5 Dangerous Ways Churches Convince Themselves They’re Growing

94% of churches are losing ground against the population growth of their communities.

In 2050 the percentage of the US population attending church will be half of 1990. [ref]

I’m crazy enough to think that your church should be growing. I think healthy things grow. I am obsessed about seeing the gospel of Jesus expanding in our day. I believe that the best is yet to come in the local church. I see signs of life all over the place. But I also see church leaders kidding themselves and their community by saying that their church is growing when, in fact, it isn’t.

I know that counting weekend service attendance isn’t a comprehensive metric for discerning the impact and effectiveness of your church, but it is a starting point. If we can’t get people into our weekend services, we will unlikely see them in any other environment.

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. Making it clear with your leaders what is really happening in your church is the first step to creating an impact in your community. I’ve seen many church leaders try to convince themselves and their people that they are growing, which is dangerous because then you won’t be motivated to change or do what is needed to reach the people God is calling you towards. Let’s be honest…do you sense that you’re trying to convince yourself you’re growing when you really aren’t?

  • What It Feels Like // We stand on the platform, and it looks like there are more people attending than there were last year. We never had parking lot issues, but now it seems as if we’re running out of space all the time. The church used to clear out in 5 minutes after the service, but now people are still trying to get out after 20 minutes. All of these “metrics” can be explained by something other than actual attendance growth. Often, we look at the evidence which helps us feel like we’re making a bigger impact than we actually are. Church growth isn’t a feeling; instead, it’s a metric.
  • Funny Attendance Math // There is a popular trend within many church leadership circles to count attendance in some funny ways to make us feel like our ministry is having a bigger impact than it actually is. Here are a few examples:
    • People are coming to church 30% less than they were 10 years ago, so our church is really 30% larger than the number of people who attend on any given weekend.
    • We look the other way when we know that our system is double counting volunteers, effectively boosting our numbers by 10-15%.
    • We changed the way we count, so things look better now than they did previously. For instance, we never used to include the student ministry events in our attendance, but now we put those numbers in to boost our overall attendance picture.
  • “Big Days” Attendance // Many churches experience their highest attendance several times a year during special occasions. While increasing attendance on days like Christmas Eve or Easter is a vital strategy for church growth, these figures shouldn’t be the yardstick for measuring the size of your congregation. “Big Day” attendance is about measuring the future potential size of your community rather than it’s current state. The efforts and dynamics involved in attracting a large crowd for a single event differ significantly from those required to sustain long-term engagement within the community. However, the high attendance observed on these “Big Days” can serve as an early sign of potential growth for your church. It’s crucial for the increased participation seen on these special weekends to inspire us to achieve similar attendance on a typical Sunday.
  • Tallest of the 7 Dwarfs // We often look at other churches in town and are happy that we’re bigger than “them.” Rather than understanding why people don’t attend any church in our town, we look down our noses at those churches that have the same struggles as ours. All this does is breed division among the churches in your community.
  • Plateaued Growth but Increasing Revenue // This is the most dangerous of all these trends. Believe it or not, some churches are plateaued in attendance or even in decline, but their revenue is growing. This is a super alarming trend because it will empower the church to shift from being a dynamic, volunteer-driven organization to a staff-heavy enterprise. The money generated will negatively reinforce behaviors that will cause the church to have a diminished impact. This church can be referred to as a “zombie church” because it has lost its life but can go on for a long time, appearing to be alive.

Start Reaching … not just keeping.

Start Listening to the Culture to Find Points of Connection with the Gospel.

Start Making Friends with “Outsiders”.

Start Learning From Growing Churches and Applying What You Think You Can.

Start Praying for Revival in our Country.

I’m on your side. I want to help your church grow. It’s at the core of what we do around here at unSeminary. Here are some resources to help you kick-start the growth of your church:

FREE 3-Part Video Series // Unlocking Your Church’s Invite Culture

    • Dive into our three-part video series to uncover the true essence of church growth and how to engage your community effectively. This journey offers insights and practical strategies for anyone looking to enhance their church’s inviting culture and ministry impact. When you join the waitlist, you’ll be automatically sent this video series that includes these videos:
      • Modern Church Growth Tactics are HORRIFYING, Here’s Why
      • 5 Mistakes Church Leaders Make Fostering Invite Culture in a Skeptical World
      • When Your Budget Is Tight, But Your Ministry Breaks Barriers
    • Each video is about 10 minutes long and features author & church growth coach Rich Birch.

[Click here to join the waitlist and get access to the FREE 3-part video series.]

Key Articles & Podcasts to Help Your Team


  1. I like this. I would want to be part of your church growth strategies and training. Very profound, insightful and impactful teaching. Well done !!!

  2. When our Senior Pastor came onboard 2.5+ years ago, he quickly realized that the pastoral staff could not perform their role as chief shepherds if they didn’t know their sheep. And you don’t know your sheep if your membership rolls include people you haven’t heard from in a decade.

    So we started an effort to contact those that hadn’t given or attended in a long period. The pastoral staff would reach out to them. In many cases, they were going to other churches that didn’t do “transfers of letter”. Sometimes they moved. Sometimes they had no interest in coming back. As required by our church constitution, the congregation would vote to turn these “members” into non-members. This effort has been embraced by the congregation.

    As one of our pastors said, there is no concept of an “inactive member”. You’re either a member or you’re not.

    When the membership roll effort is complete hopefully by year end, we will have a list of members that can be ministered to by the pastoral staff, the deacons, the Sunday School classes, and others. We won’t have someone on the roll like I heard from teens when teaching 11th grade – “we haven’t seen him since 4th grade”.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.