There are few things in life one can guarantee. Nevertheless, here’s one for which I’m very close to issuing written guarantees. When your aspiration is to shrink your church, there’s one strategy that stands head and shoulders above all others. Employ this approach and you will see people slip away, taking their offerings with them.
Here it is: Make your church’s institutional needs first priority.
That’s it. It’s that simple and straightforward. To shrink your church, make this one concern your top priority and I can guarantee (99% maybe) you will succeed in shrinking your church.
Here’s what I mean by “institutional needs.” They are what’s needed to run your church using your current church paradigm. For most, what’s needed is people and money. Most everything in church requires these two.
To shrink your church, elevate your metrics around participation and money to the rarified air of top priority. It will take a little while to devalue the mission of God for institutional concerns, but when you stay with it, your church culture will adapt. Since other American organizations function in similar ways, people are used to mistaking organizational metrics for the mission. Persevere in making this first priority and your church will shrink.
Now, you will need to reinforce this top priority through teaching certain principles while avoiding others.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- Train your church to value newcomers for what they can do for you. They are giving units and bodies in the pews. They are assets to integrate and manage.
- Train your church to ignore the fact that newcomers tend to bolt when they realize they are being used in the name of Jesus. Describe them as unfaithful or spiritually immature. This will help you to continue using people as assets to serve the top priority.
- Train your church to ignore the fact that self-serving institutional motivation is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who calls us to love others as Christ loves us.
- Teach people to believe that focusing on the numbers is how we grow churches. Teach them that number attainment means we are a successful church. This helps them avoid the messiness of having to actually love and serve people.
- Teach people to believe that church vitalization results from setting numerical and financial goals. Teach them that growing numbers means we are a vitalized church. Those kinds of goals don’t motivate for long, leading to shrinkage.
- As COVID restrictions ease, suggest that snapping church back to exactly as it was before will give you the best chance for meeting your institutional needs. Since these are first priority, many will be on board with snapping back when you make this suggestion. This helps you lay aside the adaptation and innovation gained during this pandemic so that you can continue the shrinkage.
One final word. By all means, do not teach or otherwise suggest in any form to people in your church that it’s not about their needs, preferences or desires. Keep communicating that it’s all about them. This is the primary driver behind the institutional need priority. We want church the way we want it, the way we like it, requiring strong participation and giving levels. If those decline, then we don’t get what we want. So by all means, keep telling people the purpose of their church is to please them. This will keep the shrinkage trend moving forward.
I can’t guarantee much in this world, but when you want to shrink your church, this strategy is found on page one of the best practices playbook. Good luck.
Mark Tidsworth is founder and team leader for Pinnacle Leadership Associates. He has served as a pastor, new church developer, interim pastor, renewal pastor, therapist, nonprofit director, business owner, leadership coach, congregational consultant, leadership trainer and author. Ordained in the Baptist tradition, Mark is an ecumenical Christian minister based in Chapin, S.C.
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