There’s an axiom in the consulting world that goes: “Only two things grow a church … and about a million things keep it from growing.” Of course the second part is an exaggeration, to a certain extent, but the first part holds true across our nation.

Let me help explode a couple of myths that get bandied around as if they were reality. First, friendliness will not grow a church, although an unfriendly church will prohibit growth completely. Second, a great youth program will not grow a church. Large churches have great youth programming—this is true. But it wasn’t great youth programming that grew them. In our culture, youth seldom get involved in a youth program without their parent’s direct intervention. To take a step further, the old saying “The youth are the future of our church” is worse than misleading, it’s not true. Spiritually mature adults are, and have always, been the future of the church. When parents are growing in the faith, their families tend to follow, including the youth. And finally, Bring a Friend Sunday and other invitational programs won’t grow a church … unless the two things that will grow a church are in place.

So, what are the only two things that will grow a church?

Cracker Jack Indigenous Worship

Notice the two parts. Worship that grows a church has to be first class. There’s little room for mediocrity. The music has to be top notch; the preaching should be engaging and relevant to life today; and the hospitality has to be truly welcoming from the parking lot to the worship center and back. Worship also has to be indigenous. That means, it must be offered in the style, language, and technology that the target audience is familiar with. If the worship service is targeting the over 65 crowd, the music would include traditional instruments (organ and piano), the congregation would sing hymns, and the sermons would be intellectually stimulating, thought provoking, and heavy in information.

On the other hand, if the worship service is targeting the 45 to 60 crowd, the music would include less traditional instruments (guitar, keyboard, drums),  the congregation would sing primarily praise and worship music, and the sermons would be life-coaching and encouraging with a heavy dose of adult spiritual formation. In addition, the service would generously use video projection; there would be no need (or much desire) for hymn books; there would be no need for an order of service in the bulletin … indeed, the bulletin would be more like a newsletter/calendar of upcoming events, etc.; and the sermon would be punctuated with at least one or two video clips.

Finally, if the worship service is targeting the under 45 crowd, the music would be beat driven—bass guitar and drums are the predominant instruments, though both guitar and keyboards are present. The songs would be theologically and culturally complex and for those over 50 might even seem enigmatic. Video would drive the service, not punctuate it, and even when the pastor was speaking/preaching, they would projected onto the screen. Indeed, there might be as many as three or more screens running simultaneously, each with different images. The sermons would be evangelistic, missional, well-researched, relative to real life, and up to 45 minutes long.

Excellent Children’s Programming

There’s another old saying that goes “Momma decides where the family goes to church; children decide whether they come back.” It’s actually less of an old saying and more an absolute. The reason children grow a church, while youth programming does not, is because children cannot fend for themselves … and mom and dad are committed to their children enjoying and getting a lot out of their church experience. Children’s programming must be engaging, big-picture, bright colors, the space must SPOTLESSLY CLEAN, and every safety and security issue must be fully addressed and clearly visible for all to see. It needs to involve the large muscle groups as well as the “sit in the chair and color” kind of activities. And the kids must have fun and be exposed to the Gospel—with the expectation that they’re being both evangelized and discipled.

There’s a lot that will keep a church from growing, but if a church doesn’t have these two pieces going for it, growth will continue to be elusive.

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