June 19, 2018 Tony Morgan

Trends in Growing and Declining Churches – Part II | Episode 46

More Surprising Findings from Our Latest Review of the Numbers

Two weeks ago, Amy and I started a conversation on some unexpected findings related to ministry leadership in growing and declining churches from The Unstuck Group’s latest research. As promised, we are back with more to share. While the results may surprise you, remember that the information is based on numbers and not opinion—even if the truth is hard to swallow at times.

In this video, we discuss:

  • The impact of mobilizing lay leaders on church growth

  • What span of care looks like in growing and declining churches

  • Why giving more people a voice is a mark of decline

Join the Conversation:

After you listen, let us know what findings surprised you. Comment below or join the conversation on Twitter using #unstuckchurch.

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Podcast Transcript

Amy Anderson: 00:12

Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast. I’m Amy Anderson here with Tony Morgan, and each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck; and today we’re sharing more learnings from our quarterly unstuck church report. And, Tony, you started this conversation last month in our podcast about what we’re learning to be the differences between growing churches and declining churches. So just before we dive in,

Amy Anderson: 00:35

remind us what prompted this discussion.

Tony Morgan: 00:36

Yeah, so again, you’re right. We talked about a couple of the categories from the report last month, and we have a couple more that we want to hit today, but it’s funny… As soon as we start talking about growing and declining churches, people were interpreting these to be my personal opinions on what churches should be doing to grow or decline. I’m just reporting the data folks, so you can argue with the data if you want to, but I’m not… It’s not me. Okay. It’s just me—I’m just reporting the data as I am reporting the news. Here we go. So what we did is we looked at the data from the churches that both grew by and declined by more than 5 percent in attendance over the last 12 months. In essence, we pulled out all of the data of all the churches in between because we wanted to see are there any differences that the data tells us between the growing and declining churches.

Tony Morgan: 01:36

And just as a reminder, again, Amy, this is not—this is not about the size of the church because both groups in the growing churches and in the declining churches, we had churches have less than 100 people in attendance, and we had churches have more than 2,000 people in attendance. So both sets of data included both small churches and megachurches. So this has nothing to do about the size of the church that has to do with the direction of momentum. Was the church growing or declining? And when we started to look at the data, we did identify some… some differences. In some cases there’s some significant differences between the two groups of churches.

Amy Anderson: 02:18

Well, let’s talk about growing churches first. I know in our conversation, you know, we, we know that all growth is not always healthy growth, but you indicated last month that these growing churches look fairly healthy, right?

Tony Morgan: 02:30

Yeah. In this case, you’re right, Amy, not—not every growing church we’ve encountered I would say has been healthy, and I’m sure even within the data that we collected from all these churches, there were some unhealthy churches that were growing, but overall, when you look at all the churches that were in the growing church category from the data, these churches were healthier if making new disciples is any indicator of health because the growing churches had a much higher percentage of salvation and baptisms than the declining churches did. So there’s some indication beyond just growth that these growing churches also are healthier than the declining churches that were included in this data. Okay. So let’s—let’s look to ministry leadership. Um, what were some of the key differences between growing and declining churches when it comes to ministry leadership? Yeah. This one was a bit of surprise to me, but I think there’s some explanation for it.

Tony Morgan: 03:32

But, uh, overall growing churches have fewer paid staff members than declining churches, and there’s a bit of a gap here. Um, so, and again, Amy, this involves math. So hang with me here at growing churches. Yes, that’s right. Growing churches hire one staff person for every 71 people in attendance. And by the way, when we look at staff, we’re looking at all staff, whether they’re in the ministry staff leadership role or a supporting ministry role support staff type role. And, Amy, as you know, uh, we look at both part time and full time and figuring out what the full time equivalent is. So growing churches hire one staff person for every 71 people in attendance, on the other hand, declining churches, hire one staff person for every 50 people in attendance. So there’s a gap there. If you work it out, then what that means is a declining church with a thousand people in attendance actually has six full time staff members more than a growing church with the same attendance.

