The Struggle Is Real: Why Your Church Needs a Growth Checklist

by | May 13, 2024 | Church Growth, Church Health | 5 comments

If you’re a pastor or church leader, you know the struggle all too well. You pour your heart and soul into your ministry, but despite your best efforts, your church just isn’t growing. You’re not alone. According to recent statistics, a staggering 66% of churches in the United States are either plateaued or in decline. And if we’re being honest, I believe that number might be even higher.

Before the pandemic, a whopping 85% of churches were stuck or shrinking. Now, some might say things have improved since then, but I’m not so sure. The slight uptick in the numbers could just be because enough churches have closed their doors, skewing the statistics. The truth is, the struggle for church growth is as real as ever.

So, what’s a well-meaning church leader to do? Many take a piecemeal approach, cherry-picking growth strategies and hoping for the best. Some focus on crafting the perfect mission and vision statements. Others pour their energy into planning big events to attract new faces. And then there are those who try to disciple their members into becoming growth-minded evangelists. While all these efforts are commendable, they rarely lead to sustainable church growth when attempted in isolation.

Over my years as a church consultant, I’ve seen this play out time and again. That’s why I’ve developed a comprehensive checklist to guide pastors, church leaders, and congregations through a proven process to break free from the plateau and start growing. This step-by-step approach ensures that each necessary component is in place before moving on to the next. No more guesswork, no more half-measures.

In this post, we’ll take a high-level look at these essential steps. And as a bonus, I’ll share the complete resource with you at the end. So, if you’re ready to take your church from stuck to thriving, keep reading. Your journey to growth starts now.


Laying the Groundwork: The Five Foundational Steps to Church Growth


Before you can implement strategies to grow your church, you need to ensure a solid foundation. This first step is crucial, and while it might not be the most exciting part of the process, it’s absolutely necessary for everything that follows. Trust me, you don’t want to build your church growth plan on a shaky foundation.


Mission Statement


There are five key components to this foundational step. First, you need a biblical mission statement. It should be concise enough to be easily remembered, grounded in scripture, and focused enough to guide all your church’s ministries. Without a clear mission, you’ll be like a ship without a rudder, drifting aimlessly.


Core Values


Next, you need to establish your congregation’s core values. These values will help you prioritize your resources, from time and finances to staffing and ministries. As Jim Collins wisely advises, stick to no more than five core values – and three is even better. If you have too many values, you risk diluting their importance.


God’s Vision for Your Church


With your mission and values in place, it’s time to seek God’s vision for your church. And here’s the thing: God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee. In scripture, visions are always given to leaders. So, pastor, it’s up to you to wrestle with God and discern His vision for your congregation.


Developing Behavioral Covenants


The fourth step is one that’s often overlooked, but it’s critical: developing behavioral covenants. You need a leadership covenant that sets expectations for how leaders should interact with each other, the congregation, and the church as a whole. And a membership covenant is essential so everyone knows how to behave. Sure, you’ve got the Bible, but let’s be real – a covenant can help you navigate the conflicts that inevitably arise when you’re making changes to grow your church.


Identify Target Audience


Finally, you need to identify your target audience. I know, I know – every church wants to reach everyone. But as Dr. Phil might ask, “How’s that working for you?” If you don’t have a specific target audience in mind, you’ll end up defaulting to attracting people just like your current members. Having a target audience doesn’t mean excluding anyone; it simply means being strategic about allocating your resources for maximum impact.

Once you have these five foundational steps in place, you’ll be ready to move on to the strategies that will actually help grow your church. But don’t skip this crucial groundwork – it’s the key to building a strong, sustainable growth plan.


Making Connections: Turning Visitors into Congregants


Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to start making connections and growing your church. This next step is a bit more involved, so rather than going over each point individually, let’s focus on the big picture.

It all starts with understanding your target avatar – the people you want to reach. You need to know what keeps them up at night and what they aspire to achieve in life. Once you have a handle on their worries and aspirations, you can create sermons, sermon series, and events that speak directly to their needs. Remember, people aren’t clamoring to go to church these days, but everyone has a problem they’re desperate to solve. And guess what? Jesus and the New Testament have a solution for every problem under the sun.

But creating relevant content is just the beginning. To truly make connections, you need to get out there and engage with your target audience. And pastor, this starts with you. You can’t expect your congregation to be faithful to the Great Commission if you’re only spending time with other Christians. You need to be the church growth catalyst – the one who sparks change and leads by example.

Aim to spend at least 50% of your work time in the community, networking with the unchurched. Build relationships, invite them to your problem-solving series and events, and show them how your church can make a difference in their lives. When visitors start showing up, make sure your hospitality game is on point. Follow-up is critical – if less than 50% of your first-time visitors return within two weeks, your church might not be as friendly as you think.

But don’t stop there. Once visitors become returning guests, your goal is to help them form lasting connections within your congregation. They need to make friends – not just acquaintances they chat with over coffee in the fellowship hall, but real friends they spend time with during the week. If every guest makes a significant friend within four to six months, the chances of them sticking around are nearly 100%.

Making connections is key to growing your church. By understanding your target avatar, creating relevant content, engaging with the community, providing excellent hospitality, and fostering meaningful relationships, you’ll turn visitors into dedicated congregants who are excited to be part of your church family.


The Discipleship Funnel: Guiding Newcomers on Their Spiritual Journey


The final step in growing your church is perhaps the most crucial: creating a discipleship funnel. This is the path that guides a non-believer from their first visit to becoming a fully committed disciple of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, many churches neglect to create a clear, step-by-step process for this spiritual journey, leaving newcomers to navigate the way on their own.

To effectively grow your church, you must be intentional about designing a discipleship funnel. Start by mapping out the steps a person will take as they progress in their faith. What happens after they attend their first event? How do you encourage them to come to worship services? When do you invite them to a “get to know us” class? How do you introduce them to mentoring and training programs like Alpha? And what deeper discipleship opportunities await them as they mature in their faith?

Each church’s discipleship funnel may look slightly different, but the goal is the same: to provide a clear path for spiritual growth. By outlining these steps and communicating them effectively, you’ll help newcomers feel welcomed, supported, and empowered to take ownership of their faith journey. Remember, it’s not enough to just get people in the door – you need to guide them as they develop a lasting relationship with Christ and become an integral part of your church community.




Growing a church in today’s world is no easy feat, but with the right approach and a commitment to these essential steps, it’s entirely possible. By laying a strong foundation, making meaningful connections, and creating a clear discipleship funnel, you’ll be well on your way to building a thriving, sustainable church.

But remember, this is not a one-and-done process. Growing a church requires ongoing effort, evaluation, and adaptation. As you implement these strategies, be sure to regularly assess what’s working and what needs improvement. Listen to feedback from your congregants, staff, and newcomers, and be willing to make adjustments as needed.

Most importantly, never lose sight of the ultimate goal: to lead people to a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. As you focus on this mission, trust that God will guide and empower you every step of the way. With His help and your dedication, your church can become a beacon of hope, love, and spiritual growth in your community and beyond.


Read more blog posts by Bill Tenny-Brittian

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