What if the church growth experts were wrong? By Bob Butler

The question haunts, “What if the church growth experts are wrong?”

The following story is told often by the “experts.

A group of committed individuals come together to start a new church. They organize all the pre-launch activity in the community. There are giveaways, coffee days, parades, festivals, special concerts and even deep prayer sessions with other faithful community pastors. The result was good. A crowd was created. The Christian rhythm was implemented. More than 60% of the people kept attending after eight weeks. The result is considered a success. But is it?

Take it from a practitioner. When we reached this milestone, there was sense something was amiss.The rest of the faithful would soon realize it as well. The new church was mostly a collection of transfers from other churches. The goal of expanding Christ’s Kingdom had missed the mark. The realization of which sent a number of us to repent and begin the search for a better way.


Personally, the search drove me back to the scriptures to take a long look at the early church, the gatherings, the leaders and the role of the body to expand the Kingdom. It was a slow process. I would learn there are others questioning the American form of church. The Forge Network along with Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost and others would provide the affirmation and the language for what I was so wrestling with. Their ways would inspire me to launch a missional expression for the “none, done and undone.” We call the expression - RENEW. We strive to reach those with no faith, done with religion or just unraveled by life. The learning have been astonishing. Weekday expressions compete with more cultural events than Sunday ministries. Great dinners spur more authentic community discussion and service. The broken feel more comfortable when the word “church” is not on the door. They also come more frequently and bring their mess so be prepared. However, there is also more life transformation than some of us have seen in a lifetime. The “none” are set ablaze. The “done” become our greatest promoters. The “undone” find hope.


The greatest reactions to our discoveries has come from small church leaders. Many expressed defeat. They went to the conferences. They read the books. They invested in the resources. They shared the growth church mantra. They invested in fog machines, lights and skinny jean wearing worship pastors. They even reprogrammed all the ministries and nothing happened except the faithful few became even more disenchanted.


So what if the church growth experts are wrong? What if agreed the “bigger means more blessed by God” idea is not always true? What if to prove our point, we stopped highlighting the metrics associated with the error. Metrics like:

  • Attendance

  • Building size

  • Building size

  • cash

  • Number of pastors, programs and worship leaders

Instead, let’s highlight God’s Spirit in the people around us, encouraging, equipping and educating them to gauge:

  • the number of people who come to faith in Jesus as a result of our witness in the community

  • the amount of money we give to others to introduce a little heaven here

  • the impact our missional groups make in the places they live, work and play.

If you resonate with the concept above  please consider coming to SMALL and joining the next great awakening in America.