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We planted New Life Fellowship in 2019 - about a year before the pandemic hit. All of us were (and still are!) passionate about church: growth, strategies for engaging with the community, and discipleship development. We had no clue what was coming: we were excited, hopeful, and brimming with anticipation.

Personally, I imagined us growing in leaps and bounds... then the pandemic hit. The world shut down, and we were forced to re-imagine everything. Our church growth strategies had to adapt - and they did (aided in no small part by the church management tools we used.)

Today, we are more convinced than ever that Jesus is the answer to the problems each individual faces - and we want our church to grow in influence, impact, and strength - so we could spread the GREAT news of Jesus as far and wide as we could.

How important are numbers?

Numbers are key, of course. Over and over throughout the New Testament, we see evidence that Jesus/the disciples tracked numbers (baskets of bread, number of disciples sent out, size of crowds, etc).

Pure numerical growth is a red herring, as Mark Banyard writes in this article exploring the most important church metrics. Just because you're seeing more people come through your doors doesn't automatically mean you are reaching more people for Jesus.

This is exactly why so many church growth strategies are a dime a dozen and so many of them don’t yield the results you were hoping for. I’ve seen which strategies are actually effective and which ones aren’t going to help you grow your church like you think they will.

In this article, I am going to define “church growth strategies,” discuss the stages of church growth, and outline concrete church growth strategies to put into action. By the end of this article, you’ll have a much clearer idea as to what will work for your church and which strategies might have your church leaders looking for newer ideas.

I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Jesus (matthew 16:18)

Answering "What Is A Church Growth Strategy?"

Short-ish Answer: A church growth strategy is a methodical, well-crafted plan for increasing your church’s vibrancy and impact, centered on the transformational power of Jesus Christ.

Longer Answer: First, we must answer the question, 'What is church growth?' Then, we can define church growth strategy. At its simplest, church growth is what happens when we, as pastors, faithfully teach the Word of God, equip our church body to actively make disciples, and foster a grace-based community. In that environment, both old and new believers are equipped to trust Jesus more every day and follow Him more closely.

Numerical growth happens as a by-product of these activities. We will find ourselves in a world of trouble when numerical growth becomes the primary goal, with Jesus becoming secondary.

A church growth strategy, then, is a methodical, well-crafted plan for increasing your church’s vibrancy and impact centered on the transformational power of Jesus Christ.

The Red Herring of Church Numbers

The Red Herring of Church Numbers

Is numerical growth a bad thing? Of course not. The book of Acts talks about how 3,000 new believers were added to the new church in a single day (Acts 2:41). However, church growth is always the by-product of faithful ministry, and should never be our primary goal.

Here are four reasons why:

1. Pursuing numerical growth can lead to prioritizing attendance and membership statistics over the spiritual growth and discipleship of individuals (Matthew 28:19-20).

2. In an attempt to attract more people, churches may water down or alter biblical teachings, compromising the integrity of the gospel message (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

3. Emphasizing numerical growth can divert attention from the church’s primary mission to worship God, teach the Word, and care for the congregation (Acts 2:42-47).

4. Focusing on increasing numbers can result in superficial engagement with church members, where relationships and community are not deeply cultivated (Hebrews 10:24-25).

How To Lead Church Growth Initiatives

The Great Commission is a mandate for everyone (pastors, church leaders, and members alike) to go and make disciples. As we seek to disciple more people, the number of those who encounter the Gospel will grow.

Most importantly, Jesus is the Author and Perfector of our faith. He said that if HE is lifted up, HE will draw all to Himself. Our job is to lift Him up, and He draws the crowds and does the transformation.

When I [Jesus] am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Myself.”

John 12:32

Start with Jesus.

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

Yes, we can learn many valuable skills from core marketing strategies, like how to start a podcast, take your church worship experience to a new level, understand SEO, and define a clear online and offline process for church visitors.

All that being said, church growth strategies can look like

While these things are great and can really help us to make significant inroads into the world, they are ultimately meaningless if Jesus is not front and center.

Things to Do:

  • Ensure your sermons and public messaging consistently point Jesus as the ultimate source for life transformation.
  • Make discipleship a major focus of your church activity. (Veteran pastor and church leader Ed Underwood wrote an excellent article for us, Build to Send, about developing a culture of discipleship.)

Look for Needs in Your Community

Our communities are filled with hurting people, and Jesus came to heal and save the lost and broken (Luke 19:10). Identifying and addressing these needs is crucial for meaningful impact. By engaging with the community, you reflect Jesus’ love and compassion.

