6 Habits Of Growing Churches

In the March edition of Inc. magazine, Leigh Buchanan interviews Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao about the practices of companies who successfully grow and scale.  You can read the interview HERE. I found their insights quite applicable for some of the things that are needed for churches to grow.


While this is obviously not an exhastive list, the following are 6 Practices Of Growing Churches gleaned from the article:

1. Growing Churches Focus On Church Health More Than Church Growth 

Intuitive church leaders know attendance and budget only tell a portion of the story.  Rick Warren introduced us to the concept of church health.  Rick reminded us healthy things grow.  Therefore, focus on church health. Brian Houston from Hillsong Church constantly talks about this in leadership forums. I have personally heard him say this over and over again.

 Rao points out, “When people think of growth, usually they think of anatomy.  How big are the limbs?  But the real thing is physiology.  Is stuff circulating well – the blood and the oxygen?  Even if your anatomy is very developed, your physiology can be bad.”

2. Growing Churches Demand Excellence 

Growing churches know the level of excellence must keep pace with the level of numerical growth.  Sutton says,

“Companies grow well and scale badly when they focus on running up the numbers but not the quality.”

The law of entropy: Anything left to itself will deteriorate. Everything needs attention.

3. Growing Churches Are Vigilant About Their Mission, Vision And Core Values 

As the company grew to over 13,000 stores, Howard Schultz acknowledged the “watering down of the Starbucks experience.”  In contrast, Sutton notes Facebook employees are “internalized in a very deep way what is sacred and taboo at Facebook.  They are not  going to take their eyes off that mindset ball.”  Shawn Lovejoy, Lead Pastor of Mountain Lake Church, says, “You must be mean about the vision.”

This is the opposite to Marshall Goldsmith’s “what got you here won’t get you there.”

What got you “here,” after all, includes shared convictions, inviolable standards, even small experiential details like the sound of coffee grinding. Sacrifice those, and you may never get to “there”–or to any “there” that’s a worthwhile destination.

4. Growing Churches Stop Doing Unproductive Ministries 

When is the last time you brought about a necessary ending to an unproductive ministry?  When is the last time you killed a golden calf?  Rao notes,

“If you are getting big, before you add a new meeting, figure out which meeting you can kill.  Before you put in a new rule, see which rule you can kill.”  

This is simply good stewardship.  Rao goes on,

“Subtraction is very important because in an overloaded organisation, when you subtract, it is giving a gift.”  


5. Growing Churches Identify And Spotlight Their Most Fruitful People

Cascading is a term that used when someone in your church is already doing something right.  Effective church leaders identify and release staff and volunteers who cascade and create positive catalytic activity.  These “catalysts” will grow your ministry and make your life easier.  They free you up to focus on only what you can do as a senior leader.  

Kaaren Hanson, Vice President of Software Design company Intuit, sums it up well when she says,

”The way you know you’ve succeeded is to ask yourself, ‘If I stopped putting energy into this, would it continue to go well?’”

6. Growing Churches Not Only Embrace Change, They Foster It

Warren said in his Ted Talk,

“When the speed of change around an organisation is faster than the speed of change within the organisation, the organisation becomes irrelevant.”  

I spend some time working with Churches who feel like they are stuck. Sometimes these Churches have been the avant garde ones from 20-30 years ago but today they feel stuck. Fast growing churches understand change is their constant companion.  Rao concludes,

 ”With fast growth, the rate of change is phenomenal.”

Sutton asks a final question, “In the end you have to ask:

‘Are we happy living in the world we’ve built?”‘

If not change it…