The Best Long Term Strategy for Church Growth

The best long-term strategy for church growth is not church growth.

Focusing on numbers (attendance) is a short-term and short-sighted strategy.

It’s tough to maintain an event driven and program focused approach. It requires more staff and volunteer energy, rarely provides significant or lasting growth, and is often exhausting.

Spiritual formation (discipleship) is an essential foundation to growth, but I’m referring more to training your volunteers and especially your leaders.

There are two critical elements in training:

  1. Equipping
  2. Developing

Both are important, and though you can build a strong church through equipping, great churches also include developing.

The difference between equipping and developing is significant.

Without clarity in your practice of both components, you will nearly always default to equipping only and miss the great benefit of development. Equipping is required for a healthy and growing church. Development is part of the additional investment that compounds over time to grow strong people and leaders.

Here’s a closer look at the difference:


1) Equipping is the process of training a person for a specific ministry task.

There is no shortage of examples. For illustration, training your children’s leaders in how to lead a child to Christ, training a small group leader how to facilitate a productive conversation, or training your ushers and greeters in hospitality. Every ministry needs to provide high quality, practical and relevant equipping to prepare volunteers for effective ministry.

2) Equipping is focused on the church’s agenda.

Your church is based on a mission, a purpose that is driven by your vision. Your agenda connects to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. That’s a good thing; it’s the purpose God designed for the Church!

3) Equipping is an exchange based on transaction.

Many of the good things in life are based on a productive exchange, or a positive transaction. If you go to a coffee shop and exchange a few bucks for your favorite brew and a warm cinnamon bun both parties are happy!

The same is true in your church. You can invest great training to prepare people for a cross-cultural mission trip if, in turn, they will participate in the church’s mission endeavor. It’s positive and a Kingdom based exchange. Both the mission of the church and the person benefit.


1) Developing is the process of investing in a person for their personal growth.

The intent here is to invest in a person, so they become a stronger and better person. Development seeks to help someone live a better life overall. The focus is usually spiritual leadership, so they live and lead better at home, at work and in their community (including church.)

2) Developing is focused on the person’s agenda.

Development is not based solely on the mission of the church, or their particular ministry, but takes a larger more holistic approach to their walk with God, character development, and spiritual leadership. Development would help someone, for example, get a raise at work, be a better dad or mom, or enjoy more meaningful and lasting relationships.

3) Developing is essentially a gift that contributes to transformation.

The best developing is when you invest in someone as a gift with no strings attached. You invest in them because you care about them. Of course, you hope to see the fruit of personal growth, but it’s not an exchange. Development is a gift based on the hope of a transformed life. My life, not just my ministry career, is immeasurably better because of the investment from mentors and coaches, both short and long term.

There is a degree of overlap between equipping and developing, a sort of “blend and blur” between the two. Clearly, there are elements of equipping that help an individual grow personally, as there are elements of development that increase specific skills required to serve and lead.

But the more you distinguish and separate the two components of training, the stronger your church will become. Your volunteers become more confident and engaged, and your leaders become empowered to lead.

The primary point is to make sure you know the difference, so both equipping and developing take place in your church.

29 thoughts on “The Best Long Term Strategy for Church Growth”

  1. Dan, this was very valuable to me, helps me understand my own strengths a little better. Very much appreciate the clarity and simplicity in the explanation. My weekday job is not in a Christian vocation but this is so useful in my workplace as I seek to grow my influence with co-workers and lead our monthly Bible study; I am also a volunteer leader in our Men’s Ministry at our church and this is important guidance for that as well. Thanks again.

      1. I am Regulatory Affairs Manager for a small medical device company in Richardson, TX, about 200 employees. I am an ordained minister but have never been in a full time “church” vocation. My wife and I are recent empty nesters and have been intentionally seeking what God has for us “NEXT.” My passion is the developing you described. As I’ve been seeking God this past year, He has given me 4 words or ideas to focus on:
        1. REFLEX: my first priority is to know God and experience the power that raised Jesus from the dead; not doing things for God but just knowing Him and being in relationship with Him; everything else is a REFLEX from that relationship. That is where it gets hard because as you grow and start gaining vision, you want to skip the preparation and we get impatient and think we need to help God move things along.
        2. Character
        3. Leadership
        4. Legacy

        these last three are what I want to model in my life and what I want to pass along to others in helping them develop. It’s a very exciting time for me, just waiting to see what God does with all of this.

  2. Thank you for this post. I am a long time reader, but this is my first time commenting. I found it challenging. Do you have a specific example of a developing opportunity that you would be willing to share?