Things to Do:

  • Allocate time during your week to meet with other community leaders. Take them for coffee, and ask about their needs and concerns.
  • Spend time serving meals or assisting at a homeless shelter and pay attention. Look for specific areas your church could help.
  • Spend several weeks walking through your community, praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal ways you and your church can be an impact.

Love People the Best You Know How

Prayerfully consider, with your leadership team and church, how you can best show love to those in your community (John 13:34-35). Demonstrating genuine love can transform lives and build lasting relationships.

Things to Do:

  • Host a free barbecue to build relationships with neighbors.
  • Assemble and distribute care packages with essential items for specific groups in need.
  • Provide practical classes, like budgeting or job skills, to help community members.
  • Work with your leadership team and members to brainstorm more ideas...
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Understanding the Stages Of Church Growth

From planting a church to figuring out how to manage a church that has been around for over a century, the work of figuring out effective church growth strategies is no easy task. Good church management, though, means digging deeper and discovering what core values we can cultivate in our local churches to grow no matter the season of life church goers may be in.

The most important factor in church growth is not the size of the church, but the quality of the people in the church.

Thom Rainer, 'Church Growth: Strategies That Work'
the stages of church growth: conception, alignment, multiplication, stagnation, and decline
The 5 stages of church growth.

According to Rainer and studies by Barna Group, the most important factor for churches that grow is the quality of church members that make up that church community. This means that no matter the stage of church growth you may find yourself in, investing in people will continue that growth beyond your current situation.

Now, let’s walk through the average stages of church growth and growing pains which all churches have to go through at some point. From conception, to alignment, to multiplication, to stagnation, and, sometimes, to decline.

1. Conception

The conception stage doesn’t have to refer to church planting, but it does refer to the point in which staff members, church leadership, or an inspired lead pastor decides that things must change in order to keep growing. During this stage, staff members are largely non-existent, worship services are run and organized by teams of volunteers, and church needs are minimal.

As a church moves through the conception stage, they start to grow from small groups of determined and fired up volunteers to churches of 200+. For churches re-entering the conception stage, this looks like stripping all church activities down to the bare minimum and reassessing every action to determine whether it stays or goes (use accurate, regular church finance reports to help assess this).

As a bit a rabbit trail (hey, it's a fat rabbit!). here is a double handful of this year's best church leadership conferences. )

2. Alignment

The alignment stage is characterized by the point when vision and mission statements become more important to sustaining the church as it becomes more difficult to make the church community feel like a cohesive unit.

This can present itself as growing pains when people start to trickle out, but the unchurched are continuing to join the community faster than people are leaving. For established churches working back through this growth cycle, this is when long-attending church members become frustrated and leave or double down and become your most valuable volunteers.

3. Multiplication

The multiplication stage is the part of church growth everyone looks to as the pinnacle of the entire church growth process. Attendance is trending ever upward, fundraising is a breeze for every mission trip, and you are at the stage where you can start dreaming of planting more churches.

However, this is when, if you aren’t careful, your front door becomes a revolving door of churched and unchurched alike just coming and going at a constant rate. The church community can start to unravel here if church leadership isn't on top of things.

4. Stagnation

The stagnation stage is where many church communities begin to realize that their church growth strategies are no longer working. People aren’t as involved, they aren’t as plugged in, and attendance begins to start to dip downward.

As long as you are still catering to the hurt, the lost, and the broken, then things are going to be okay in this stage, but it’s time to start thinking through how to change direction before hitting the final stage of church growth.

5. Decline

This is, definitively, the opposite of church growth. There may still be small groups and bible studies going on, but people are checking out and have completely lost interest in outreach, evangelism, or discipleship.

Churches in the decline stage can either start stripping things away, asking difficult questions, and move back into the conception stage or they can choose to close up shop and pass along their knowledge and stories to the next generation of churches. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Find out more about how to close a church here.

8 Effective, Biblical Church Growth Strategies

1. Remind Your Leadership Team of the Big Picture.

Every church growth strategy starts with clear goals. For us, Jesus set these goals explicitly: to make disciples of all nations, baptize them, and teach them to obey His commands (Matthew 28:19-20).

This foundation ensures that our efforts align with His mission, focusing on spiritual growth and faithful obedience rather than just increasing numbers. By keeping Jesus’ instructions at the forefront, our strategies are rooted in biblical truth and aimed at true transformation.

Practical 'Big Picture' Tips:

  • Don't fall for the 'copy-paste' approach to church growth, the 'strategy' of copying another church's approach or tactics. Prayerfully consider, with your leadership team, what God is leading you into for YOUR community.
  • Define 'growth' for your specific church. What is the next step your members need to take? Develop your plans around equipping them to carry Jesus into their everyday lives.