Tony Morgan: 04:42

So adding more staff is not necessarily what you want to do to help your church reach more people. And the other… the other interesting fact around ministry leadership was this, and this was actually I think of all of the distinctives between the growing churches and the declining churches where we saw the biggest gap within the data. So you’ll want to listen closely to this growing churches develop and empower more leaders than declining churches. And here’s the data on this. The churches that are growing have one identified leader for every 11 people in attendance at the church. In other words, their span of care is one to 11. Essentially for declining churches though they only had one leader for every 19 people in attendance. And so you can see there’s quite a… there’s not quite double the amount of leaders and growing churches compared to declining churches.

Tony Morgan: 05:45

And so here you have to think about the level of ministry discipleship that’s happening in ministry teams in small groups and Sunday school classes, whatever the case might be. There’s a… there’s a healthier span of care when it comes to leadership in growing churches complete compared to the churches that are in decline. So again, it’s interesting, and it’s almost a dichotomy here. When it comes to empowering leaders, growing churches have far more leaders than decline in churches, but they have fewer staff members, and so that’s interesting. What that tells me then is, is growing churches are mobilizing lay leaders more effectively than declining churches.

Amy Anderson: 06:33

Yeah, that’s fascinating. It links a little bit to our conversation we had a week or so ago on just leadership capacity and pipeline.

Tony Morgan: 06:40

That’s true. That’s very true.

Amy Anderson: 06:43

Okay. So related to ministry leadership, um, there were also some pretty interesting findings related to board and committees. Talk a little bit about that.

Tony Morgan: 06:51

Yeah, and again, the data here is, it’s pretty amazing, and this is probably not surprising to you, but let me just, let me just give you these two, these two tidbits. The first is this, I always like it when I can include the word tidbits and one of our podcast. So here, here it is. Declining churches have twice as many committees as growing churches. Again, probably not a surprise, but what this tells me is that growing churches have streamlined their governance structure to eliminate any unnecessary committees. And then of course the meetings at those committee members are a part of and what this allows then is for more people to be engaged in ministry rather than going to meetings, but the other thing we’re seeing is it really does create a nimbleness, if you will, among the growing churches to make decision making happened faster and so they’re not getting bogged down in decision making.

Tony Morgan: 07:53

And I do believe that is a key difference that we see on a routine basis between growing churches and declining churches. The other complimentary factor here is growing churches have smaller church boards, so if you strip away all of the committees and just look at the overarching board, whether that’s an elder board or whatever your structure is, that top leadership board, the average size of the church board in growing churches is only six people. The average size and a declining churches is eight people so slightly larger. And in fact we’ve seen some churches, one church board, they had over 200 people on it. I would not. It wasn’t a megachurch by any means. So the data really does confirm what my gut has known for some time, giving more people a voice in decision making about spiritual matters and ministry strategy does not improve the church’s health.

Tony Morgan: 08:59

Instead we want people that are gifted in qualified Biblical leaders leading the ministry strategy and the spiritual direction of the church and when churches get the right people in those roles and not trying to capture everybody’s voice in decision making then we’re seeing churches end up being healthier, at least growing more. And as I indicated earlier, it looks like healthier as well. Yup. Alright.

Amy Anderson: 09:27

How about ministry finances, what were the key differences there between growing and declining churches?

Tony Morgan: 09:33

Well, this is probably no surprise based on what we just talked about related to staffing, but as it relates to budgeting and finances, declining churches are spending more money on staffing as well. And so declining churches are spending 54 percent of their budget on staff a dollars in benefits and salaries and things like that. Growing churches are spending only 50 percent of their budget on staffing.

Tony Morgan: 09:59

Um, where, where, uh, there’s a bit more of a surprise though, is this, when it comes to giving per capita, giving is actually higher in declining churches and it’s significantly higher. What we’re seeing is each person in a declining church is giving three, four percent more than the people who attend growing churches. Um, and uh, you know, if you think about it, growing churches tend to reach a more new people, uh, and they tend to reach more people who either are new believers or not yet committed in their faith to Jesus. And as a result of that, it really takes time for new people not only to connect to the church and connect with their faith, but then ultimately to be giving financially to the church. And we’ve talked about this for many years. There’s definitely a giving lag that exists in growing churches. And so this is one of the reasons why in the unstuck church book I mentioned one of the key symptoms of a church in the maintenance phase of the life cycle is they actually have healthy giving.

