By Bill Easum
I’ve seen and heard a lot of criticism these days about church growth. It’s as if all of a sudden it’s a four- letter word. That’s strange because everything I read in the Scriptures is about growth- all kinds of growth. And maybe that’s the problem. The critics hear or see the term “Church growth” and they think it is nothing more than adding numbers to an institution. And even though such a focus was never the intent of Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth movement, some of his followers did function as if their sole mission was to grow the institutional church. So there may be some merit in their criticism.
So, instead of “church growth” we should be talking about “Kingdom growth.” Surely no one can take offence to the growth of the Kingdom of God. So from now I’m going to replace the term “church growth” with “Kingdom growth.” And don’t think I’m just playing with words here. As you will see in this article, focusing on Kingdom growth eliminates all the possible negatives found in the practice of “church growth.” See if you don’t agree.
Best Practice One: Focus Yourself Outward, This Grows You
The average committed church person focuses most of their time on the ins-and-outs of their church. They “go to church” so much that after three years most church people don’t know any unchurched people anymore, much less a pagan. The same is true with most pastors – 80-90% of their time is spent with church members.
One of the reasons church people, including pastors, don’t mature spiritually is because they spend all of their time on those within the walls of the church. And when the pastor doesn’t focus all of his or her time on the church members they begin to grumble.
I’m convinced spiritual maturity is achieved when Christians and churches begin to focus beyond themselves to the folks who have yet to make Jesus the Lord of their life and to the injustices of society. That’s why I say in my book, Unfreezing Moves, the heart of spiritual maturity is a desire to connect with the outside world. People reach spiritual maturity when they understand they are “blessed to be a blessing.” Not until we learn to focus our hearts and minds around those who do not yet know Jesus as well as address the injustices of our time will we ever come close to the Kingdom.
Yes, it’s true- you can’t separate evangelism and social justice and have a Kingdom focus. Both liberals and conservatives have inflicted grave harm on the Kingdom by separating the two. We must focus on both.
If you want to reach your spiritual potential in Christ, begin focusing more and more of your time outward to those who are not yet in the Kingdom and to the injustices being inflicted on them by society.
Best Practice Two: Learn to Hand-Off Ministry – This Grows Others
We’ve all heard the saying, “idle hands are the Devil’s tools.” Well, one of the reasons most established churches are ineffective, boring, and dysfunctional is because clergy have hogged the joy of ministering to others instead of equipping the laity to minister to “one another.”
I had just finished a teaching session when a pastor came up to me and said, “If I did even half of what you recommend, I would have no reason to be a pastor.” “I don’t understand,” I responded. To which he replied, “If I did what you recommend, people would no longer need me. I became a pastor because it felt good to be needed!” That pastor was robbing his people of the joy of the priesthood of the believer and insuring that every church he pastored would be spiritually crippled.
Ephesians 3:11-12 is often used to show the role of the pastor is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” However, few finish the last verse which ends, “so we all come together in unity.” Most churches are conflicted today because the pastor hasn’t equipped them for their God-given roles within the Kingdom. Church unity is the result of an equipped church. Of course, when a pastor refuses to be the hired hand and tries to equip the so called saints all hell breaks loose.
Learning to hand-off ministry as soon as someone is ready is one of the most important steps a pastor will take in his or her spiritual journey. In order to hand-off ministry pastors have to do the following:
- Begin praying God will send your way the people you need for effective ministry. If it is God’s church, God will send them to you.
- Begin looking for people who can do most of what you are doing right now. You usually get what you look for.
- Deal with your ego before you hurt the Kingdom. Most of what pastors think they are called to do doesn’t take a seminary degree so lighten up and share the joy.
Best Practice Three: Think Twice Your Size- This Grows Your Church
I tell every pastor who asks me how to grow his or her church the place to start is by visualizing their church two or three times larger than it is at the moment. Then ask yourself, if my church was actually that size what would I have to stop doing and what would I have to start doing?
When our church was around 200 in worship I required every couple wanting to get married to have three sessions with me before I would agree to marry them. When our church reached 300 in worship I figured out that if the growth continued all I would be doing was counseling couples wanting to get married. That was not what God called me to do. So, I had to stop that practice and figure out how to handle it. Based on that learning experience I began to look at everything else I was doing. As a result I had to quit doing most of what I was doing. Here’s a list; see if it fits. I had to quit….
- Going to all of the people in the hospitals
- Going to so many meetings
- Counseling couples wanting to get married
- Spending 25 hours on a sermon
- Helping with ministry setups around the church
- Teaching a bunch of bible studies
- Pasturing the whole church
- Opening my mail (now email) and answering the phone
- Having an open door policy for both staff and members
But I also had to start doing things I hadn’t been doing. Here’s a list; see if it fits. I had to start….
- Handing off as much hands-on ministry as possible
- Learning how to hire and fire staff
- Setting clearer expectations for the staff
- Reading more about leadership
- Streamlining the church structure so everyone has more time to focus on actual ministry
- Spending 80% of my time on the unchurched, paid staff, and key lay leaders
- Being a strategist as much as a preacher
A young pastor came up to me after a seminar session and said something like, “I have prayed for two years that God would double my church and it hasn’t happened. What’s wrong?” I responded: “What if God doubled your church next Sunday; would you have enough parking; would you have enough seats in worship; would you have enough staff to disciple them; would you have enough ministries for them?” The young man answered, “No.” “Now you know why God hasn’t doubled your church; you’ve not made the preparations.”
Bottom line- if you’re church isn’t growing and you want it to start growing, you will have to shift 80% of your time from what you are doing to what you need to start doing. So take time now to make your two lists- what do you need to stop doing and what do you need to start doing.
So, there you have it- the best practices of Kingdom growth. It includes growing yourself, others, and the church. Isn’t that what it’s all about?