Clearly defining what you count as successes and failures throughout this process is often overlooked and underrated. Spend time discussing goals and successes, so you have areas to push toward rather than some ambiguous idea of “growth.”

2. Investing In People: Build a Culture of Discipleship

Investing in people requires prioritizing relationships over programs. Focus on personal discipleship, mentorship, and community involvement. Equip and empower church members to grow in their faith and serve others. By building strong, supportive relationships, the church fosters a caring environment where individuals feel valued and motivated to contribute. This investment in people nurtures spiritual growth and creates a ripple effect, encouraging others to join and engage with the church community.

Practical 'Investing in People' Tips:

  • Pair experienced members with new or younger attendees for spiritual guidance and support. This fosters personal growth and strong relationships. An excellent resource for this is "Beginning in Grace", a discipleship manual available on Amazon.
  • Create small group meetings for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. These intimate settings encourage deeper connections and mutual support.
  • Provide training for members to develop their leadership skills. Empowering individuals to take on roles within the church nurtures a sense of ownership and investment in the community.
Newly updated, 'Beginning in Grace' (available at bulk discount here) has been used for many years, by thousands and thousands of believers. It's a powerful discipleship tool designed to be worked through in a discipleship pair.

3. Be Easy to Find! Open Your Digital Front Door.

If someone looks you up on Google or social media, will they find you? If you think people aren’t checking out your church via the website and deciding if they are going to visit in person, think again. Increasingly, social media and a church website are your church's first impression.

When you realize that your website, your online content, and the online interactions of your church members are typically the first point of contact with the unchurched, then you can start making plans to adjust and course correct. Spending extra time on your digital front door is a great first step for churches of any stage of growth.

This means learning how to utilize tools like SEO (search engine optimization), social media, content marketing (think blog posts, newsletters, podcasts, etc.).

Practical 'Be Easy to Find' Tips:

Josh's Recommended Examples:

Josh's Recommended Examples:

Open Door Fellowship in Phoenix, AZ, Valley Church in Vacaville, CA, and Grace Life Fellowship in Baton Rouge, LA have great websites to check out for inspiration. As well, New Life Fellowship and Elora Road Christian Fellowship (both in Ontario, Canada) do a great job of giving a good online first impression. Check out this list of bible study podcasts or this list of bible podcasts for other examples.

4. Create Unique Online Experiences

In-person events and worship services are essential to the church. However, recognizing that some people can’t or won’t attend in person necessitates creating engaging online experiences. These can cater to both remote attendees and regular members, offering live-streamed services, interactive Bible studies, virtual prayer meetings, and engaging social media content. By investing in online platforms, the church can extend its reach, fostering community and spiritual growth regardless of physical attendance.

Practical 'Online Experience' Tips:

  • Provide high-quality live streams of worship services, including interactive chat options for engagement.
  • Facilitate virtual small groups or Bible study sessions using platforms like Zoom or Google Meet.
  • Regularly post devotional content, updates, and interactive posts on social media to keep the community connected.
Quick Tip for Driving Social Engagement

Quick Tip for Driving Social Engagement

When New Life Fellowship, the church plant I helped to start and where I currently pastor, first began, we used a simple trick to drive online engagement. During the live streams of our Sunday Service, we had a volunteer working the live chat, interacting with people, calling out key points of the sermon, asking reflective questions, and copy/pasting bible verses.

This was great, for a couple of reasons. First, it showed folks tuning in that we were prioritizing them and their experience. Second, the algorithms liked it – a lot. Those streams got triple or quadruple the exposure.

5. Partner With Other Organizations

American churches have often competed rather than collaborated. Partner with like-minded, growth-focused, discipleship-oriented local churches to host joint community events, mission trips, and outreach programs. A united front showcases a strong, supportive community, encouraging the unchurched to participate.

Practical 'Church Partnership' Tips:

  • Plan and host events such as food drives, festivals, and service projects together.
  • Collaborate on mission trips to pool resources and impact more lives.
  • Create small groups with members from different churches to foster broader community ties.
Josh's Recommended Examples:

Josh's Recommended Examples:

For several years, I served as web director for Elora Road Christian Fellowship, a church in Elora, Ontario. One of our leaders and staff members spearheaded a collaboration initiative called ‘Elora House’ – a safe-house for women rescued from human-trafficking. By uniting with other local non-profits to combine resources and expertise, we were able to create a powerful and effective partnership. Check out Elora House for more.

