I get flooded with church growth material in the mail, and in emails. I also get a tremendous amount of invitations to participate in “church fundraising” seminars. If you are in ministry, you know what I am talking about. While many methods may produce, doing things the Bible way will produce solid Bible results.
Perspective on growth.
Church growth is always understood in light of what the culture says is growth. In America, growth and success are usually measured by quantity and profit - the same ways the business world judges itself. In America, the largest churches in existence have many thousands of members and a tremendous amount of wealth as a result. They are considered successful yet, those same ministries don’t Biblically make disciples.
So, what IS growth? Natalia Schedrivaya of Russia (currently training leaders to plant 300 churches) says this about the church in America, “Americans think of church growth in terms of growing big churches. But church growth to me involves spreading the gospel to places where no one goes or wants to go.” Her culture thinks differently, so success is measured differently.
If we measure growth and success in light of the commandment we have received, we will be seeing it the way God sees it.
(Matthew 28:19–20 ESV) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Growth is measured this way: How many people are truly living for God? And, has everyone had a chance to become a disciple?
There is only one vision.
To do things the Bible way, we first need to recognize that there is only one “vision”. The Bible goes to great lengths to tell us that we are one body, there is one hope, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit and one God and Father of all. There is also only one Lord and Head of the church.
The Head of an organization oversees all the organization and is the One with the vision. While we have may different assemblies, there is only one church with one Head over all. As different members within the Body of Christ, we do have different functions, purposes, and assignments just like the different members of a human body. My foot doesn’t have a different vision than my hand, but it does have a different function, and we cannot do without the hand or the foot.
The reason this truth is vital is that we need to realize that we have not been told to build the church - we have been told to bring people to Jesus and make disciples of Christ. Jesus said that He would build the church.
(Matthew 28:19 ESV) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
(Matthew 16:18 ESV) “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Jesus considers there to be one church, and, that it is His. Any and every Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher is to minister toward serving the “vision” of the Lord Jesus Christ to reach the world and make disciples of Christ. The reality is that if any church making disciples grows, then we should rejoice whether we are the leader of it or not.
Bringing people to Jesus.
The Bible commandment and pattern is that every Christian bring people to Jesus. The ministry gifts are to equip the saints for this ministry.
(Ephesians 4:11–12 ESV) “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,”
We need to focus on training and equipping the saints to reach the people in their worlds. My observation is that most American Christians lack confidence in talking to and ministering to the people in their lives, and they have just given up. But I have also found that they have tried only to bring people to church rather than ministering Jesus to them.
These days, in America, there is a predisposition among people in the world to avoid “church” because of what they think the church is. Besides, bringing people to church is not the objective. Primarily, the church is for discipling the saints. Yes, people do and should get saved at church. Certainly you have noticed that the lost in the world don’t make it a point to come into church.
Jesus came to SEEK the lost.
(Luke 19:10 ESV) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
We can’t “seek” the lost from sitting in a church pew. If you think about it, most of the time Jesus was in a synagogue He got in trouble and was criticized. Religious people hated Jesus because He sought out what they called “sinners.”
(Matthew 9:10–12 ESV) “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
Sometimes I think that Christians have “sinner phobia” and are afraid that something might get “on them” if they go near sinners. I know a lot of Christians that would be very uncomfortable going around ministering with Jesus. Honestly, I don’t think many Christians love sinners the way Jesus does. We are the light of the world but we need to take the candle out from under the basket. You won’t know that light dispels darkness until you take a candle into a dark room.
Even a good fisherman knows that to catch fish you have to go where the fish are. Christians need to be taught to seek the lost, and that will include being where the lost are. Remember, we are in the world, we are just not of the world.
Growth by marketing produces preferential Christians.
The more the church does for church growth other than the saints bringing people to Jesus, the more the church enables the saints to fail in their calling. Yet, in America that is what has happened.
Churches have adopted all kinds of “methods” to get people interested in coming to church. The predominant method seems to be music. Other methods include “theme” based social functions. While these are not harmful, they train the church members that the church will provide ministry to entertain the saints and to draw people to church. The hope is that once people come to church they will then want to serve God.
Marketing will produce if it is skillful. However, the results are a group of preferential Christians that are there because of something that they like or want. The same is true for churches built upon the “vision of the church” rather than on the vision of the Lord Jesus.
Disciples come and serve God by discipline - not by inspiration. A carpenter doesn’t get up and build a house because he “feels” like it - he does so because he is a trained carpenter and building houses is what he does. True seekers come to find help and life rather than good music or food.
I personally know of several ministers that spent twenty and thirty years building large churches by promoting the vision of the church. In recent years these churches have lost more than half of their members. I believe it is because the church was not built fundamentally on the saints bringing people to Jesus. A vision without the proper focus is just activity.
I know of churches that have so many activities during the week that they have developed a culture of detachment from the world. It seems that their idea of ministry is to do as many activities as they can to “get people in”. Just a note: Preferential Christians are very expensive to maintain. I find it interesting that we often try to “provide a place” for the people to come and enjoy their salvation while Jesus was found in a house full of sinners.
The Church is not a business.
We all know that the church has business aspects of it in order to function, however, the church is not a business and business models of operation do not always apply. The church is not a manufacturer and it is not a service organization. The church is the official representative of a King and His Kingdom. It does not make “business sense” to establish a kingdom by having the king killed. No, in the business world, the death of the king was the end of his kingdom.
True, many pastors need help with leadership issues and with management issues. Inadequate disciplines in these areas will ultimately lead to attrition. I was told that John Osteen once said, “The church is a living organism, remove the hindrances to growth and it will grow.” Poor leadership and management can hinder growth, but they are not to be the means of growth. Proper, Biblical means of growth is the saints bringing people to Jesus - and then to church where they can be discipled to do the same.