How to Keep Your Church Youthful and Growing

Joe McKeever
Published Feb 21, 2024
How to Keep Your Church Youthful and Growing

Churches that do more than survive, but thrive for the long haul–effectively ministering for decades and beyond–all seem to have these things in common.

“They will be full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14).

An article in “The Progressive Farmer” asked whether to “Keep or Cull?” Subtitle of the article: “High prices have changed the rules about when to cut one loose from the herd.”  

Here’s a quote–

Farmers who want to keep their herds young and viable know the importance of culling certain animals that get too old, consume too much resources, are no longer producing, or are a detriment in other ways.

Pastors cannot cull.

More’s the pity, we say with a wink.

There is a reason certain businesses are dying before our eyes. K-Mart and Shoney’s come to mind. The discount store and the restaurant were once all the rage. We think of names like Montgomery-Ward, Spiegel, Western Auto, and Rexall– in most cases only dim memories now.  National Shirt Shop. Woolworth. Maison Blanche.

To stay healthy and maintain its mission, any entity must be constantly reinventing itself, tweaking its systems, sloughing off the old and dead, birthing the new.

In most cases, the dying businesses did not get the memo. Some stores and hotels look like they’ve not had a paint job in years. The hand dryer in the bathroom does not work, and the personnel all wish they were working somewhere else.

As a customer, you take your business elsewhere.

This train got the disappearing railroad blues (A line from “City of New Orleans”).

When a restaurant or hotel or church gives signals that they have the “disappearing railroad blues,” you go elsewhere.

Some churches with glorious histories are disappearing right before our eyes. What happened? The causes may be as many and varied as the stars in the sky, but my short answer is that many of those churches grew satisfied with what they had and shut down the renewing process.

Dying churches often share numerous things in common.

They reach a point where they like their membership the way it is now and resent newcomers. Their present ministries and worship services become set in concrete, and they resist change. Their mantra becomes, “We never did it that way before.” (My friend Ralph Neighbor wrote a best-seller a half-century ago titled The 7 Last Words of the Church. Yes, those are the seven words. The book is worth finding and reading.)

The complacent church–one that resists changes, resents newcomers, and reacts against innovation–is voting to die.

7 Things Thriving Churches Have in Common

Churches that do more than survive, but thrive for the long haul–effectively ministering for decades and beyond–all seem to have these things in common:

1. They welcome newcomers and appreciate great ideas.

2. They are constantly tweaking the program and adapting the ministries to ever-changing conditions.

3. They drop programs that have outlived their usefulness and look for better ways to accomplish the same goals.

4. They put newcomers to work in the church. Members are not required to belong to the church for five years before they are given responsibilities.

5. They honor their ministerial leadership and keep them a long time. (Dying churches tend to have quick turnovers.)

6. The trust level is high between pastor and congregation. When difficult decisions must be made, mature leaders act wisely with the support of the church.

7. They sometimes make radical changes and do so successfully.

In a sentence, successful churches look to the Lord Jesus Christ to show them what He wants done.

Two churches come to mind. Both were diminishing due to the changing makeup of their communities. Featherstone Church decided to relocate to a suburb where their members had moved. They sold their facility to a minority congregation, bought 100 acres at the edge of the metro area, and started from scratch. Today, Featherstone Church is twice the size of its glory days and has become a great missionary-sending congregation.

Wishbone Church, however, decided to stay with their changing neighborhood but to make whatever changes were necessary to minister there. They brought in a minority pastor and developed innovative outreaches toward their neighbors, many of whom barely spoke English. Today, Wishbone Church is multiracial, and its numerous services throughout the weekend are overflowing.

There is no one way to do this. No one pattern is right for everyone. Some churches ought to relocate, and some should stay put. But every congregation must learn the basic lesson of our own bodies: To stay alive and healthy, we must always be sloughing off dead cells and growing new ones.

A healthy body must not run from new challenges but learn from each one and grow from the experience. The hand must trust the leg, and the feet must trust the eye. And all must trust the Head.

Trust the Head.

Don’t miss that.

He knows the plans He has for you and for your church. “I will build My church,” He promised (Matthew 16:18).

We do well to ask the question of the newly humbled Saul of Tarsus as he stared into the brightest light he’d ever seen. “What will you have me to do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10)

Then, just do it.

Photo Credit: ©Sparrowstock 

Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at