June 5, 2018 Tony Morgan

Trends in Growing & Declining Churches | Episode 44 | The Leadership Unstuck Podcast

Surprising Findings from Our Latest Review of the Numbers

In this episode, Amy and I dig into some fascinating findings from The Unstuck Group’s most recent edition of The Unstuck Church Report. Just to be clear: this isn’t a comparison of big versus small. The data includes churches that average fewer than 100 people and megachurches with 2,000+ people. The factors correlating to growth and decline seem to be irrespective of your congregation’s size today.



In this video, we discuss:

  • Why having multiple styles of worship may not entice a bigger crowd

  • Why offering small groups that meet in homes rather than on Sunday morning may be the best approach

  • The surprising reason why having more volunteers might not mean more growth

Join the Conversation:

How do you empower your congregation to simply invite people to your church? What other ways have you found that help your church grow? We’d love to hear your thoughts by commenting below or using #unstuckchurch on social media.

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Podcast Transcript

Tony Morgan:


Hello everyone, before we get into today’s episode of the Unstuck Church podcast, I have a new resource I’m excited to share with you. For years, pastors have told me they feel stuck and that’s ultimately why I started the unstuck group, but this month I’m offering a brand new tool to equip you to lead in unstuck church. It’s my first ever online course. I took a look at the 12 most common issues I’m singing in churches that get stuck and I developed out a full path to equip you to lead a church to health and growth. If you were a lead pastor and executive pastor or a lay leader, or if you’re not a ministry today, but feel called to pastor someday, this content is for you. It’s practical. You’ll get action steps in each lesson to begin putting the things you learn into practice. I believe it will give you the confidence and training you need to break barriers to health and growth in your church. We’re including a private Facebook group, and we’ll have special live events for the participants. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Enrollment is open today, but we’re only keeping it open for a few weeks so we can make sure to really engage with and support this first group going through the course. Check it out courses.theunstuckgroup.com.

Amy Anderson:


Welcome to the Unstuck Church podcast. I’m Amy Anderson here with Tony Morgan. Each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck. And today we’re sharing some learnings from our Quarterly Unstuck Church Report. Tony, you posted something on Instagram last month, and I believe a series of articles that followed that highlighted what we’re learning to be the differences between growing churches and declining churches. Um, so let’s start there today. What, what prompted that post Tony?

Tony Morgan:


Yeah. So, well, first of all there’s going to be some math here, Amy. So are you ready? All right. Because yeah, all, all the numbers. Geeks love podcasts like this because here’s what I did: I looked at all the data we’ve collected for the Quarterly Unstuck Church Report, and I pulled out all the churches that just had seen a slight increase or a slight decrease or they were just kind of plateaued with attendance and just compared the data from the churches that had grown by more than five percent in attendance over the last 12 months with a percent more than 12 months. Yeah, you’re doing well. You’re keeping up. And I compared. So basically compared the data from those churches with the churches that had declined by five percent or more over the last 12. So, uh, like I said, stripped out all the data from the churches in between and just compare the churches that had seen a lot of growth with the churches that had seen some significant, I would say, decline.

Tony Morgan:


And by the way, as soon as I started posting pictures of this and writing articles about this, immediately some people started to jump in and explain why big churches are horrible and why small churches are better or vice versa. In both groups—the growing group and declining group—It included all sizes of churches. There were churches less than 100 people in both groups, and there were churches bigger than 2000 in both groups. So whatever camp you’re in. If you’re the advocate of God only likes small churches or God only likes mega churches, we have information in this podcast to make you all upset. So that’s, that’s the way I like to approach things.

Amy Anderson:


Well, whenever we talk about growth, growth always sounds positive, right? We like to be in that group. But again, does growth alone mean health? Tony, as you’ve looked at this?

Tony Morgan:


No, I’m not always. There are some healthy churches that are growing. Um, but uh, but in the case, in this case, when we look at the data specifically comparing these two types of churches, in this case, it appears that the growing churches are also healthier if making new disciples is also an indicator. Because when I compared the data from both groups, the growing churches, we’re making more disciples. If you looked at the percentage of salvation and baptisms compared to attendance, the growing churches, we’re actually making more new disciples. And so, so basically we’re looking at churches that have a combination of growth and health in this case.

Amy Anderson:


Gotcha. All right. So Tony, let’s dive in. What were some of the key differences that you saw between growing churches and declining churches, like, specific to their ministry approach? Are there strategies? What were some of the key differences?

Tony Morgan:


Yeah, so Amy probably for you and the other ministry consultants at The Unstuck Group, none of these are going to be a surprise. We would have guessed them, but now I actually have data to show that this is the case. So one of this, again, it might be a surprise for some people, but it really wasn’t a surprise for us was this: declining churches are more than twice as likely to offer multiple styles of worship on Sunday morning or whenever they do their weekend services. And it’s a bit counterintuitive because one would think if we offered different styles of worship for different people, we will experience growth as a church. But the reality is when we look at the data is showing actually the opposite is true twice declining churches are twice as likely to be offering different styles of worship and as a result of that, I do believe this is one of the reasons why they’re stuck or in decline is there. It’s almost a form of trying to do too much. Trying to offer too many different styles of worship can get churches into trouble. So that was

Amy Anderson:

06:35                       per issue that they aren’t really that clear

Tony Morgan:

