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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How Do You Know How to Grow Your Church?

There's a line in a movie that expresses what I believe reveals what many church leaders are experiencing when deciding how to grow their churches:

Customer: Whats the "Soup de Jour?"

Waittress: Oh, that's the soup of the day.

Customer: Oooh . . . that sounds good, I'll have that.

Church leaders can read book after book, go to conference after conference, try each and every suggestion given by each of these experts on church growth and still have their churches die. In fact, church leaders are more likely to be fired six months after attending a church growth conference than at any other time. (Don't quote me. I just made that up but it just seems like I hear of that happening more often.) Church leaders are given conflicting advise. One expert says that the church should be made incredibly simple. Another will allow people to do their own ministry without regard to the church. Another will tell you that you need to care for people while still another tells you that reaching people means you can't spend time caring for them.

Some church leaders are so desperate to see their churches grow that they try a new "expert" idea every year. They have "Vision de Jour." They claim God is leading in a new direction every year. Their churches resemble God's people wandering in the wilderness. However, they don't even know where the Promised Land is.

I have found these things as I have attended church growth conferences. Yes, they are intended to be criticisms.

Church growth experts woo you to do exactly as they have done. The problems you will face in doing so you are not that person with their personality, you are not in their church with their people or resources or location and you haven't been called by God to do it their way. Everything should work just fine other than these problems.

Church growth experts have a tendency to lie. They use exaggerations and hyperbole but it is still not the whole truth. One "expert" said that he transitioned his church from a completely traditional church to a completely contemporary church without any conflict. I almost stood up and said, "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" 

How did he make such a statement? I can think of several answers. He has a poor memory. He does not listen to anything negative. His definition of no conflict means that he wasn't fired. Regardless of the explanation I think a lot of young church leaders swallowed what he said hook, line and sinker.

Church growth experts think they are supposed to have all the answers so they sometimes shoot from the hip. They will give an answer that makes sense to them at the time because it is something they can do. They do not realize that the person who is looking up to them can't do what they have done. Its analogous to a 7'1" center saying, "When you are under the net, just dunk the ball." The problem is that he is speaking to a 5'9" guy with poor coordination. It seems like the easiest thing to do until you take into account who you are speaking to.

Church growth experts often do not take into account people. They are unpredictable. One pastor may fire an incompetitent staff member and be applauded. Another will attempt to do so and be fired himself. The actions taken may be exactly the same. The people are not.

Church growth experts rarely tell you to take what they have said and pray seriously before implementing anything. They assume that what works in one place with God's blessing will work in another with God's blessing. 

Many church growth experts are telling you how they stole members from other churches. They don't mention that their growth comes from the members of other churches. They fail to tell you that their baptisms are coming from people joining from other denominations and their own children. Will you be satisfied with that?

It seems that the hardest thing for church leaders to remember is that God will build His church. He has always used individuals to do what He has desired in the church. Those individuals have unique character qualities and God has unique plans for them. He may want us to use some of the ideas we find in other churches but copying completely what another church has done is not His plan. That would eliminate His Word, His working with us as individuals and our need for prayer and dependence upon Him. In fact, even His presence would no longer be needed.

I love the testimonies of church growth experts. (I don't especially like the criticisms of people who are merely researchers who have never done it themselves. But that's another topic.) They inspire me. I take what they have said with a grain of salt. I use some of their ideas. I walk away knowing that I am to listen to God before I do anything that they have said. He knows I will never be able to dunk the ball and He doesn't expect me to.

How do you know how to grow your church? You pray a lot. You listen to others a lot. You, then, pray a lot more. Then, you do what God has called you to do. It isn't instantaneous. It is God working with you and a whole lot of others.

Yes, my church is growing much slower than I would like. I suppose I would like to know the numbers that are reported by the church growth leaders. It's okay that it is growing slowly though. I have the joy of knowing that God is growing His church.

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