Most of us find the growth of our churches to be exhilarating, exciting, heady. Especially if this growth follows an extended period of little or no growth. New people walking in every Sunday! Favorable comparisons to your newbie’s former pastors! Long dormant ministry slots finally being filled!
Except for a couple of anti-growth grouches who lay in the weeds of every congregation, the rest of us love this stuff.
Here’s the problem. Many of us have learned that our goal should never be church growth per se. Dann Spader (founder of Sonlife Ministries) or someone else, opened our eyes to see that Jesus wants every church to be producing something and that something is disciples: devoted followers of Christ, as in Matthew 28:18-20.
Making disciples involves winning lost people to Christ, building them up in the faith and equipping them to serve.
Most churches, Spader taught us, are putting almost all of their energy into the “building up” aspect of making disciples. Most of us are terribly deficient when it comes to evangelism: winning lost people to Christ. The few churches that are good at evangelism are often poor at building up believers or equipping them to serve.
A healthy church is one that balances these three aspects of disciple-making. It begins with the raw material of lost people (adults, not just children) and turns them into disciples. Like a medical school, or the Army’s infantry school, or a truck driving school, it measures success in terms of the finished product, not just how many bodies are enrolled in the program. Doctors, infantrymen, truck drivers, disciples.
A factory owner I know was sadly disappointed with what his company was doing during our recent “great recession.” His company is supposed to make machines that make thermopane windows. During the recession they had to settle for re-conditioning machines they had produced earlier.
And that brings us to the problem of exciting church growth. Many churches which are not growing do some painful soul-searching and Bible-searching and figure out that they’re not growing because they’re not making disciples. They conclude that they should never again settle for the endless teaching of the same people and they should never again settle for re-manufacturing Christians from other churches (transfer growth, growth at some other church’s expense).
But then they get a new pastor, fix up their building, adopt a new attitude or start a new program and they begin to grow. With transfer growth. Sheep finding new pastures. Fish being moved from one aquarium to another. They become the “hot church” in town.
It’s exciting. It feels great. Everybody loves it. It feels like romantic love. It’s so good that it’s intoxicating. Everybody forgets about the need to figure out how to win lost people, build them up in the faith and equip them for ministry.
I beg the churches which I help to not get drunk on transfer growth. “Don’t stop changing whatever you need to change until you are actually making disciples out of lost people.” “Please don’t forget the reason for which Jesus created the church.” “If the people in the pews forget about the need to win the lost, you leaders must not forget. You must not stop leading until your church is functioning the way Jesus wants it to.”
Are you suffering from the problem of exciting church growth? What will you do about it?