06:38                       you’re trying to reach. Yes, yes. Yeah. So the second maybe surprise for some people was this: growing churches tend to be more outward focused. In fact, let me get the specifics here. Growing churches are offering worship experiences where people are more likely to invite someone new. In fact, what we’re seeing is they’re inviting nearly 60 percent more first time guests to their services than declining churches. It goes back to what you mentioned earlier, Amy, they they know who they’re trying to reach. Then they design worship service experiences that will connect with that person, and then they offer specific next steps to help that person take their next steps toward Christ, but what we’re seeing in growing churches, they’re reaching far more first time guests because of that intentionality, and then one of the other trends we’re seeing is growing churches are attracting a higher percentage of kids, and again, these are all related to my mind, so there’s this focus on reaching young families. They’re creating ministry environments that are attractive to their kids and as a result of that, they’re reaching their kids and their parents. So these are all interconnected, but some of the key differences when it comes to ministry reach that we’re seeing between growing churches and declining churches.

Amy Anderson:


Got It. Well how about that whole part of ministry connection where people are connecting with one another? What are the key differences there between growing and declining churches?

Tony Morgan:


Well, there’s some interesting things here as well. So the first thing that jumped out to me is this: now again, you’re going to have to listen closely, but less than half of declining churches offer home groups. Well, nearly two thirds of growing churches offer groups in homes. So there’s just a, there’s much more focus on not only a discipleship path, but specifically home groups, small groups in homes. There’s much more focus in growing churches in that approach. The ministry strategy, um, I think the data gap, there’s pretty compelling. I mean two thirds of growing churches are offering home groups while less than half of declining churches are related to this, too, and this would be for all smaller gathering. So we’re talking about participation in home groups or Sunday school or whatever other alternatives there are to encouraging people from moving to a large group gathering to a small group gathering.

Tony Morgan:


The participation in these smaller gatherings is higher in growing churches as well. So one of the common myths that we’ve heard, Amy, is large churches are growing. Churches are solely focused on the weekend service. Well, there is focus on the weekend service, but what we’re seeing is the data shows us in growing churches, there’s actually a higher participation in the smaller gatherings to whether that, again is this. Yeah, that’s right. So whether that’s a small group or Sunday school or whatever those smaller gatherings are, there is a lot more intentionality to connecting people and those types of relationships. Community as well. And then the third, which was just fascinating to me, but I’ll explain my thinking of why this is occurring is volunteer engagement is actually higher in declining churches and that I could what I mean because I’ve always been all about encouraging people do engage people in serving through the years because I don’t know.

Tony Morgan:


Well for one thing, it was part of my discipleship journey as I took steps using the gifts that God has given me. It was part of my spiritual formation, and I’m now the fact is in growing churches on average, they’re still connecting 40 percent of their adults and students in regular serving opportunities. So there’s still a high level of engagement and growing churches, but it was even higher and declining churches and I think a couple of the reasons why that’s the case is this, growing churches tend to reach more new people. We talked about that a few moments ago and our data confirms when you’re reaching more people who don’t yet have a relationship with Jesus, there is a lag than once they connect to the church on when they start to give money and when they start to give their time.

Tony Morgan:


And so as we’ve talked for years about the giving lag that exists in churches that are reaching new people, some who may not even have a faith in Jesus. Yet it takes time for them to not only take steps in their faith but connect to the church and then give their money. And I believe we’re seeing the same thing happening with their time to actually think it’s worth. It was. It sounds a little convoluted, but in the past it was easier to ask people for their time than their money. But in today’s age I think it’s actually easier to ask them for their money than it is their time. Time is the more restrictive commodity in our lives, so I think that’s the first reason why volunteer engagement is actually higher in declining churches, but the other is this, and Amy, we see this all the time.

Tony Morgan:


Declining churches tend to be more mature churches, and they tend to have more ministry programming, and the reality is, yeah, if you want to offer all kinds of programs and all kinds of events, you’re going to create all kinds of opportunities for people to volunteer. But the other thing that we commonly hear in those churches is people are overwhelmed; they’re overburdened; they’re burnt out serving because the same people are serving in many different ministries. That’s right, and even though volunteer engagement is high in those churches, we commonly hear we don’t have enough volunteers, especially for the most critical ministries of our church. And so after I thought about “Why is it that volunteer engagement is higher and declining churches?” I think those are some of the core issues that may explain why engagement is higher, but the church is probably still struggling in some respects, not only with volunteer engagement but other areas of ministry health.

Amy Anderson:


Uh, were there any other key differences between growing and declining churches?

Tony Morgan:                       13:39                       Amy, there were, there were some key differences. There were some key differences around ministry leadership and finances, but we’ve already covered a number of surprises from this data in today’s episode. So I kinda like cliffhangers when I’m watching a show on Netflix, and it helps with a feed that binge watching thing in me, so we’re going to leave a little cliffhanger and in a future episode come back to talk about some other differences in growing churches and declining returns.

Amy Anderson:


Alright, that sounds good. Well, hey, thanks for joining the conversation today. If today’s information interested in you, we invite you to subscribe to the quarterly unstuck church report at the end, theunstuckgroup.com/trends. And as always, we hope you tune in again, especially for the cliffhanger for the next episode where we talked about it again. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts, and we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, especially on these topics. So join the conversation on social media using #unstuckchurch, and finally you can learn more about how the unstuck group helps churches get unstuck at theunstuckgroup.com.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.