Note: The following is a post I wrote on October 31, 2006. It is from one of my former blogs. As our church moves forward to moving into a new location, I reconsidered my friend’s thoughts and I post this here looking for new ideas and comments from you. I’ve edited it slightly to bring it up to date. Enjoy.
This morning I spent my time in a nearby Starbucks meeting with a fellow church planter/pastor who is getting ready to build his first church building after beginning his church 14 years ago. That’s right…14! I have to say it was one of the most encouraging meetings I’ve ever had.
Sometimes I question myself as if to think I’m really in control of this whole church thing. God does expect us to prepare and direct where he is blessing but the church is HIS to build or not build. When growth doesn’t come as fast as you like, you sometimes wonder if you’re doing the right things. My friend is now at a point in his ministry where he is able to think past the numbers needed to sustain the church but it wasn’t long ago he was where I am now, rocking back and forth trying to break the first of several major growth barriers. His advice to me:
1. Pour all your time into building your leaders. Don’t spend all your time trying to convince the “fringe” folks to attend. You’ll go crazy. Invest your quality hours into raising up quality people who will duplicate the vision you’ve set.
2. Identify people who don’t fit your church as soon as you can and move them elsewhere. This doesn’t sound very nice but when you think about it, it makes all the sense in the world. My church isn’t the only local body of believers and others may be a better fit for this person rather than have them get frustrated when our church doesn’t go along with their ideas or agree with their expression of worship. Sometimes in the early stages, we are so eager to get people in the doors, we think we can change them but we really can’t so it’s best not to allow them to take root among your people where they can cause division and strife. This has happened to me several times so I see my friend’s point.
3. Focus on relational small groups. We do this at my church but we’ve not grown to the numbers I’d like to see. My friend has some great ideas culled from several sources and says that keeping your own personal small group as a discipleship training group will replicate the needed leaders to keep up with the growth.
4. Most of all, stay evangelistically minded and biblically adept in training newcomers to your church. My friend said he wasn’t interested in folks from other churches but would rather see them saved at his church and discipled into their form of ministry so loyalty and biblical literacy could be acquired.
At first, I looked at my list and saw that we are on the same page here but it IS hard to stay focused when the giving is down or numbers fluctuate more than the norm. This friend of mine told me he made his biggest mistake by focusing solely on the numbers and not on a slower, more consistent and manageable growth. He encouraged me by telling me of how his church ballooned to over 400 at one point and subsequently dropped to just over 200 because he and his wife couldn’t give people the time needed to pastor them properly and no solid leaders were in place. He is now back at the 400 mark and fully plans to double that number once his new building is complete. He is already at work in two small groups grooming the future leaders of that new growth well over a year before his building will be complete. In so doing, he told me he is also grooming from these “leaders” the core of the team that will lead the church in the next generation which is the greatest task a leader of today must accomplish.
I must admit, his enthusiasm was infectious. I enjoyed the time and his raw faith to shake his community with the love of Christ.