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December 16, 2013, 11:38 AM

Where does Church Growth come from?

*Preamble to this blog series:  I am not an expert (at anything, really).  I am not offering a program, or formula for church growth in this series of blogs.  I am going to offer my opinions formed from 15 or so years of congregational ministry, and ideas formed from reading various books by "experts" and those who have successfully helmed churches to growth in number, effectiveness of ministry, and evangelism.*  

  It sounds almost childish to ask any question about where something comes from, doesnt it?  I recall both asking and hearing the "where do babies come from?" question, and the response was always the same:  "go ask your mother."  So when I ask the question of church growth, I cant help but be reminded of the innocence of a child genuinely seeking to understand something that eludes their ability to understand... and all I've gotten back in response is "go ask someone else (an expert)."  
  A popular movement in our group was the "church growth" wave of the 90's and 2000's.  Experts were brought in to evaluate and consult with leaderships, throwing statistics around and suggesting concrete rules to follow that will grow every church.  Some of that may have worked with your church, but the few that I've worked with that have been through that process (before my time with them) have either not seen the expected growth from following those principles, or have settle back into the habits prior to those statistic-led suggestions.    

  Lets converse on this concept for a few blogs, shall we?  Because if we're not in the business of growing, we are in the business of dying; And no one wants to admit that.  Quickly, let me define "being in the business of dying" because it sounds a bit too morbid for me to just leave hanging out there.  As individuals and as institutions, we must be active in growth or development, and breaking through the status quo of simply existing.  We can never be satisfied with having arrived at our destination when religion or spirituality is involved (whether that is relationship with Christ, with attendance numbers, or financial giving goals) while on earth, because nothing here on earth can serve as a proper destination for one seeking to follow Jesus.  Period.  If we feel like we have arrived, or are passing the torch on to someone else (younger, more energetic, or interested), we have settled into the business of dying.  

  Look around next Sunday and see if there are any signs of new life amongst your gathered group of regulars.  Most likely there will be some people whom you do not know personally because they are in a different age group than you, or because socially you havent mixed with them.  But those people, despite your unfamiliarity with them, have probably been around enough for you to at least garner some recognition.  Most likely what you will see when you look around is a group of people that you are very familiar with, and can share at least some of their story if asked.  This is not an attack, this is simply an observation on our communities that are intended to be growing, but have reached a level of stagnation.  

  Take the opportunity next to look at the leadership of your church.  Put aside disagreements or loyalties and ask yourself if you believe they honestly want the body of believers meeting where you are to grow.  I can speak with authority on this:  there is not be a single preacher, elder, deacon, or board member who desires their congregation to fail, be stagnant, or die off.  Every one of us wants growth.  There may be varying reasons for that desire (pride, financial security, empty pews, etc...), but the desire is there in every single one.  Peeking inside closed meetings, almost every conversation revolves around church growth.  "How do we get more people involved?"  "How do we fill empty pews?"  "How can we get our congregation to give more?"  All of these have a basis in church growth.  We need/want more people, money, participants, servants, volunteers, leaders, children, families, ministries, missions.  You name it, church growth is involved.  

  So where does this growth come from?  The obvious fallback answer is often:  "we pay our minister to do those things."  Is there any preacher out there who doesnt want their congregation to be healthy, growing, and thriving?  Sure, there are some exceptions, but lets dismiss those as sick or extraneous and talk your average preaching/lead minister.  We ALL want our congregations to be the best.  When we gather as preachers we brag about you, the best things about you, and we spin tales of how we are ALL on the brink of revival and explosive growth.  Stories and suggestions are shared with what works for this group, and that group.  We look longingly at those folks whose churches are growing, hoping some of that will rub off on us and our flocks.  Every preacher wants their church to grow, and they work hard to see that happen.  

  If we accept that fact (that your leadership wants and works for church growth), then why arent all of our churches growing?  Why arent all parking lots full on Sunday morning?  Why do we have empty chairs and rows unoccupied?  Let the excuses flow.  Let the well reasoned arguments of why things arent working right now fill in the blanks here: ______________.  We have buzz words like "we're not in a season of growth right now" to help us feel better about not growing.  "Maybe the congregation just isnt on fire yet for the message."  "We're laying the infrastructure for massive growth in the future."  It all comes down to this:  we're not growing, we're dying.  

  Church growth does not happen from the top down in 90% of churches.  There are some that will grow because of the presence of a dynamic preacher and people will be drawn to them.  Those mega-churches are the exception.  Much like professional athletes, those leaders are the minority, given singular gifts and intellect.  Church growth happens from the bottom up.  It happens in relationships formed outside the walls of our sanctuaries.  Our churches grow where life happens:  on the baseball fields, in the cubicles, when we treat our servers with respect and generosity, when we pray as a family at the table, when we smile when we are cut off in traffic... Church growth happens when the Kingdom of God shows up in the unexpected places...  And the population of this messed up world see the quiet love of a God shown in kindness, forgiveness, and generosity of those who believe.  When the fruit of the Spirit becomes how we respond to this world, we will begin growing the Kingdom of God the way it was meant to be grown.  Not with statistics, but through the character shown to us in the life of Jesus.

  Everyone expects the preacher to act holy all the time, sharing the Gospel in every circumstance and every conversation, and baptizing those people into active, giving participants on a regular basis.  If he's not doing that, why should I?  Yes, that is part of our calling, to share the Gospel.  But we also have to spend time in the office.  Preaching is not easy, and takes time to prepare.  Remember, more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  Your preacher regularly tackles the #1 fear of our nation on a weekly basis.  I'm not offering an excuse, but hopefully showing you a glimpse into the time and effort that goes into making every Sunday something special and meaningful so we can do the same thing next week.  We are one person on staff, with only two hands, 24 hours a day to give to you and our families...  If its left to just me, I can only do so much and I will inevitably let you down.  

If we leave church growth up to the experts, or those paid to minister, we are limiting ourselves to the power of one or two people in the midst of a crowd.  Church growth is in the hands of the crowd, the mass of people who gather regularly to hear those one or two speak into a mic, but live and operate outside those special walls.  What are you doing to grow the church?  If all we have to offer is regular attendance and an occasional hour or two of service to a specific project, we are offering nothing more than a pittance to the growth of the Kingdom.  The civil rights movement would have died had it been left solely in the hands of just MLK.  He was amazing, but the power of his message was truly felt and realized when the crowds took it and ran with it.  The power of the movement came when everyone else took his message and demanded response.  If it were left to one, it would have failed...  

The power of your church's growth is in your hands.   



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