Episode 53: Growing Hearts, Not Attendance, with Mike McClenahan

What happened to Solana Beach Presbyterian Church?  Oh, it’s still a big church, but it’s half the size it was twenty years ago.  Some would say that Mike McClenahan, the Senior Pastor, failed in some way.  He must have done something wrong and that’s why this church has declined so much.

Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just a reflection of what’s going on everywhere in our culture.

Mike and his team have been wrestling with these challenges for almost two decades.  And what they have found is that maybe they’ve been measuring the wrong thing.  Maybe, rather than measuring weekly church attendance, what they needed to measure was what was going on in people’s hearts.

In this episode, Mike McClenahan shares the story of his journey from trying to lead a successful church to recognizing that it’s more important to grow people’s hearts than it is to grow people’s church attendance.





  • Mike McClenahan is the Senior Pastor at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church in Solana Beach, CA.
  • Mike was baptized at Grandview Presbyterian Church in June of 1960.
  • When Mike was nine years old, his three-year-old brother tragically died. Two years later, Mike’s dad left and his parents divorced when he was thirteen.
  • These events were significant moments of loss in Mike’s life that taught him about the importance of the church.
  • Mike came to faith through his mom.
  • Mike felt called to seminary while working as a pharmaceutical sales rep.
  • After thirteen years as an Associate Pastor, Mike was called to be the Senior Pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church.
  • If you understand attendance as a measure of success, pastors experience loss and feelings of lack of success all the time.
  • Growing churches are generally growing because they are doing something “better” than other churches. But there’s no net gain in the church.
  • Solana Beach Presbyterian Church engaged in the Reveal Study, which showed that people in the church were engaged in the things that the church did together, but they were not experiencing their own personal spirituality.
  • Mike had to admit that over the past decade, his personal focus was on activity for God rather than intimacy with God.
  • In the book Move, Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson identify four qualities of leaders whose churches were the most spiritually vital:
    • Disarmingly humble
    • Modeled a surrendered life
    • Grow hearts, not attendance
    • They had one passion: Intimacy with Jesus
  • Mike had to vulnerably admit to his congregation that he was committing to deeper spiritual intimacy with God.
  • Solana Beach Presbyterian Church has provided some resources to their people to help them spend time in prayer, scripture, and solitude.
  • We help people grow in their union with Jesus in part because it helps them participate in the mission of God.
  • The most important thing for pastors to do—as they lead their churches into deeper intimacy with Jesus—is surrender.
  • This is helping Mike live into his belief in the church. The witness of Christ is through the church. If we’re going to make a difference in the world, it’s about what the people of God are doing—not merely what the pastor is doing. That’s how the mission of God is fulfilled.
  • You can find out more about Solana Beach Presbyterian Church at https://solanabeach.church/.




Links to Amazon are affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through any of these links, I’ll receive a small commission–which will help pay for the Spiritual Life and Leadership podcast!  🙂

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