Church growth basics

By Rev Dr Graham Humphris
Interim Minister at Unley & Malvern Uniting Churches, former Uniting Church SA CEO/General Secretary

Posted in Leadership

This article first appeared in MediaCom's Australian Leadership magazine.

I’ve been in ministry now for some 35 years and since day one I’ve been passionate about church growth, but these days, more than ever, I remind myself of the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” It is not my church, it’s Jesus’ church and church
growth is the task of Jesus, not me. I’ve also become much more aware that church growth is the result of faithful prayer (including listening) and is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t claim to be an expert on growing churches, but I do have a passion for churches to be dynamic places where God is honoured and lives are changed, and so after a lifetime in the church and quite a few years in ministry, here are a few of the things that I’ve noticed in churches that seem to me to be dynamic, growing places.


I don’t think pastors of dynamic (and growing) churches have to be charistmatic superstars but I do believe they have to be leaders because nothing much will happen in any church until someone provides leadership for it. And leadership is simply influencing people to move from
“here” to “there”. So what qualities have I seen in leaders of dynamic churches? Here’s a few:

» Integrity. It’s character not charisma that counts. Hebrew 13:7-8; 1 Timothy 4:12

» Will. It’s about being willing to do whatever it takes, day in and day out, to lead as many people in the church into doing all they can to make the church a dynamic place.

» Vision. As a leader you can’t duck your role in helping people to discover and own God’s vision. It means being relentless in communication of that vision and in empowering people to reach the vision.

» Motivation. Dynamic leaders focus on motivating others and on staying motivated themselves (which in turn rubs off on others). Invariably, the spiritual temperature of the church – as well as the general feeling around the place - will be a reflection of you.

» Delegation. You have to share ministry with others and make sure you delegate responsibility not just tasks.

» Time management. Dynamic leaders get control of their time. They identify time wasters, know their peak times, prioritise work and learn to say “no”.

» Money raising. It doesn’t sound that spiritual but dynamic leaders always take responsibility for raising money. These leaders get skilled in encouraging and challenging people to give to the greatest cause in the Universe. I often remind myself that King David was the greatest money raiser in history!

» Learning. Dynamic leaders are always reading and growing and learning additional skills. They don’t see other churches or leaders as a threat and so they get ideas from everywhere. I call it “steal with pride”.

» Paying the price. Leadership is costly and dynamic leaders are willing to pay the price including loneliness (so they intentionally set up networks of support), criticism, and not having to pastor everyone in their church personally (which means that the church can
then grow beyond their capacity).


Dynamic churches have a clear vision and purpose that define not only where the church is going and what the church will do, but they also clarify what the church won’t do.

Dynamic leaders want to move the church from “here” (the place where we are right now) to “there” (the preferred future). These leaders are able to guide the church through a process to discern with others this preferable future and then they are able to gain and keep ownership from the church community. Dynamic leaders then communicate this vision creatively and relentlessly to the church – at least every six weeks – because in my experience vision fades and
mission drifts that quickly and frankly, it’s a big challenge to keep on coming up with creative ways to communicate the vision and to inspire and challenge people – but it’s an essential of leadership. And here’s what I’ve found: when you present the vision with passion and conviction and challenge, this turns up the heat on those who won’t support the vision, but it also turns up the passion on those who will support the vision.


The dynamic churches that I know have simple and basic structures that are geared for growth and discipleship. They have a structure that maximises ministry (things that touch the lives of people, that reach them for Jesus, help them to grow as disciples and get involved in ministry)
and minimises maintenance. These churches do have strategic plans and goals but they tend to translate these into very specific and measurable projects.

In his Natural Church Development study, Christian Schwarz found that it wasn’t style that was crucial in determining if a church was growing, rather the key issue was the response to the statement: “Attending our worship services is an inspiring experience for me.” 80% of people
in growing churches said, “Very true” or “True”. Another study found that people who come to church are seeking two things: an encounter with God and teaching from the Bible that is relevant to their lives.

The dynamic churches I’ve seen have worship services that involve a celebration of life and joy, inspiration to lift people up and preparation for life and service. They also streamline their services to make every minute count, focusing on making visitors feel welcome without embarrassing them, and interestingly, people in these churches tend to laugh more in church too!


Dynamic churches invest time and money into making children’s ministry the best it can be. So what are people looking for in children’s ministry? I’d say three things:

» A safe happy environment.

» Evidence of fun. I notice that often the first question parents ask their children afterwards is: “Did you enjoy it?”

» Evidence of Bible learning. The second question from parents to their children is: “What did you learn?”


A while ago now I visited another church. As I walked in, a person met me at the door and said, “Hi” and offered to write my name on a name tag. When I sat down, the person in front of me turned around, glanced at my name tag and said, “Hi Graham. Great to have you here
at church with us”. Then a person came and sat near me, and also said “Hi” and used my name. Later, after the service, someone invited me for coffee in the hall and even though I politely refused, I felt really welcomed and I was impressed.

Dynamic churches have clear strategies to help people feel they belong and to help them build meaningful relationship with others. It starts with great hospitality and welcoming (including good coffee).

These churches track attendances and focus on three groups of people. The Engaging Group are those new people who come through the front door and so they have processes to recognise and welcome and assimilate newcomers. Those in the Regular Attending Group are usually encouraged to join small groups and so these churches have clear strategies to multiply groups. Those in the Disengaging Group (the back door) are the ones drifting away for various reasons
and research tells us that when someone stops attending, they watch to see if they are missed and if no one notices their absence for 7-9 weeks then there is almost no chance of their return!


I wonder, if you look back over the past 52 weeks in your church, how many weeks was the Gospel message presented with power, with clarity, and with a challenge to commitment at the end? How many weeks could a nonChristian have walked into your church a non-believer and walked out a new person in Christ?

Paul says in Romans 15:16 that he has “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God” and in dynamic churches the leaders make sure the gospel is preached in ways that touch people’s lives. For many years in ministry I would ask at the start of each week, “God, what shall I preach about this week?” Nowadays that’s changed and I focus on these three questions:

» God, to whom will I be preaching?

» What do I want these people to know after this

» What do I want these people to do after this message?


I believe that a successful evangelistic strategy involves two things:

» Helping individual Christians to share their faith.

» Establishing programs to reach people.

While every Christian does not have the gift of evangelism, every Christian is called to be a witness and share their faith. The fact is that the regular people in our congregations
can be far better witnesses than the minister. That is why the most effective but often least resourced and utilised means of evangelism in growing churches is to train and encourage every person to share their faith in natural, everyday ways.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (LB) “Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with them so they will let me tell them about Christ”. Dynamic churches are able to find this common ground with nonChristians in their community, often by going out and asking them, and are able to develop ways to reach them. These churches might run programs - parenting course; car maintenance; first aid; grief seminars; computer courses; marriage enrichment; they might establish sports teams or a second-hand clothes shop; they might start Guest Services or run Alpha – but in every case it is serving with the purpose of ultimately reaching these people with the Gospel.

So there are a few church growth basics. Yes, it’s only Jesus who builds the church but God has given each one of us the opportunity and privilege of making a difference and being used by God to build dynamic churches. What in the world could be more exciting and fulfilling than that?

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