Course Corrections to Church Growth – by Jason Swann

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We took over a 36-year-old church rebounding from the moral failure of their Senior Pastor on the other side of COVID. We came in as the third pastor in five years, so as you can imagine, there were trust issues and resistance. Now, at its peak, the church averaged about 800 people a weekend. With our arrival, there were 452 people. That was Mother’s Day weekend 2021. The next weekend, we had 2,400 people attend church!

Sound like a big jump? That’s what happens when you connect with the hunger in your community.

Right now, we have more people serving on dream teams today than we had in total attendance our first weekend at the church. Over a thousand people have given their lives to Jesus in 2021 and in 2022. It’s been incredible!

“Why are you counting all those things, Pastor?” Well, I’ll tell you. First and foremost, we count so we can assess how our work is going. If we have a thousand salvations but the church only grows by a hundred people, then we need to have a conversation about our front door and back door – how big is it?

I’m all about revival because if revival is taking place inside the four chambers of people’s hearts, then it’ll take place inside the four walls of your church. Its butts in the seats. It gets a bad rap today, and we all we all hate talking about it, but the truth is it’s one of the greatest assessments of our discipleship processes.

When people ask me why the church is having so much success, why the church is growing, I tell them I started praying to God like He is the Lord of the Harvest. I’ve heard pastors say their churches aren’t growing because of some sovereign plan, that God’s just not “here” right now, or that He doesn’t want their church to grow. That is so false. My dad always preached this: “God wants your church to grow more than you want your church to grow.”

When I changed my prayer language and stopped treating God like He was holding out on me, that He was somehow in the way of our church growing and my desires for that church to take place, and when I started believing God wanted my church to grow more than I wanted it to grow, church growth took place.

That’s what God wants! He wants to bring people in. He wants to entrust you with the people that He’s desiring to save and to see you nurture, disciple and help become everything God created them to be.

So there were three things in taking over the church that we tried to eliminate, and I believe that in the natural realm they’re the greatest decisions we made:

  1. Unnecessary complexity. I have some books to share if your church is really complex. The average church in America has more ministries than people who attend it! They have way too much complexity. Here are two great books you should read:

“Simple Church” by Thom Rainer – A phenomenal book that will help you figure out which parts you love, which parts you don’t, and what to throw out because you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins – A more corporate book, but it will help you realize that the most successful organizations are not adding things year in and year out. The most successful organizations churches are the ones who are removing unnecessary things that aren’t working.

A case in point for us: We’re growing. Every service that we have is growing. You know what we did? We cut our 6pm Sunday night service. We cut it, not because it wasn’t successful but because it wasn’t as successful as what we’re seeing with another time slot. Now we pour our time and energy into our noon service and really make it the feature of our weekend so that we can grow towards it.

Reduce the things that are not producing growth. That is mission critical. We say it on our websites, everywhere. We are a simple church with laser focus.

  1. Unhealthy mindsets. I was amazed at how few people had complete control of our church. There’s a great book on this if you need to eliminate unhealthy mindsets. It’s called “The Energy Bus” by John Gordon. I strongly recommend it. We are going back through it as a staff for the third time since I’ve been the leader here, and it is unreal the kind of unhealthy mindsets that develop. They’re like weeds that, unless you’re consciously going out and picking them, they’re going to grow. When you don’t pay attention, unhealthy mindsets spring up.
  2. Underdeveloped leaders. What if you, as a pastor, pour into others and they leave? That’s a big reason some don’t take the time to develop leaders. I say, “Well, what if you don’t and they stay? You want more on that? Check out “Developing the Leader within You” by John Maxwell. This book does not just translate to you. You’re always the lid. The leader is always the lid, but what I needed to know was how I could raise the lid not just for myself but for every one of my team leaders. This book is great. We use it in our leadership academy twice a year.

You know, I think too many pastors go to conferences and think, “We’ve got to do that!” They come home and add this and that to the week’s agenda. I prefer to be really simple – so simple that we only have eleven staff members. That’s everything from grass and janitorial to teaching and hospital visits. We’re simple by choice so that we can replicate it week after week, campus after campus. We’ve already got our home church in Garden City, Kansas, and a campus in Plains. Three more campuses are on the way! So if what we’re doing can’t be replicated week after week from place to place, we won’t do it. We just won’t do it. And please don’t think we’re in a big city. We’re in a small county – there are millions of cows and only about 30,000 people!

Let me give you two more books to read that I think will spark something inside you:

“Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman – It’s not a spiritual book, but it really rocked my world last year. It hurts your feelings in all the right ways and challenges you as a leader to shut up and listen to what’s going with your staff, on your teams, and in your church.

“Emotionally Healthy Spiritually” by Peter Scazzero – If you as a leader are growing, and if you are emotionally healthy, then many of the details will take care of themselves.

I hope you take the time to check out some of these great books. I’m confident they’ll help you do what needs to be done to advance the kingdom in 2024.

To recap, three of the greatest decisions I believe you can make to see unparalleled church growth this year are to eliminate unnecessary complexity, attack unhealthy mindsets, and do the work of developing your leaders. And don’t forget to constantly evaluate your church’s effectiveness. What worked at one time may not work today. Be open to letting go and changing things up as the Holy Spirit leads you.

Thank God for the leading of the Holy Spirit and all He’s promised us as leaders of His church. But if we want to see growth this year, we’re going to have to provide some action and permit the Holy Spirit to move in and through our ministries. I’m in! Are you?

This blog was created using content from the webinar Why Churches Will Grow in 2023-2024.

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