I wrote this entry the other day and I think I posted it … but in the great server switchover, it appears to have been misplaced. So, just in case, here it is again.

I had a conversation with some pastors about one of the seminars they had attended. They had gone looking and hoping for another program that would help them launch their churches into the stratosphere – or at least grow their churches past where they were. As I reflected on the conversation later, it dawned on me that what they were hoping to find was that elusive bottle of magic pills that would cure the ills and grow their churches for them.

Just a couple of years ago, a Lilly research project looked at mainline churches that were growing through conversion growth, that is, churches that were reaching and transforming the unconnected into disciples of Jesus Christ. That study revealed that there are indeed a lot of “programs” that are being used to grow churches. Small groups, Alpha, Disciple, Forty Days of Purpose, and more. However, what the study suggests is something most of us already know: it’s not the programs that are growing these churches. We know that because small groups, Alpha, Disciple, Forty Days of Purpose, and so many more are also failing to grow thousands of other churches. All these programs, literally all of them, are placebos that have absolutely no power in themselves to transform or even grow churches in the long term.

As revealed in the study, the difference between the churches that are reaching the unconnected with abandon, compared to the many that reach few, is that growing churches have developed a climate of evangelism that permeates the church’s culture. The study also clearly showed that that culture was largely created and maintained by the pastor, staff, and congregational leadership. But we knew that, didn’t we?

So, why do we still seem to be obsessed with finding a magic pill bottle to cure all our ills? I have a number of ideas that I don’t believe I’ll but into print, but I will say this: The solution is not another program. So long as church leaders continue to spend their time overlooking the obvious in hopes of finding shortcuts or magic pills, their churches will continue to struggle.