Posts Tagged ‘church growth and the Great Commission’

Four decades ago, I visited a church near my home to hear a famous theologian speak.

The church had recently called a new pastor, and he eventually became a household name among Christians worldwide.

A friend of mine attended that church, and years later, he told me that their leaders had conducted a study of their new members.

The result?  98% of their new members came from other area churches.

Years later, I attended a major Bible conference, and that famous pastor did a two-hour question-and-answer session.

Someone asked him, “What is your church doing in the area of evangelism?”

His response?  “That’s the next thing we’re going to look at.”

He had been senior pastor of that church for 15 years.

Something troubled me about his answer.

He was a Bible teacher par excellence, and while he was now leading a megachurch, the newcomers flocking to his ministry were almost exclusively believers from other congregations.

I once heard him say that he wasn’t trying to steal sheep from other churches, but his mission field seemed confined to nearby assemblies, which caused resentment among smaller church pastors.

As I learned in seminary, there are three ways a church grows:

*biological growth (the children of Christian parents receive Christ and stay in the church)

*transfer growth (the church expects they will attract new residents and believers from other churches)

*conversion growth (the church deliberately tries to reach spiritually lost people for Christ)

Most churches in America are growing because they attract dissatisfied believers from other congregations … but that’s never been Jesus’ design for His church.

Jesus’ Great Commission is presented in all Four Gospels and in Acts 1:8.  The best-known version is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus tells His disciples:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There is one command in these verses: make disciples, which begins by winning lost people to Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t say:

“Make better believers of the already convinced.”

“Make members on a quarterly basis.”

“Make as many Baptists as you can.”

No, His first priority for His church in these verses is evangelism … making disciples of all nations … which starts with a church’s own community.

But in most churches … as was the case with that famous megachurch pastor … evangelism ranks dead last among church activities.  In what sense can such churches claim they are carrying out Jesus’ final orders?

I’ve discovered that churches that are serious about reaching their community do the following five things:

First, the pastor preaches from Scripture about issues that people care about.

I once preached through 2 Chronicles and began emptying out the church.  While I find that book fascinating, most people don’t.

What do people care about?  Their marriage … kids … health … job … finances … emotions … and future, for starters.

It’s easy to ask your neighbor or co-worker to church when the topic is marriage or raising kids.  It’s nearly impossible when the pastor is stuck in 2 Chronicles 12.

Since there are very few outstanding Bible expositors around, it’s better for most pastors to preach like Jesus did: topically.  (Jesus never did an exposition of any Bible book, but He sure quoted a lot of Old Testament verses.)

Second, the church makes sure that newcomers have a great worship experience.

My friend Gary McIntosh says that guests make 11 decisions about a church in the first 30 seconds.

If those first 30 seconds are great, the music, preaching, and after-service experience still need to be positive for people to return.

But if those first 30 seconds are uncomfortable or offensive, people rarely will return.  Churches only have one chance to make a great impression.

My wife and I once visited a church and were forced to stand outside the church doors for 10 minutes while they held a baptism.

We never went back.

Third, after several visits, guests are invited to join small groups and serve in entry-level ministries.

There’s a guaranteed way to keep people from becoming involved in your church: don’t invite them to anything.

The people in outreach-oriented churches personally invite family, friends, and co-workers to small groups and ministries.

Those in inwardly-focused churches don’t invite people because they’re thinking, “That’s my group … that’s my ministry … and those are my friends.”

Share your group and your ministry, and your church may grow.  Hog it, and it won’t.

Fourth, the church creates services and activities that appeal to unbelievers and believers alike.

When God’s people know that their worship services are consistently great, it’s natural for them to invite newcomers along.

And when God’s people know that an outreach activity will be done first class, they will definitely invite unbelievers from their network to attend.

I found that if a service or event was designed for unbelievers, our church worked much harder on it than if it was just for Christians.

I once oversaw an outreach event that featured a Christian illusionist.  We were forced to think and plan big, but the place was packed, and many people prayed to receive Christ that night.

Finally, the church reflects their outreach orientation in their mindset, staffing, budget, and ministries.

Mindset = the entire congregation is trained to invite people from their social networks as well as greet the newcomers around them at services.

Staffing = the church employs at least one person who is focused on outreach.

Budget = the church sets aside as much money as they can to reach their community for Christ.

Ministries = the church offers specific ministries for those who don’t yet know Christ.

I’ve visited scores of churches over the past few years and I can tell you this:

You can sense whether a church is outreach-oriented or inreach-oriented within the first few minutes.

How well is your church fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission?















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