How Are Churches Actually Built?

Everyone wants to see their church grow.

And when we sit down to work on the strategy for this, our minds often first go to “how can we get more people in the door?” It’s not a bad question. Sometimes it’s the question that needs to be answered. But as I’ve observed thriving churches in the last few years, I see another dynamic at work that gets much less airtime. This dynamic is also something that I often see as I fly Delta Airlines.

During my trip this past weekend, I got the surprise service of a Porsche transfer between gates. This is, without a doubt, my favorite part of the Delta experience for frequent travelers. And it’s rare! For context, I’m just into my third year of flying Delta almost exclusively and have experienced this only a couple of times throughout hundreds of flights (and I know some frequent travelers with status who have never had it). What blows me away about this service is the amount of investment that Delta puts into making one person’s day. I asked my driver one time how many passengers they drive between gates in a day. Her answer was “between 6-7.” In other words, they have an entire group of employees dedicated to making the day of 6-7 passengers each per day. It’s a big investment into something most will never see.

The key here is that it isn’t an investment into just anyone - it’s an investment into the most loyal core of customers. They are okay making this investment because when someone becomes a part of the core, they tell others about it (hence, this post).

Back to church life. I am starting to realize that churches often default to so much activity dedicated to getting people in the door for the first time, but we don’t know how to engage our most core members and take them further in their journey of discipleship, both as a believer and as a leader. We often seem to stumble in building our core. We assume that if they’ve checked off the box of joining a group and a team that our job is done. I believe this is the very reason we leave so much leadership opportunity untapped. Too many people who could be called higher into places of greater ownership and sacrifice never walk in it because we don’t know how to call them higher.

In other words, the question I’m grappling with right now...

What if churches are actually built from the core, and not the crowd?

When I think of crowd vs. core, I think of the ministry of Jesus. There’s no doubt about it, he had a crowd. The accounts in the gospels often speak of the crowds that were attracted to His ministry. So much so that at times, size became an issue for the space in which they attempted to gather. The writers even speak of Jesus performing miracles to feed the crowds. So, there’s no doubt about it - crowds mattered to Jesus.

But the crowds were flighty. They were there one day and gone the next. Even among people considered his disciples, he had days where he experienced mass departures. John tells us of a moment where so many people left in one day, Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (In fairness, He was talking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, and I’m not sure the disciples had context for the metaphor…)

There was even a week when the crowds went from shouting “Hosanna!” to “crucify Him!” The crowds were present and valued, but they were not the ultimate measurement of Jesus’ effectiveness. 

In our church growth culture today, I’m growing concerned for church leaders. I’m afraid we’ve painted crowd growth as the only measurement that matters. Now, as much as I want our churches to grow, this bothers me. What bothers me the most is the number of leaders who are experiencing anxiety and depression because the size of their crowd doesn’t match the size of someone else’s. 

I believe there is something else that grows our churches, both in size and effectiveness. It’s often misunderstood, and not taught about regularly. 

I have a suspicion that churches are built more effectively from the core, not the crowd.

It was the core of Jesus’ ministry who changed the world. His three-year investment into Twelve men proved to be strong enough to start the greatest global movement our world has ever known. It was the Twelve who walked personally with Jesus.. It was the Twelve who walked in His authority and power. And ultimately, it was the Twelve who risked their lives, led the charge, and moved the gospel forward into the cultural epicenters of the known world in their day. This is how they changed the world. 

So, leaders - what are you doing to develop your core? 

Who are your disciples?

How often are you talking to them?

How are you pouring your life into them?

Do you have a process to systematically develop all-in, heart and soul disciples?

Let’s not create what my pastor would call a “dumb dichotomy” in this thought. I believe we can and should have both the crowd and the core. I just wonder if we know the best place to start.


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