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.
The leaders of growing churches almost always share a common attitude.
So do the leaders of declining churches.
And the attitude has a huge influence over the results each church sees.
Attitude may or may not be everything, but it’s close.
Here are five attitude differences I see again and again in growing churches and declining churches.
1. WE CAN VS. 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 favorite 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.
When you sit around your leadership table, do you come up with 20 ways to make it happen, or 20 reasons why it won’t work? That tells you far more about your church than you probably want it to.
Growing churches believe they can. It’s that simple. And even if they’re wrong, at least they tried. The mission is important enough to take significant risk.
2. THEM VS. 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 VS. PREFERENCES
Declining churches focus on their members’ 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 their members.
Growing churches don’t.
Instead, they focus on the principles (even strategies) that will help them reach new people.
Is your leadership team principle-driven or preference-driven? There’s a world of difference between the two.
4. PROACTIVE VS. 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 VS. 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.
In addition, too many church teams meet for the sake of meeting.
If you can’t remember the last time you made a major decision that changed the course of your church, your leaders are wasting their time.
If you talk about the same issues meeting after meeting with no resolution, you’re not leading, you’re spinning your wheels.
Does that mean you have to act on everything? Well, yes and no.
If you’re not going to act, strike the item off the agenda and move on.
If you are going to act, act. Now.
Just make a decision and move on with it. Don’t get stuck in the no man’s land of believing the lie that talking about things solves things.
As my friend Casey Graham says, action produces traction. So act.
So attitude is one thing, but believe it or not, there are large, invisible barriers to growth most leaders miss.
Whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 in attendance, the principles in my Breaking 200 Without Breaking You Course will help you gain the insight you need to break the barrier more than 85 percent of churches can’t break. Even churches with attendances of 500+ are finding the material helpful as they try to reach more people. And megachurches are signing on to help with breakthroughs at their campuses.
If you want to move past the barriers holding you back, I have some deep practical help.
Breaking 200 Without Breaking You is a course I’ve created that provides strategies on how to tackle eight practical barriers that keep churches from reaching more than 200, 400 and ultimately over 500 people.
And it’s designed so I can walk your entire leadership team or elder board through the issues. Each course comes with a dozen licenses so your team can do this TOGETHER.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
What are the attitude differences you’ve seen between growing and declining churches?
Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today’s top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.