“It’s impossible to grow the church in this town.”
“No one cares about church anymore.”
“People aren’t going to give up their only day off to wake up early and go sit in a church to get yelled at.”
I have heard each and every one of these sentences come out of the mouths of heart-broken, defeated church folks… In fact, I said one of them (can you guess which one?).
As the pastor of a small church, I have a heart for small churches all over the world. In small churches (under 70) resources are scarce, volunteers are hard to come by, the budget is tight and the list goes on.
Church growth can be a daunting topic and a terrifying pursuit. There are, however, a few things that any church can do to better equip themselves for this process.
1. FOCUSED, GOSPEL-DRIVEN, KINGDOM-CENTERED PRAYER
Focused prayer (perhaps via a list) provides direction concerning HOW to pray.
Gospel-Driven prayer provides you with WHAT to pray.
Kingdom-Centered prayer provides you with the WHO your prayers are for.
Without a clear, defined and Biblical plan for your church’s communal prayer life you forfeit a number of significant things. You forfeit a teaching tool, a heart-alignment tool and a unification tool. You lose the ability to change the focus from “me” to “us” and “them.” You minimize the control and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer changes things.
2. A PLAN TO GROW
A new family walks into your church and immediately feels as inconspicuous as polar bear in the Sahara. For whatever reason this family has braved the treacherous climb out of bed on a Sunday morning and they’ve chosen to walk through the doors of your church to attend a service—miracle of all miracles!
It’s hard enough to get first-time visitors to come to your church but so many churches will all but guarantee these folks will never be second, third or fourth-time visitors, let alone become regular attendees or members.
The small church doesn’t expect new people and it has no idea what to do with them . . . and the visitors know it. The bulletins use a lot of “insider” language that they don’t understand, they can’t find a bathroom or the nursery, the people seem friendly but shocked that there is a new family in the service . . . clearly this church doesn’t expect to grow.
Unfortunately, you may lose new people before you ever really engage them on a personal level simply by failing to have a plan.
People tend to decide, within the first 5 minutes, whether or not this is the place for them week in and week out.
Why not put your best foot forward.
Plan for growth.
3. A HEART FOR THE UNCHURCHED & UNSAVED
The truth is, even though we talk about wanting people from the “outside” world to come to our church and meet Jesus, if/when that happens we tend to get uncomfortable and cold.
People that we don’t know are invading our space. They don’t know the important things, like—No coffee in the sanctuary. They do things that are unthinkable, like—Texting during a service. They come late and leave early.
New people means work. New people means change. New people means flexibility.
These are not things that any of us are good at or that we necessarily look forward to . . . unless we have the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.
A good question to ask yourself is, “How much am I willing to sacrifice to see people saved?” For Jesus it meant enduring the cross.
4. A LEADER WITH A PLAN
Growth doesn’t just happen. You don’t go to bed one night with a church family of 35 and wake up 3 years later with a church of 200 and no idea how you got there.
I’ve read more books than I care to mention on the subject of church growth. Most of them are great . . . as shelf-fillers.
Unfortunately there is no magic combination of things that a church can do to grow. Every church and every ministry context is unique and it will require unique things.
This is where a true leader becomes essential.
True leaders have a plan (or many micro plans that make up a more detailed macro plan). Typically the plan is multifaceted and there are a significant number of steps along the way.
Any church that requires ever member know every detail of every move the church makes will never grow. There is far to much detail, nuance and intuitive stuff (for lack of a better word) that goes on behind the scenes of a growing church than the pastor or leadership team has the time or the ability (as some of the “stuff” is Holy Spirit stuff and is therefore beyond explanation) to explain to every person.
A growing church needs a small group of individuals who are allowed to lead. Yes, they should communicate as much as they can, but the minute you put a leash on a leader you limit their ability to run things (see what I did there…)
5. SCISSORS AND A GUN (Metaphorically Speaking, Of Course)
Any small church that wants to grow needs to have the ability to honestly and wisely cut things out and kill things off.
In order to grow, a church needs to identify those things that are sacred to them (things like the Gospel, the primary doctrines, etc.) and which things are tools to serve and reach people. Then a church needs to be willing to transform or stop those non-sacred things in order to grow.
The problem is, there are so many things that are truly not sacred that the church has made sacred. I refer to them as “holy cows.”
These things, not unlike the golden calf, tend to be idols that we worship above the One who deserves and desires our worship.
A church that is not proficient in the art of “holy cow” tipping will struggle to grow in an ever changing world. Tip that cow! Shoot it if necessary! Make space for what God might have you do.
6. A CONVICTION THAT GOD LOVES TO GROW HIS CHURCH
Too often I hear language from church people that insinuates that the church shouldn’t expect to see much growth because of the wicked culture.
I typically do not respond well to this because, as I look through Scripture there seems to only be four categories for a biblical church: 1) healthy and growing; 2) persecuted and hiding, but still growing; 2) sinful and in need of restoration; or, 3) rebellious and dying.
I have yet to find the stagnant, trudging forward, just staying faithful, surviving and/or existing in a wicked place and not making a difference but just waiting for Jesus to return. Perhaps I’m not looking hard enough.
The language of the Bible seems to indicate that God loves His church, that God has not and will not abandon His church and that God will grow His church. The language of the Bible seems to indicate that God has a purpose for the local church that includes lost people finding Jesus. The language of the Bible seems to indicate that the Word of God is powerful, that God is in control, that no heart is too hard and that God has a plan.
Do you believe, and I mean really believe, that God loves to grow His church? Do you believe that God desires to add to His fame by adding to his Kingdom? Do you believe that God is still in the business of seeking to save those that are lost?
What you believe about God’s purposes will change your pursuits.
7. THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
This one is simple. God brings true, healthy growth. God alone.
Sure, there are other types of growth . . . unhealthy types. If you’re looking to build up a kingdom (or corporation) to yourself for yourself then you don’t need the Holy Spirit to grow. Frankly, all you really need is a good idea, a few committed/talented people and maybe a catch theme song.
If you want to grow the Kingdom of God through the local church then there is only one way to actually accomplish that, the Holy Spirit.
Long for Him, seek Him, plead to/for Him, follow Him, submit to Him . . . serve Him.
God brings true, healthy growth to any and every church. God and God alone.