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Posts Tagged ‘church growth’

Want to know a dirty little secret about large churches?

Many of them … if not most of them … grow because they’re far better at reaching the already-saved than spiritually lost people.

I once heard a nationally-known pastor confess that after 15 years of ministry, the next thing his church was going to focus on was evangelism.  A friend who attended that church told me that 98% of all their new members were Christians who came from other area fellowships.

If that’s ministry success, then maybe Jesus should have stated the Great Commission this way:

“Therefore invite disciples from smaller churches to your church, baptizing them and teaching them so they can pad the membership roster and turn your ministry into a megachurch.”

But, of course, Jesus’ Commission is to “make disciples of all nations [people groups]” … and making disciples always begins with bringing people into a relationship with Christ first.

As I mentioned in my last article, I came to a place in my life nearly 25 years ago where I saw that the gather/scatter philosophy was not working.  (The church gathers for worship on Sundays and then scatters for evangelism during the week.)

No matter how many times I told people to share their faith … or trained them how to do it … few if anybody ever did it.

(Is it because Christians can’t answer the objections of secular people?  Because we’re not filled with the Spirit?  Because we don’t make time for spiritual discussions?  Or because we don’t think anybody is really going to hell?)

Whatever the reason, I learned that 85% of all churches are either stagnant or declining, while only 15% are growing … and many growing churches are simply siphoning off believers from smaller churches.

I can tell you the day things changed for me.

A pastor friend loaned me four tapes of some talks given by Bill Hybels.  By the second tape, I was in tears.  Bill said that a high school football player at his church was so excited about their services that he reserved an entire row for members of his football squad to join him.

I wanted to be in a church like that!

So after much prayer, research, and discussion, the church I led voted to sell our property … all 1.8 acres of it … and used the proceeds to start over in a light industrial building several miles away.

In the process, we took some major risks, convinced that God was leading us:

*It was risky to sell our property… some experts advised against it … but the place had run its course.  It was time to try something new.

*It was risky to convert a warehouse into a worship center … but when it was done, it felt like heaven on earth.

*It was risky to start a new church with a group of 50 veteran Christians … but they made a great core group for a new church.

*It was risky to let a cautious, seminary-trained pastor lead such a venture … but I was able to make the transition, even though it took time.

But taking risks for Jesus is never easy, and we paid many prices:

*We sensed strong spiritual opposition constantly.

*We were continually hassled by the building department.

*We were cheated by our contractor, who charged us three times what that remodeling project should have cost.

*We kept setting and missing deadlines for our grand opening service … seven deadlines, in fact.

*We constantly battled discouragement because the remodeling project went so slowly.

One night, we took a risk and planned a concert with a well-known Christian artist for a Sunday evening.  The concert could only come off if we obtained our conditional use permit.

We finally obtained it the Friday before … with a few minutes to spare.

400 people attended that concert … one of the greatest nights of my life.

And one month later, when our church officially opened to the public, we had 311 people at our first service.

God performed miracle after miracle for our church.  Unbelievable stuff.

Many people came to faith in Christ and were baptized.

Our worship services were incredible … the best I’ve ever witnessed … and were so good that people constantly invited friends and family to them.

A bond formed among the leaders that will always be present …  and most of those individuals later became leaders in other churches.

Here are five lessons I learned by taking risks for Jesus:

*I had to change as a pastor and as a person.  I could no longer preach one way and live another way.  I had to incarnate change before anybody bought it.  But leading that church made me feel fully alive!

*Our core group had to change as well.  Some couldn’t make the changes and left the church … but most were transformed as leaders and people.

*We were forced to our knees in prayer … forced to address relational issues with others … forced to give beyond a tithe … and forced to rely on the Lord for everything … because we wanted God’s blessing on our ministry.

*We had to rely on the Lord every single day.  We were a couple offerings away from extinction … just like Willow Creek Church in their early days.

*God honors faith.  Hebrews 11 is filled with stories of people who heard God’s voice and obeyed Him against great odds, even though their actions didn’t make sense to those around them.

The late Guy Greenfield, a pastor for many years, once wrote:

“When a church is focused on taking care of itself, paying off its mortgage, paying its bills, and saving money, and shows little interest in outreach, evangelism, ministry, and missions, it is often headed for trouble. . . . Outreach, evangelism, ministry, and missions will keep a congregation on its knees in prayer (which always frightens Satan away). Satan can more easily invade a church that is consumed with secondary matters.”

I have found this to be true in all of the churches that I served as pastor.

When we were focused on reaching lost people, we were forced to get into spiritual shape, make sacrifices, and take risks.

When we were focused on ourselves, we became spiritually shabby, sought our own personal comfort, and stopped doing anything that required real faith.

God did not make churches to become self-contained clubs.  He made churches to become service-oriented organisms.

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus commended the two men who took their master’s talents … “put his money to work” … and doubled their talents.  But Jesus harshly judged the man who received one talent and hid it in the ground.

The Christian church in America is hiding most of its talents in the ground … spending its time, energy, and funding on staff salaries and building mortgages.

It’s why our services are unexciting … why we’re not growing spiritually … why people are bored at church … why nothing of any consequence is happening.

Where is the sense of adventure?

What is happening in your church that requires God as the only explanation?

It’s time we started taking risks for Jesus … just like the first church in Jerusalem.

Even if we fall flat on our face.

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