The 5 Precepts of Church Growth

by Mark V. Martof

Editor's note: While the will of God and the leadership of the Holy Spirit should absolutely rule in all conditions—emphatically including church building programs—once His will is ascertained, the principles presented here certainly should be applied in arriving at specific  decisions.

We know that all growth involves change, and change can be difficult and chaotic. As your church continues to grow, questions about the size and viability of your existing venues will beg answers. Compelling concerns about when to expand and build new facilities depend heavily upon the vision of your congregation, and the capacity of your congregation to handle change.

It is important to take a few steps back and think of change as a complex, living organism requiring time, attention, and expertise. Whether you are pursuing growing, or are in the midst of growth, you are grappling with change. 

We've distilled five basic precepts for planning church growth to help you and your congregation. No matter where you are in the process, we believe these are the components that contribute to healthy, successful church growth and change.

Precept #1: Growth involves seasons of change. Change can be difficult, so choose the change you want.

"To everything there is a season…"

Your congregation is a system with subtle inner workings, values, rules, influence, and anxiety. As you lead your congregation to change and grow, the system changes. Change often brings anxiety, and systems by their very nature resist change. It is important to manage and lead the change processes involved with growth. Foster the change you are choosing as a natural and healthy response to the life and mission of your congregation. As you embrace and seek the change that accompanies growth, try to identify the seasons of change and implement wise practices that nurture your congregation's future.

Precept #2: Vision defines purpose and purpose defines both what to build and what not to build.

"Without vision, the people perish." That's as true for building projects as it is for building congregations. Clarifying and articulating your church's mission and vision is crucial for reaching your goals. The communication of needs and desires can be a time-consuming and painstaking process, but it is well worth the effort. Successful communication is a loop that involves feedback and listening, wherein all parties agree that messages have been received and understood. Clear vision, based upon a sober estimate of current reality and faith-based courage in God's calling, results in an achievable vision-path. Often, churches fail to build significant capabilities or build superfluous structures, because they don't understand or communicate their true requirements. The vision of your congregation may require specialized technological infrastructure, flexible space arrangements, and/or 24-hour functionality. Clarify and communicate your vision, and assess what really needs to be built to serve the mission, vision, and needs of a growing congregation.

Precept #3: Building a great team is necessary for building a great church.

"A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." Rome wasn't built in a day; neither was it built alone. Healthy teams who have learned to both share vision and communicate vision accomplish successful results. During your growth and change, you need effective internal and external teams of trustworthy people focused on what's best for your church. Your congregation's buy-in must begin long before fund-raising starts or concepts are designed. An effective team of leaders can communicate clearly, build consensus, and empower a congregation to become enthusiastic advocates and co-creators.

Assess your needs, then compile and equip internal and external teams. Your teams may include architects, consultants, financiers, engineers, and church growth experts to help you achieve your dreams. You will need to create a timeline for planning and communications, and strike a balance between your space needs and costs.

Precept #4: A clear understanding of current reality enables you to envision and reach your future.

"Think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." Understanding current reality involves a sober estimate of your congregation's capabilities. These capabilities include tangible as well as intangible considerations, such as:

• Location

• Site constraints and restrictions

• Logistics

• Communication

• Congregational volunteers and talents

• Missional focus

• Harvest field

• Finances

Many questions must be answered regarding your current reality and capabilities. Examples are:

• How and where is your congregation growing?

• Where is the "harvest field" for your congregation?

• Should you stay on your present site or move to a new location?

• What physical needs do the mission and services of your church necessitate?

• What is the depth and commitment of your volunteer force?

• What are the barriers to growth?

The internal and external teams you create help you answer and solve the questions and challenges related to your expansion.

Precept #5: Count the costs, and understand both your financial health and the values which drive your congregation's financial decisions.

"For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?" Many congregations find themselves deeply into the process of planning and designing new facilities, without a clear understanding of costs or their ability to meet those costs. Additionally, many congregations have not reached consensus around financial values, such as:

a. Will we pay in full as we go through the project?

b. Will we finance all or part of our expansion?

c. Will we accept outside, bank-based financing?

d. Will we undertake a fund-raising and/or pledge campaign?

It is important to understand the arc and timeline of costs associated with church growth. Your external teams can help your congregation understand and manage costs. These alliances should encompass experts in church projects and join with you to exercise careful stewardship over these growth projects and finances.

Mark V. Martof is director, Church Design Studio, Morris Architects
713-622-1180 or

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