely.
I’ve noticed that there are four seasons of church growth, each with its own flavour and character. None are better or worse, but by identifying what season our church is in, we can adapt our leadership to make the most of the current season and set ourselves up for the next.
I’m using the language of ‘season’ because seasons share consistent factors year to year, yet can still be different. Summers can vary in heat, winters may or may not have snow, and some springtimes are wetter than others. Yet, we all identify traits for each season. Seasons also transition into the next seamlessly. Fall isn’t announced with every tree suddenly becoming leafless, for example. So it is with these seasons of church growth. There will be overlap and shared characteristics, or even competing characteristics, as seasons blend together. All this is to say that this idea of church seasons is meant to be a helpful diagnostic tool and not a formulaic template used to create cookie-cutter churches. I simply wish to highlight beneficial leadership practices to help churches continue to grow – numerically, and in maturity. In effect, so we would know what to do with the season we find ourselves in.
Knowing Your Season of Church Growth
I want to be clear and say that numbers of attendance or membership is NOT the indicator of a church season. Attendance and financial giving may well be clues, but the season is revealed by the mentality of the leaders, especially the Senior Leader, and the people. I’ve seen churches of different sizes in each of these seasons, some of which have remained in the same season for too long. Seasons are all key, but we certainly don’t want to remain in winter forever. Experience has shown me that the most common reason for a church not moving into the next season was because of elements of leadership in the church who didn’t want to change.
The four seasons of church growth I’ve identified are:
The Organic Season is normally right at the beginning of a church’s life. All hands are on deck, everyone is involved, and there is an energy and excitement amongst the busyness. Money is tight but no-one minds. The family feel amongst those part of the church is palpable as everyone has their say, and they seek to see others join them.
The Catalytic Season is characterised by a strong leader who begins casting a vision for the future. Growth is happening and new initiatives and ideas are springing up – there is no shortage of creativity during this time. It can feel a little like a rollercoaster and not everything works out, but there are the beginnings of a leadership team, even if the senior leader is ultimately making the decisions and doing the lion’s share of the ministry.
The Multiplication Season is marked with many focused leaders making things happen. Ministries multiply, succeed and are sustainable. The church has an increasing number of paid staff, and instead of mostly generalists, the majority of the team are specialists focused on one main area. There may even be staff on the payroll who are not in a pastoral or ministry role but in non-secretarial high-level administrative function.
The Strategic Season is flavoured by critical mass – there is no shortage of resources, whether people, leaders, finance or gifting. Perhaps campuses, church plants or multi-services are routine in the life of the church. Whatever the church does has a level of excellence and success about it, and growth seems to come naturally without even trying.
These are the four seasons I’ve observed. Each season has its strengths and challenges. I’ll spend the forthcoming posts examining each season in-depth more thoroughly, including the main challenges, risks and key steps for each.