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Focus on Church Growth

Just one third of Seventh-day Adventist local churches in the U.S. report that “every phase” or “almost every phase” of their church activities are “focused on church growth.” One in four says that each element of their church activities operates independently with no central focus or goal.

Many experts agree that one of the key elements in positioning a congregation for growth is to have a strategy that is comprehensive, with a functional role for each unit of church life. We found that this item correlates with church growth at a significant level when growth is defined as increasing the percentage of adult church members involved in activities beyond the weekly Sabbath School and worship gathering.

Why do so many local churches either neglect to develop a focused approach or find it hard to get all of the church departments and groups to collaborate? From our consulting interviews with pastors and what we have gleaned from focus groups with pastors, there appear to be several reasons:  

(1) Many congregations seem resistant to any kind of planning or strategy, locked into a round of activities that have become ritualized over the years. Going through the motions seems to be more important than taking the time to evaluate, think through a strategy and develop a plan.

(2) Small congregations (those with 100 members or less) seem to be particularly susceptible to this syndrome and a large percentage of Adventist churches fall into this category.

(3) Because pastoral staffing in Adventist churches often does not provide the level of care most American church-goers expect and denominational leaders have said things like “nurture is a bad word,” many lay leaders are resistant to focusing on church growth, instead wanting a more balanced approach that places equal or greater focus on the needs of church members.  

Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that inner-focused congregations become less and less able to meet the needs of their own members and soon slide into decline, while outer-focused congregations generally do a better job of meeting the needs of their own members even though they are focused on meeting the needs of non-members.

Discussion Questions: 

1. To what extent is every phase of our congregation focused on church growth?

2. What would it take to get each department, group and program in our church to participate in a collaborative planning process?

3. Should we appoint a planning task force to come back to us with a specific proposal for a strategic planning process?

The Adventist Congregations Today book and CD-R and Faith Communities Today (FACT) contain information about local churches similar to what you’ve just read.

Paul Richardson
Executive Director
Center for Creative Ministry

Creative Pastor e-Newsletter, August 9.2006, Center for Creative Ministry