Why Your Church Hasn't Grown to Over 200 People (Yet)

Carey Nieuwhof (one of our NINES speakers this year) has a very simple idea as to why many churches never grow to be over 200 people.

Carey starts off by saying there is nothing wrong with being a church of 200.  Nothing at all.

But most leaders of churches under 200 actually WANT their church to grow.

(I don’t know of any pastor I’ve ever met that would say they didn’t).

In fact, most small churches (and their leaders) have the desire, love, facility, and prayer to grow.

Yet they don’t.


Carey suggests a simple answer:

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

Here are 8 ways this is true:

1.  The pastor is the primary caregiver

2. The leaders lack a strategy

3.  True leaders aren’t leading

4. Volunteers are unempowered

5. The governance team micromanages

6. Too many meetings

7. Too many events and programs that lead nowhere

8.  The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody.

Read more here.

OK… we have a ton of small church pastors that are reading this.  What do YOU think?

If you’re pastoring a church of under 200 people, please leave a comment answering these quick questions: (leave a comment below)

1.  Do you desire for your church to grow?

2.  What do you think of Carey’s eight suggestions?  Are they true in your small church?

3.  What have you done to help spur growth?





  • Trapper October 23, 2013 Reply

    Only 18 or 19 years of age, I was starting in my field already around two-thirds up the ladder. People would ask how, and I’d say, “Simple — I never learned how to suck.”

    Carey’s right: “They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.” If you don’t want to be at or stuck in a tiny church, don’t even learn how to be one! If you spend time and effort learning how your field’s work is done at the lowest levels (size or quality), you’ll probably have to spend *more* time UNLEARNING that before you’re able to do bigger and better with greater impact. Even worse, your psyche or ego will probably *defend* what it’s been taught lest it have to admit everything it did earlier and the people it thought it respected were wrong and a waste of time.

    Start with rejecting the belief systems and seminaries that present and demand “small” as *the* correct paradigm (we all know the real reason they teach that is because they know their graduates won’t be able to exercise complete top-down control over churches with many more than 150 people and that that belief system is ALL ABOUT top-down control). Then, focus all your thought and learning on what makes major impact, not how to care-take a tiny, obviously-not-ever-gonna-do-anything-for-anyone-but-themselves kind of place. Soon, those tiny churches will cease to exist, they and their stuck cultures will be a thing of the past, and this problem will magically go away.

    • Stephen Canfield October 23, 2013 Reply

      I hope you are not suggesting that all small churches are obsolete or useless. If anyone has a chance of surviving long term its the small, family oriented churches that cover this country and are in majority. And, if anyone gets credit for setting the moral temperature we certainly cant discredit the little guys on the team.

      I understand your point that seminaries do not prepare great leaders and are slanted towards an older style of ministry…but cut the little churches some slack.

      • Trapper October 23, 2013 Reply

        Actually, I believe the internet will obsolete the smaller churches, but that’s another topic…..

  • Stephen Canfield October 23, 2013 Reply

    I think that small church pastors want their church to grow…but the unspoken desire is that they want their church to grow without having to change their job description!

    The reality is that if you are not a natural leader and delegator it is a personally painful journey to develop the skills necessary to lead a larger church.

    If you asked a guy if he wished that he was ripped with muscles, I promise you that few of them would say, “No thanks!” But whether or not being Mr. Muscles is worth the effort or even necessary for their life to be successful is up for debate. Simply being a healthy adult is reasonable and worth while goal; I suspect the same is true for a small or medium sized church.

    Besides, we have movies that let us live vicariously through other people’s strengths…anyone see 300? I suspect that church conferences play a similar role for pastors. We get pumped at what others are doing and get to live vicariously through other people’s ministries. And honestly, how many conference attendees need to pump serious iron and become the Gerard Butler of their church?

    This article certainly points out where a small church person could change in order to grow…but each person really has to decide if that is their life calling, and I don’t think the answer is yes for everyone.

  • Clint October 29, 2013 Reply

    The church that I pastor is under 150, and we are looking to grow. I agree with Carey in that most pastors (and people) can only think in terms of what they have now. The trick is being able to make the people see what changes will need to be made and what adjustments will need to happen for the church to get larger.

    I have heard it said that it is all about infrastructure. We may have room for 25 children in a Sunday School class, but we don’t think about how one teacher likely can only handle 12-15. Want to grow to 25? Better get an assistant teacher! It goes on and on and on. We would like to break 200 this winter … that may mean going to a second worship service. We cannot be thinking about that when we have the people – that is too late. We need to be thinking about that now, so that as we ramp up to over 150, we’re building into our thinking the “infrastructure” for 200+.

    We’ll see … but I agree with the writer about why so many small churches are destined to remain small.

  • Tom November 3, 2013 Reply

    I guess as long as the number of fannys in the pew is the measure of success we will focus on what men can do. What about what the Spirit of God can do?

    • Stephen Canfield November 4, 2013 Reply

      Obviously the Spirit of God can do more when there are more fannys.

    • Jan December 20, 2013 Reply


      • Jan December 20, 2013 Reply

        My Amen is in response to Tom’s. I can’t begin to tell you how sick of articles that begin with “10 ways to grow your church” “5 things that pastors are doing wrong” blah blah blah.

        The focus is on what WE are doing. When are we going to get it, that it’s the Spirit who moves and we follow?

        It’s taken us 30 years to finally wrap our heads around it. And I have to say it is so exciting to let go of Godless paradigms and follow when He moves.

  • Steve Miller November 14, 2013 Reply

    Todd and I live in a part of the country where there are dozens of small churches. What I have found is many small churches function as a social club, a group of close friends who come together for shared camaraderie. They tend to not grow partially because the existing members do not want a church larger than they currently have because then they could not know everyone.

    In churches weak with Spiritual unity the members will rely on social friendships to hold their churches together.

    Also in my neck of the woods “Mega Church” is spoken like a swear word. I have members who constantly say, “I want our church to stay small, I could never handle going to one of those Mega Churches.” I can only think they might be surprised in Heaven to see just how big God’s Church really is.

  • Fr. Gregory Crosthwait November 14, 2013 Reply

    The parish I lead is up to about 170 asa from 140 asa 3 years ago. I’m rebuilding after my predecessor and about 20 people (and 35% of the budget) left our high church Anglican parish to form a Roman Catholic parish across town. Not exactly the conservative/liberal church split we’re seeing in other Anglican parishes in the country, but not an easy transition for the people.

    We had an ideal interim between my predecessor and me. Morale is back up and I’m finally feeling adjusted and am gaining permission to lead (I just completed year 2).

    1. Yes, I want the church to grow.

    2. I think Carey’s list is accurate.

    3. I am seeking to establish an encouraging, permission giving culture. I’m also trying to decouple board membership and ministry leadership. I want to invite more people into the leadership conversation and emphasize leadership development. I am trying to cast a vision for a High Invitation, High Challenge discipleship culture (Mike Breen’s language) while maintaing the parish’s liturgical identity.

    The parish has had internal pastoral sized church dynamics for 20+ years, so I’m working on a reorientation that will take some time and effort. I’m excited about the task and have some key lay leaders interested in working with me. With God’s help, I think we have a strong present & future.

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