Growing Numerically vs Growing Spiritually in a New Church?

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Last week the bridge Presbyterian Church had over sixty people in worship. That’s not bad for only the sixth Sunday of worship…during our ‘soft-launch’ period…during the middle of summer…during a time when the community doesn’t know we exist. That said, over sixty people in Sunday worship is something the leadership team got excited about at our weekly team meeting. And rightly so! Sixty is better than 30 and way better than 20 in worship; numbers which would probably keep me up at night!

Once the number was shared, questions popped up from every corner of the room. “Will we be a rapidly growing church?” “What will happen after we have our ‘official’ worship launch?” “Should we start thinking about two services?” Each question was¬†necessary and authentic.

The larger question I wrestle with is this: How important are numbers in church planting? How closely should we be tracking metrics like number of visitors; Sunday collection; conversations and new members?

One one hand, I am called to plant a faithful, self-sustaining new church in Leland, NC. In order to gauge our progress toward being self-sustaining metrics like Sunday giving, new visitors and members are important. So I can’t ignore these metrics, brushing them off under the guise of: “Jesus never counted heads or took up a collection.”

Yet, I realize I live in a culture¬†preoccupied with success and numbers seem to be the choice most folks pick to assess the ‘success’ of our new church. Not unlike my experience at the previous new church I launched, the majority of interested followers seemed fixated on the same question. When asking about the progress of the bridge, over 90% of the people ask me: “So, how many members do you have?”

What do you think numerical metrics reveal about new churches? How important are metrics to leaders of new churches? Are there more helpful…dare I say more faithful metrics leaders should focus energy on? I have some hunches about how I would answer these questions, but I’d be THRILLED if some folks reading this blog or on Facebook would chime in with reflections.

Things are going well at the bridge Presbyterian Church. We had over sixty in worship last Sunday. I say that with a certain degree of reservation believing that numbers only say so much about a new church and I’m convinced there is no number able to quantify a life transformed by the gospel.

What say you?

Dr. Doug


Comments 0

  1. We don’t live in a culture that relies on faith, so my guess would be that faith in God supersedes numbers, and the more you count on numbers, the less you count on God.

    1. Hey Ralph,
      I suspect you are right. To your point, numbers can be a form of idolatry. The fact that everyone asks me: “How many members do you have,” subtly confirms the idea that we, Americans, seem to worship numbers – or, at least, worship numbers as THE way to assess success.
      Good to hear from you.

  2. We’re a 5 year old church plant- so completely understand. We always say, “If there’s one person in our city who doesn’t go to church anywhere- then our job isn’t done yet.” I think there’s a healthy hunger that we, as church planters should have for growth. It’s a hunger for people who are far from God to hear about how much God loves them and we have to work so so hard to try to pass that on to our people. So, in that regard, I do think we should fight for growth, but not “just to be bigger.” It’s one of the reasons we pay for mass-mailers once or twice a year. They’re very expensive- but people will hold on to them for a year and then randomly show up one day. We also do “google ads” which you can get free for non-profits. It’s one of the biggest ways people hear about our church. We also try to serve our brains out as a church. Now, that we’re 5 years in, we try to go back and remember the desperation we had at the beginning and want to go back and fight with that same determination to love our community and serve them every way we can. Keep up the good work! Thanks so much for what you’re doing.

    1. Thanks for your reply, drairwolf. I totally agree that a focus on numbers should be driven by our passion to reach people. Our “hunger for growth” as you put it, should be rooted in our desire to see people connecting with the Lord and with God’s mission to save, heal and redeem the world.
      It sounds like you are using a number of different approaches to engage the community around your church including “serving your brains out as a church” and direct mail pieces. I’d be interested in learning more about how you are engaging people outside your church with the good news.
      How is the mission of your new church progressing now that you are in year 5? Thanks for your reply. Let’s keep the conversation going!

  3. We put on 3-5 events to serve our city each year. We do free pictures with Santa, a big spring event at the local park and we did an easter egg hunt this year. Last year we put on a free basketball camp for kids. We usually do 2-3 free movie nights at the local park. In the past we’ve rented an ice cream truck to give out free ice cream (might do that this year again). The past 2 years we did a big back to school event where we gave out free back packs and clothes. We also partner with the schools to give free dinners or other events the schools might need. We pick up Panera and drop it off at the local police and fire station each Monday. Those are some of the ideas we do. We’ve did most all of that in the first few years we existed as a church of about 150. We’ve grown some since then. But, it’s been a LOT of hard work. The first year we were around we also painted faces at every SINGLE event we could. Often it would be the lead pastor and me at some event painting kids faces. In the winter we would walk around and shovel people’s driveways. Anyway we could think to let people know that our church was about loving people and serving them- and to make them aware that we exist.

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