If I asked you to give me a number of how much your church should grow every year what would you say? 1%? 5%? 10%?

Ever since church leaders noticed they were losing more people than gaining, we have been on the prowl for the next solution to aid in church growth. Whether it was National Church Development surveys, Alpha programs, Willow Creek models, robust rebooting of evangelism programs, missional this or that, or church plant multiplication efforts, finding the the elixir for growth remains out of reach.

But what if we have the wrong idea of what church growth even is? What if our expectations are simply wrong to begin with?

When we use words like “church multiplication” what comes to mind? Likely dreams and visions of the exponentially increasing congregations? This is inextricably linked to the fairy-tales of entrepreneurs winning big in the free market and basking in the delight of newfound success and wealth.

The only problem? Shaping the church upon this picture largely ignores nearly every church movement in history including the expansion of the early church in its first 300 years of existence.

[Christianity is growing in Latin America, parts of Africa, and China, so really this is a white Euro-centered problem of the Western church.]

If we look at the growth expectations of the radical early church the math from around 3000 to 30 million adherents in 300 years is…..are you ready for this?

3%/year

Actually just over 3% depending on what numbers you start off with.

I know some churches today that grow by 3% just by making babies. 3% in a church of 50 is one person coming to Christ this year and maybe 2 next year. By all accounts, this is a growth by ‘addition’ that many church planters lament. However, it is the steady and continuous growth over the long-run that contributes to eventual exponential growth of a movement.

Take note. This isn’t 3% increase in attendance. This is 3% in new converts. That’s NEW converts and not transfers from the church down the road.

Sometimes we get bogged down by interim success hoping to have a functioning and growing church plant in a matter of years. I wonder how our approach would shift if we had an expectation that spanned generations?

If you want to learn more about this idea then you’re in luck, it’s a chapter in my book Thrive. Check out the links at the top for more details on how to get your hands on a copy.