Growing the Church

Talking this week to a good friend of mine about LifeSpring made me start thinking about church growth. This month is my first year anniversary at LifeSpring. I’ll be quite frank. It wasn’t what I expected.

I knew of course that ministry would be difficult. But the first year was painful! There were so many things I went through–the personal disappointments and the hurts–that it is nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t simply give up and leave. About nine months into the ministry I was so discouraged that I considered leaving; that perhaps someone else could do a better job of it than me. But time after time I drew strength from God. And so I can only thank Him for seeing me through; and not just surviving, but coming out of it with a renewed sense of passion and joy because I see that God is right here working in our midst.

Every minister wants his or her church to grow. If they don’t, why are they in ministry? For that matter, why go into business? Why do you open a restaurant?

Looking ahead to the 2nd year then, the growth of our church must be a prime objective. The goal is to grow LifeSpring to the point where we can operate independently from the mother church, where we can hire additional staff to take care of the needs of a growing congregation.

A growing church I am sure will bring its own problems, but I welcome that challenge.

If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? (Jer 12:5)

I told my friend, as difficult as the first year was, I am still very encouraged and optimistic because we laid down a good, solid foundation which we can build on. The initial hard work has been accomplished. We ran with men on foot, to use Jeremiah’s metaphor. The initial groundwork has been accomplished, and that is very encouraging.

However, to continue accomplishing the goal, my friend suggested a focused approach. We need to think about a target, a specific group of people, and how to reach them. We can’t just operate from generalities as if the target is every person in Orange County. As good as that is, it doesn’t help us much because there is no focus, no vision, no aim or purpose, and consequently no plan or strategy. With that in mind, here is LifeSpring’s focus for how to go about accomplishing the goal of church growth:

Focus on the unchurched.

Our focus isn’t to bring people in who are already plugged in to another church. On the other hand, this does not necessarily mean non-Christians either. A surprising amount of Christians–many quite passionate about their faith–do not attend a church service regularly. Many have been disillusioned in the past with the rampant hypocrisy they have seen in the church and have gradually left although their faith in God remains. Yet, they still desire to get plugged in to a genuine community that makes a difference in the world. They know that the Christian faith is a communal faith. They may be unchurched but they are not faithless. They are perhaps like the crowds whom Jesus described as sheep without a shepherd, harassed and thrown about (Matt 9:36).

Focus on becoming a genuine community.

In order to attract the unchurched to church, the church must become a genuine community. There cannot be hypocrisy among us. It is not that we are perfect, but that we are being perfected, being sanctified in the power of the Spirit. The church is indeed filled with hypocrites! But the keyword here is “becoming”–not that we have already arrived, but that we are on this faith journey as a community of believers working together toward the goal of “becoming” Christ-like. The unchurched desperately seek community, a place to connect with fellow sojourners on the faith journey who are purposeful about becoming radically different because the way of Jesus is indeed radical, revolutionary, demanding, life-transforming… no compromise, no settling for second best, no rubbing shoulders with the way of the world…

Focus on discipleship.

While Jesus was constantly followed by “the crowds” during his earthly ministry, he focused on his disciples. As we have been studying the gospel of Matthew, the central theme has been the discipling of believers. Churches that do not disciple gradually pass away. At the end of Matthew Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19), and the focus on discipleship is what radically transformed the world and made Christianity the world’s largest religion from the first generation onward. If LifeSpring will empower its people, teach them to become disciples of Christ, and give them authority to go in the name of Jesus into all the world and make disciples, then we will accomplish the goal of church growth.

Focus on the few.

Those who bounce around from church to church are not willing to put in the effort to build the church. They go from church to church because they are looking for what the church can do for them, not what they can do for the church. They are “the crowds” not “the disciples.” We must focus on the few who are willing to work, those who say like Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!” (Is. 6:8). A potential disciple is one who boldly approaches Jesus and asks, “Lord, what can I do for you? How can I participate in your work?” Too many approach Jesus asking, “What can you do for me?”–and this passive attitude unfortunately pervades the mind of the church-shopper. A surprising biblical principle for growth is actually the small group. God diminished Gideon’s army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men (Judg. 7:1-8). Every three years, a certain pastor would ask members of his congregation to leave the church. Those who were not actively participating were asked to leave. Not surprisingly, his church became one of the fastest growing churches in America. Why does this principle work? Because active workers build the church. Churches with passive pew-sitters stagnate and the law of entropy takes over.

Focus on God.

In the final analysis, it is all about God! Everything we do at LifeSpring must focus on God. People do not need the next “feel good” strategy, the next psychology, the next spirituality in church. They need God! People go to church to connect with God. Yet it is shocking how often church programs and agendas get in the way. The job of the pastor is to get out of the way for he or she is not the shepherd, but the under-shepherd. Our authority is not self-derived but comes from Jesus. It is he who authorizes and commissions his under-shepherds to go and do ministry. He is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18). Since we moved to the Main Sanctuary, I deliberately designed the new worship service so that people can experience God week in and week out. Every aspect of the service, whether worship, prayer, word, or offering, must focus solely on God.

As I enter into the 2nd year of my service at LifeSpring, I feel deeply blessed and privileged to be here. I feel this is where God has called me. And as I pray continuously for our ministry, I am confident that God is pleased with the hard work, the foundation that was laid in the first year, and that He will bless us as we persevere in the years to come. God reminds me that I am not alone. There are other disciples who have stood faithfully with me through the rock-bottom times. I am so grateful for them! They are the few.

The amazing thing is that the past week, God added workers to our number; people who despite the fact that it was their first time joining us did not hesitate to put in some work at the church! May I be bold enough to say I don’t want any more passive pew-sitters. Go to some mega-church somewhere where you can remain anonymous, passive, and lazy. God send us workers!

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Matt 9:37).

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