I'm familiar with one church that grows to around 180 people before declining back to 140-150. In time it starts another growth spurt to about 180 again before beginning another decline. It's done this several times. The reason for this is that the church and pastor have never discovered what keeps it from moving past that 180 barrier.
Gary McIntosh wrote an excellent book to help churches that are stuck in this growth/decline cycle. In Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There he calls churches at 200 or below in attendance relational churches. Approximately 80 percent of the churches in the US are in this size category. Busting through the 200 barrier is difficult, but it can be done if one understands the dynamics that makes it so difficult to grow a church beyond that number. McInstosh points out that some of those dynamics are:
- The church sees the pastor as a caregiver, not a leader. This makes it very difficult for the pastor to provide the leadership needed to grow the church beyond 200 worshipers.
- Churches of this size often do not have sufficient capacity to grow beyond 200 people. If the sanctuary seating, the parking lot, and the education space are at 80 percent capacity they are full. You might exceed that 80 percent for a short period of time, but eventually people will begin to leave until the space feels more comfortable to those who remain.
- To grow beyond 125 the church needs to call a second fully-funded pastor and two full-time support staff. This means the church is staffing for growth, but paying for that additional staff before the growth occurs can be a major challenge that many smaller churches do not want to tackle. Fortunately, there are some options available which the author offers.
The same is true of teachers for Church school classes. We are often told that it's important to be adding classes in order to grow the education ministry of a church, but it's not always easy to find teachers for these classes. There needs to be on-going recruitment and training of people to serve in these classes if one wants to take the church to a higher level.
A third requirement is that the pastor must be committed to remaining at the church for an extended period of time in order to see significant growth occur. Taking a church from one level to another will not happen quickly and is unlikely to happen at all if the pastor is not committed to staying at the church.
Breaking through various attendance levels is difficult. There are many factors responsible for the size church you have today, and some of them are not easily overcome. But, with commitment, vision, and a sound strategy, bathed in much prayer, these barriers can be overcome.