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How to grow a church


Doubling groups through hospitality is the secret, behind-the- scenes strategy of many of the largest and fastest growing churches in America. When we look at these churches, most people concentrate on what happens on the stage--the music, the preaching, the drama and so forth. A lot of pastors have copied these things and found themselves unemployed, leaving a very divided and unhappy church behind.  I'd like to draw your attention to two behind-the-scenes strategies: 1) doubling groups through 2) hospitality. Let's look at each of these.

First, an emphasis on doubling groups.

A group of ten that doubles every two years or less will reach 1000 people for God in 10 years. Doubling groups are amazing.

How can we double groups? One way is through hospitality.  Listen as Bill Hybels, pastor of Willowcreek Church in Chicago share this testimony about the power of hospitality.

These two principles: doubling groups through hospitality form the core of we can grow a church.

How to grow a church

We can grow a church following four principles:

  1. Always listen to and follow the Wind of the Spirit

  2. Attract visitors

  3. Assimilate visitors

  4. Advance the maturity of those who attend

Always listen to the Wind of the Spirit

Jesus never healed two people the same way. He never used the exact same method of healing twice. One time He spoke. One time He touched. One time He used mud made from spit. Usually He healed all at once. One time He healed gradually.

We learn something about God from this. God is creative.

We learn something about following God and working with God in growing His church. You can't reduce it to a formula. You can't reduce it to step 1, 2, 3 and say this will work every single time. Every church is unique. Every situation is unique. Every work of God is unique.

But, there are principles. Farmers know that to grow a crop you do so at a certain time and plant the seed at a certain depth with so much water and so forth. God has given us a predictable universe--at least as far as broad principles. The knowledgeable  farmer knows when to adapt the plan to the specifics of this season's weather and situation.

Working with God in growing God's church is like that. We can't reduce it to a formula that we could work without God. We always walk with a humble awareness that without Him we can do nothing. We always walk with a listening ear to the Spirit pushing us like the wind this way and that. We cooperate with the Wind, rather than fight against it.  

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 I got up this morning intending to write a lesson. That is what I do most days. But the Wind of the Spirit seemed to be pushing me another way and here I am writing this article.

So, we walk this balance of operating according to God-given predictable principles of sowing and reaping, and always listening for the Wind of the Spirit to move us where He will. This article is about the predictable principles of growing a church

What are the predicable principles of working with God in growing His church?

Attract visitors

100% of the growth of your church will come from the visitors who attend.

I have done some research on churches. I asked 500 churches ho many visitors they had and how many joined. There are two surprises:

  • You don't need very many visitors -- 1% - 3% is plenty.

  • Most churches (though not all) have plenty.

The big difference between growing churches and not growing churches had very little to do with the number of visitors. It had everything to do with how many visitors stuck around and eventually joined.

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Conclusion: for most churches, the fastest path to growth is not to get more visitors, but to take care of the visitors we have.

Assimilate visitors

There is some debate as to the importance of actual church membership, and I don't wish to enter in to that debate here--whatever you believe about that is right! The important thing is not as much getting their name on a list, but involving them in the life of the church and getting them to attend regularly.

The best way to get people to come back is through the biblical practice of hospitality.

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My research has been confirmed by many others--if you can get them into the home of one of your members for an evening of hospitality you have about a 90% chance that they will join your church. In contrast, around 10% join if we don't have them into our home. The biblical practice of hospitality is single best church-growth tool we have.

This hospitality based approach is the essential message of the Double Your Class book, video and seminar. (Also available as part of the Big Double Bundle.)

Advance the maturity of those who attend

The problem in many cases is not that we don't know how to grow a church; it is that we don't want to. For many of our members, their relationship with Christ does not mean that much to them.

I have had many people say to me over the years, "Yeah, we could probably do what you say and our group would probably grow, but we are comfortable the way we are." This is not a "how-to-grow-a-church" problem. This is a "do-you-love-Jesus-so-much-you-are passionate-about-His-Great-Commission?" problem. Sad to say, in many cases, the resounding answer is, "No, we really don't."

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This is why I developed the Disciplemaking Teachers book, video and seminar. (Also available as part of the Big Double Bundle.)We will never grow a church on the back of luke-warm, half-hearted church goers. We must come to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I have done a good deal of research on how to create spiritually vibrant people. I surveyed over 1000 people to discover what happens in a group that creates spiritual vibrancy. Is it accountability? Is it conversational prayer? What is it that happens in groups that create exceptionally vibrant people?

I'd invite you to read all the research, but the number one thing I found was strong agreement with this statement: "It is always in my best interest to live the Christian life." God is a rewarder. People who believe that it is in their best interest to follow God follow God.

This is one of the reason I write lessons. My lessons consistently emphasize that God is a rewarder and it is always in our best interest to live the Christian life. Lessons correspond with three of Lifeway's outlines and can be used supplementally to LifeWay's literature or stand alone. I add four new lessons each week and have probably written more lessons than anyone else alive.


To grow a church you need to do four things:

  1. Always listen to and follow the Wind of the Spirit

  2. Attract visitors

  3. Assimilate visitors

  4. Advance the maturity of all those who attend

If I can help you in any way grow your church, I'd love to help. I have been thinking on these things for years and have written books and hundreds of articles on the subject. My lessons are specifically designed to make it easy to find teachers and grow groups. I do seminars teaching groups to double every two years or less and become disciplemaking teacher.

Let me know if I can help you in any way. [email protected]

One more thing. Listen for the Wind.