Tony Morgan: 11:10

And mainly that is, I think because the people that are connected to the church have matured in the faith, they’ve started to be very generous with their finances, good stewards of the resources God’s given them, they’re giving more to the church. But the challenge for churches in the maintenance phase is they don’t have many new people, new people either new to the faith or are new people that Church hill are still considering the claims of Christ. And as a result of that, we do see one of the key differences between growing churches and declining churches is that giving is actually higher and declining churches. Um, now, uh, what I thought was going to happen on this third piece is we would find, because the third piece I want to highlight is how much debt growing churches in declining churches have. My suspicion was because giving us less and growing churches and because they’re growing that more that growing churches would have a higher level of debt.

Tony Morgan: 12:14

But to my surprise, the, it’s actually the exact same amount of debt in growing churches and declining churches. And so even though churches are declining, they’re still spending money on something, it’s still going into debt even though they’re giving is much stronger and they still have the same amount of debt is growing churches. And so bottom line on all of this, uh, when, when we look at finances and the differences between growing churches and declining churches, I don’t think you can spend your way out of decline, whether that’s hiring more staff, whether that’s increasing the giving, whether that’s incurring debt to to accomplish something related to expanding vision or expanding facilities or things like that. I don’t think you can spend your way out of decline. And I think it goes back to some other principles that we’ve talked about in the past, amy, primarily identifying if we are in decline, do we know why we exist as a church?

Tony Morgan: 13:18

Do we know where we’re going in the future? Do we know how we’re going to get there? And then in all of that, to remembering who is it that primarily God’s positioned our church to reach and are we—do we have that person in mind when we’re designing everything that we do as a church from the weekend services to our discipleship path, to how we communicate to that intentionality that we have of reaching people outside the church and outside the faith. I think that’s where the turnaround really does begin. If you are hoping to move from being a declining church to becoming a growing church again.

Amy Anderson: 13:58

Really well said. That was worth the whole podcast, Tony.

Tony Morgan: 13:58

You think so?

Amy Anderson: 14:03

Those last 30 seconds.

Tony Morgan:

That math wasn’t… the math didn’t do it for you though, Amy?

Amy Anderson: 14:06

No, there’s a lot of math in there. Really. Well, hey, if a leaders want to learn more, Tony, about growing and declining churches, what would you recommend?

Tony Morgan:  14:17

Yeah, so it was just about a year ago that “The Unstuck Church” book came out. And again, that book is all about the life cycle of churches, and I detail several different phases of growth and then decline that churches experience. And my hope with the book was that churches could identify what phase we’re in because in the book, then I give some specific next steps that churches can take regardless of which seven phases of the life cycle of the churches in today. So as a first step in a relatively cheap step, if you haven’t read “The Unstuck Church,” I would encourage you to pick up the book at Amazon and check that out because it will give you some next steps you can take whether your church is growing or declining. But then the other new offer that we have, Amy; we’ve talked about it a little bit more in recent weeks, is the Leading an Unstuck Church Online Course.

Tony Morgan: 15:13

And that online course goes a step further from the book in that we give you not only some things to consider, but some specific exercises to do with your team. Some specific conversations to have with other ministry leaders. Some things that you can be doing in your leadership to hit several of the core issues that we’re seeing in both growing and declining churches. And so again, for a relatively little amount of money, we’re hoping to give you some real practical tools to take your next step in leadership and help your church get unstuck. So those are, those are two recommended resources, whether your church is growing or declining, that I’d love for you to consider.

Speaker 1: 15:57

Alright, well thank you, Tony, and thanks to our listeners for joining in today. Um, if you were interested in finding out more about that online course that Tony just mentioned, you can go to our webpage theunstuckgroup.com/equip. And if you’re interested in the Unstuck Church Report, you can just nose around on our site, and you’ll find it there as well. So we hope you join in again next week. Be sure to subscribe on ITunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcast, so that you don’t miss an episode. We’ll see you next week.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. 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.