Forward Today: What helps a church grow?

A small plant with a red stem and a few green leaves, against a blurry background of green plants.
Photo by Austin D on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve been visiting churches all over the country. Most of the churches I’ve had a chance to visit have experienced remarkable growth lately, both in numbers and in depth. Yet the overall picture of the Episcopal Church suggests that we are seeing decline in more places than we are seeing growth.

Of course, church growth for its own sake is never the point. Jesus gave the church one primary task: to make disciples. Numbers help us know when we’re effectively making disciples, but those numbers are, in and of themselves, never the point. Still, Sunday attendance and participation in faith formation are critical windows into how well we are carrying out the Great Commission.

Our RenewalWorks data and my own anecdotal experience suggest that churches which prioritize spiritual growth experience numerical growth, too. This means focusing on worship as our primary task as a church. It means encouraging habits of daily prayer, studying the scriptures, and teaching the faith.

I’m always interested in data, because it helps us see what practices bear fruit. Our friends at TryTank are conducting a study of how faith formation impacts church growth. If you are a warden or a clergy leader, would you consider completing their survey for your congregation? This will help them put together a comprehensive picture that will be helpful for our whole church. Fill out their form if you are able to add your church’s experience to the survey.

In a little over two weeks, church leaders will gather in Louisville for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. We will spend almost all our time talking about things other than the Great Commission. Pray for this gathering, and pray that all our leaders (including yours truly, who serves as a deputy) will keep our eye on Jesus Christ and consider how we as a church can share his grace and mercy with the world. When we manage to do that, our church will be stronger because we are doing the thing that Jesus wants us to do.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. If you are going to be at General Convention, please visit Forward Movement in the exhibit hall. We’d love to say hello and talk about how we can support your work of disciple-making.

More from our ministry:

Data-driven insights for spiritual growth: Signs of Life

A simple, accessible journey through scripture: The Path

Share scripture and prayer with others: 10-packs of Forward Day by Day

St. Paul as a model for church mentorship: The Heart of a Leader