6. Define a Discipleship Pathway

An organized discipleship process is vital for church growth. This clear pathway for spiritual growth motivates people to join and stay engaged. It helps individuals grow in their faith, which in turn fuels overall church growth.

Practical 'Discipleship Pathway' Tips:

  • Develop clear steps for new believers to progress in their faith journey.
  • Pair new members with seasoned believers for personal guidance.
  • Continuously evaluate and adjust the discipleship process to ensure it meets the needs of the congregation.

7. Offer Services Tailored to Your Community

Traditional Sunday services may not suit every community. Consider tailoring your service schedule and format to fit the needs of your local community. Perhaps there is a specific need in your community (ie: a different language group, or other need) that an alternative service type may reach.

Practical 'Community Worship' Tips:

  • Provide services at different times, such as evenings or weekdays.
  • Offer both large community worship services and smaller, intimate gatherings.
  • Regularly seek input from your congregation to better meet their needs.
Josh's Recommended Examples:

Josh's Recommended Examples:

Next Level Church in Fort Myers, FL, is a great example of a mid-sized church that combined strategies #7 and #8. Recognizing the growing Spanish-speaking population, they introduced a Spanish-language service. This strategic move allowed them to connect with and serve their local community’s needs more effectively.

By carefully planning, over-communicating the changes, and engaging volunteers, Next Level Church ensured the new service’s success. They addressed potential concerns, emphasized the importance of preparation, and fostered a culture of participation. This approach not only expanded their reach but also reinforced their commitment to bringing Jesus into every corner of their community.

8. Adopt a Local Mission Mindset

One of Jesus' final mandates for us was to 'go into all the world'... today, though, the world has come to us. Reach out into your community and engage with the various people groups. Hurting people are every where, and that is where we as the church can shine. This approach inspires members, leading to natural church growth.

Practical 'Local Mission' Tips:

  • Community Projects: Engage in local projects like park cleanups, tutoring programs, or health clinics.
  • Support Local Causes: Partner with local organizations to address pressing community needs.
  • Visibility and Presence: Be a consistent and positive presence in community events and initiatives.

Four Church Growth Pitfalls

While you are figuring out and adjusting to strategies you are implementing, make sure you aren’t falling into some of the most common pitfalls for those who are growth-focused.

1. Don’t Lose Sight of Your Mission

Part of the reason churches end up moving into the stagnation phase is because they stop focusing on their mission and vision. Keep reiterating your mission until people are sick of hearing about it. Make sure every church member knows the goals of their church and can share them with others.

One of the activities that halts church growth in its tracks is trying to use the same strategy as the church down the street. What worked for them may not work for you. What worked for a bigger church in another state also won’t work for you. Trust the Holy Spirit, look for local needs, and love people.

3. Don't Chase Numbers

When numbers become the primary goal, it’s easy to compromise on core values and dilute the message to appeal to a broader audience. This can result in a congregation that’s large but lacks depth in discipleship and community. Moreover, chasing numbers can create a consumer culture within the church, where attendees view their participation as transactional rather than transformational.

Please, don't chase pure numerical growth.

Please, don't chase pure numerical growth.

Authentic growth, rooted in spiritual maturity and genuine community, often suffers when the emphasis shifts from faithful ministry to mere attendance metrics. Prioritizing numbers over substance undermines the church’s mission and can ultimately hinder long-term growth and health.

4. Never Neglect Prayer

When prayer is sidelined, the church operates on human effort rather than divine guidance, often resulting in burnout and ineffective ministry. A prayerful foundation ensures that decisions and actions are aligned with God’s will, fostering a community that relies on His power rather than their own. By prioritizing prayer, churches cultivate a culture of dependence on God, leading to authentic growth and spiritual vitality.

Growing your church comes down to a) trusting the Holy Spirit, b) looking for the needs in your local community, and c)loving people the best you know how.

Joshua Gordon

Final Thoughts

My sincere hope for you and the church you’re pastoring is that you focus on true, biblical growth rather than merely chasing numbers. By investing in people, partnering with other churches, and embracing online tools, you can foster a vibrant and impactful community. Remember to keep prayer at the center of all your efforts and to develop a clear discipleship process that nurtures spiritual maturity. Through these strategies, your church can grow authentically, deeply rooted in faith and service to your community.

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Joshua Gordon
By Joshua Gordon

Joshua Gordon is a lay-pastor, author, and editor of TheLeadPastor.com. Over the last two decades, Josh has worked closely with pastors and other christian leaders, helping them to sharpen and elevate their messages. Today, Joshua pastors at New Life Fellowship, a thriving church he helped plant in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.