Of the approximately 300,000 churches in America, 90% have 350 or fewer attendees, with an average church size of 75. (Statistics courtesy of Duke University’s National Congregations Study)
These are staggering statistics when you stop to think about it. Historically speaking, the majority of churches never grow beyond 100 attendees.
In addition to the ultimate measure of church success — which is people meeting Jesus and learning to follow him — churches have often tracked attendance growth and giving numbers to inform themselves on whether or not they are succeeding. But there are other metrics for success churches should also be tracking.
Success starts with a strategy
Success starts with a strategy, and strategy is all about casting a big vision, and then outlining the small steps that it takes to get there. Strategy is different than vision. It’s the next step after that.
Here’s an example.
Let’s pretend you have a vision to expand your children’s programs from just Sunday morning to include Wednesday night so you can better engage the kids that are showing up with their parents. You’ll find you need a few things:
1. Additional volunteer support
2. New curriculum
3. Financial resources to purchase the curriculum
4. Bookkeeping support as you run the campaign to raise curriculum funds
5. A communication strategy to inform your church about the change
Now you’ve boiled a larger vision down into actionable steps where progress can be made. This is a huge success.
Begin by looking at where you want to go, and then prioritize a list like the one above. Which item is most important? Which is easiest to achieve first? What resources will be needed to make progress?
1) Remove roadblocks
Carey Nieuwhof has a great blog post on this topic, “8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark.”
I encourage you to read the whole thing, but to summarize, most churches don’t grow because they centralize control in the hands of too few people. The pastor is responsible for everything. Or all decisions, no matter how small, must go through board approval.
Practices like these don’t empower volunteers, and often lead to pastoral burnout. In his mind, small church success starts with addressing these areas head on.
2) Invite more people to the party
You can’t achieve success in ministry alone. Invite members of your congregation to the party. Be transparent on the vision, the steps to get there, and the potential concerns. In fact, hand over the reigns and empower people to manage certain aspects.
Giving this invitation may not help you grow your total church size, but it will increase the depth of relationship within your church body. We like to call this inviting more people to the party. Equipping people to do the work of the ministry is one of the primary purposes of the church.
3) Grow your partner network
When you have an excess of needs, and a shortage of resources, sometimes bringing in outside partners is a great way to grow. Here at Pushpay and eChurchGiving we’ve developed a partner network that we make available to churches. This includes support such as bookkeeping, social media, and educational curriculum. You can read more about it here. Developing your partner network can set you up to succeed by equipping you with resources you wouldn’t have been able to afford as a specialized staff role.
4) Be faithful to your calling
The final measure of success is perhaps the most important one, yet it’s incredibly difficult to quantify. Are you faithfully pursuing your calling? And are you encouraging the people in your church to do the same?
Faithfulness is not always glamorous, and it often goes unnoticed, but it’s one of the purest forms of success we can achieve.