    1. I do Craig. Our primary model is organic, simple and scalable. (1.) Get a group (volunteers, leaders, potential leaders etc) 5, 7, 10, 13 whatever makes in your setting… just get a group. Meet once a month (2.) Pick a book, for example, John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. Meet 5 months (5 times). (3.) Ask 2 questions. What are you learning? How are you applying what you learn? That’s the core idea. Keep it simple and be consistent. There are a number of nuanced questions that you may have but let me jump over them and give you the “magic” of what makes those “cohorts” as we call them work — besides being in a leadership development culture overall. . . (1.) A catalytic leader. Someone who intuitively knows how to lead a group. (2.) Hungry people. They have to WANT to be in the group. (3.) The presence of the Holy Spirit. With those three things in place, I’ve never seen a group like this not work. I’ve been leading this process so long I can’t believe I don’t have a post dedicated to it… so I’m going to write one!! I’ll include more depth and details there, but this is the basic idea.

  3. Awesome blog. This reminds me of something Ken Houts states in his book Maximize Your Influence: “This Sunday’s attendance and offering are the results of past ministry, so when you measure today’s attendance and today’s offering, you are measuring the results of your PAST ministry.” Thanks for sharing!

  4. If if you know that you don’t know you need training (equipped). If you don’t know that you don’t know you need counsel (development).

    1. Hi Randy, yes, see my response to Craig. But keep in mind that the “get a group, pick a book, ask two questions” is the foundation (not the full scope) of our development process, not equipping. Our equipping looks much like what you would imagine is offered to train volunteers for their specific ministry. I hope to wrote a better and fuller post on the foundation of development next week. Stay tuned!

  5. Dan, I am new to your blog. I am serving in the International Church and people come and go. It is hard to find people that can commit for a longer term, here means over 2 years i this context. How can I move faster to engage people and get them involve ? It seems monthly farewell is a common place ? any thought ? Many thanks. I am in Ho Chi Minh City and visited your church before.

    1. Stephen, You many not be able to change the cultural realities, depending on the reasons people seem to leave. If the reasons are natural such as career relocations, a family moves, etc that’s not something you work to change. If the turnover is about people in some way unhappy or dissatisfied with your church that requires more specific attention. To answer your question specifically, your best bet is to simplify your engagement process as much as possible. Focus all new guests to one weekly gathering with a very lean and streamlined approach to small groups and serving teams. Keep your ministry lean and simple so that you can devote more attention to the connecting with and training the people. Blessings! Dan

  6. Dan I always appreciate the helpfulness of your content as well as how it always stimulates me to think.

    You mentioned “the overlap.” When I approach a volunteer with the genuine belief that their engagement in a opportunity to serve will develop them, how can I ask them to serve in a way that communicates that I care more about them than what they can do for our church?

    1. Good question Roy. It’s all about context. In isolation, meaning the actual moment of the “ask” you can’t communicate that you care more about them than what they can do for your church. It’s about the larger relational context of how you treat the person before you ask and after you ask. It’s about how you treat them once they are serving… do you stick with them or abandon them and move on to the next “recruit”? Abandon is too strong a word, but you know what I mean. I know you can’t tend to every person personally, but through leadership development you can raise up a team that helps you keep everyone well cared for. If you stay true to your heart, they will know you care. You just can’t fake caring over the long haul and they know that. So, stay true to your love for people, slow down enough to express that you care and are with them, and raise up leaders to help you. It will work.

  7. I loved this post and the post after it when you outlined the way to develop others. I love equipping and developing leaders and volunteers, however I am having trouble connecting the development to church growth. Why when I develop others will the church grow? How does having a leadership culture attract more to my church and by extension the Kingdom?

    1. David, very good question. Developing leaders doesn’t have a direct/immediate relationship to more visitors. But leadership always raises the bar, meaning, everyone gets better at what they do. Guest services gets better, so visitors are treated better, and followed up better. Worship leaders and the creative team gets better so the worship service is more attractive and therefore your people are proud of it and therefore are more apt to invite. YOU get better as the leader, so you inspire the congregation better to invite their friends. You get the point I’m sure. It’s not like an event, where developing leaders “packs the house” it’s that the whole thing improves and that always helps draw more people to your church, (and encourages them to stay.)

      1. Thanks Dan. I’m using this article as a tool to help one of our staff better define his Ministry Action Plan for the next 90 days. As always, very practical, biblical helpful stuff!

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