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Growing a Church


A reflection on church growth, based on the Growing Churches Forum at the Beacon, Stafford in July. By Danielle Rosborough  


Grow700

 

How do you know when a church is growing? Not just growing in numbers, but growing in maturity in a healthy way? Obviously an increase in the number of people coming into church is a sign of church growth, but what else do we have to consider? When do we perceive a church to be mature? And how do we know it is healthy? If a church is experiencing a significant rise in new believers, who are continuing onto baptism and then membership, then it’s safe to say that the church is growing. When numbers aren’t just due to migrating Christians from other churches, but are new believers contributing to kingdom growth, then God’s Church is growing. 

And when these new believers show a desire for baptism and wish to be included in the family of the church by entering into church membership, then they are showing a maturity and growth in their own personal faith. Strong, mature, healthy individual Christians are the bedrock for a healthy church, and when this church grows to capacity and begins to plant new churches, then the church is mature.  Nothing demonstrates the maturity of a church quite like when they birth their own infant church, which follows the same pattern of growth as its parent church.
 
Why are some churches experiencing significant growth, while others are not? What is it exactly that causes a church to grow? Whilst recognising that God is ultimately in control of growing His church, there are also some human factors that contribute to this growth. Jesus himself told Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” [Matthew 16:18] and Paul’s words to the Corinthians show an understanding that it is up to God’s people to assist in bringing about church growth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” [1 Corinthians 3:6]  I’m struck by the responsibility that God has given to us. We are small and insignificant, and more often than not we get it wrong, and yet God has entrusted to us the responsibility and the immense privilege of working alongside Him to grow His church. How amazing is it that God has allowed us to take on this role? How wonderful to be trusted with such a weighty responsibility by God himself!


Growing Churches Forum
Recently, I was given the opportunity to sit in on a “Growing Churches Forum” – a small group of church leaders who are passionate about church growth. There were only five church leaders present, representing churches who are in the midst of experiencing significant growth.  They came together to share their stories, to discuss commonalities between them and to decipher what it is that makes them unique from the churches that aren’t experiencing the same growth at this time. 
 
My own church has experienced a lot of growth in the last five years and even more significantly in the last two years. 

Being part of this church for almost two years myself, and knowing my own pastor to be very extroverted, I was curious to see if there was something in that characteristic that lent itself to facilitating church growth. Unbeknownst to the leaders who attended this forum, I spent the first half of the first day silently evaluating where they lay on the extrovert/introvert scale. You may be surprised to find that actually it was a pretty even mix of extroverts and introverts! 

I found this hugely encouraging, as being a massive introvert myself; it was heartening to discover that God can use all personality types equally well. There is no benefit in being an extrovert when God gets involved. Every single person is as useful a tool in the hands of God.  This is my first experience of an extroverted minister, but not my first experience of being in a growing church: further evidence that God does indeed use us all, regardless of how comfortable or not we may find ourselves in a large group of people we don’t know!
 
So, with that hypothesis blown out of the water, what did I discover that was common to all present, and yet also unique? 


Passion and enthusiasm 
One of the first things I noticed about everyone who shared their story, was their passion. These leaders are passionate about people and passionate about seeing those people fall in love with God. Their passion and enthusiasm is common to them all, and yet, I say with great sadness, that their passion is probably rather unique to them also. I don’t mean to say that there are no other pastors or ministers out there who have passion. But the level of passion amongst this particular group of leaders was definitely very high. All of them are very concerned about the people in their local community and yearn for them to know and love Jesus. They are all less concerned with numbers from a human point of view, but over and over I heard them talk of “Kingdom Growth” – new souls saved and The Church, in the wider sense, grown for Jesus.

In a nutshell, they care. They really, truly love their neighbours.


Leaders
In a group of church leaders, it may seem ridiculous to point out that they are in fact, leaders. But that is exactly what they are. Every one of them has taken a small, almost dead church on the brink of closing their doors for good and led it back to a healthy and growing relationship with Christ. Only a true leader can do that. They all have a vision of what can be and have been able to inspire their respective congregations with their vision and have renewed the excitement of the Spirit of God in their lives. They love their community and they love their own congregations, but in turn they receive love and respect from these same people, who trust them to lead them.


Intentional prayer
Everyone who spoke did so at length about prayer. Now, obviously a church should be praying; if they’re not praying then they’re a dead church. So, to talk about prayer may seem like a very obvious common thread to remark on. But I found it very interesting to listen to how they pray. They are intentional prayers. For example, one talked of how he wrote down the names of every person who came through the door of his church and then he prayed for them, on his knees, by name. Another planted plectrums in every plant pot in the church and then they proceeded to pray, on their knees again, for worshippers to fill this building. 

There was a prayer-walker, who regularly walks the streets of his town, praying for his community and the people living in it as he goes. I heard stories of families in need and prayers lifted up for specifics such as solicitors, doctors, schools to come to the aid of these families.  They all pray very specifically – and humbly – expecting great things from God. There is nothing wishy-washy or airy-fairy about their prayers. They know what they need and they pray for it – or them – by name. And usually on their knees.


Trust in God's faithfulness
Without exception, everyone involved has a much greater understanding of who exactly God is and what He is capable of. God is great, God is awesome and there is nothing He cannot do – and they all know it. They act with this knowledge and with this trust in God’s faithfulness. So, they spend money they don’t have yet; they have visions of churches and congregations and buildings that don’t exist yet, but they are already acting on them, knowing that God will provide what is needed when it is needed.


Caring for the building
Of the five churches represented at this forum, all five of them talked about the practical nature of caring for their church. When they took them on, their churches were old, dated and invisible. When speaking to people in their local neighbourhood, some of them found that actually people had not been aware that a church existed in their locality! All five churches have invested their money and their time into updating church buildings, creating new, modern, exciting and useful spaces that are clearly visible to passers-by. They have taken the effort to create an inviting environment that welcomes people in and makes them feel immediately comfortable.

An improvement in visibility has attracted newcomers and started dialogues with those who would not otherwise have approached them. The Bible talks about Christians being lights on a hill and the salt of the earth – it calls us to be noticeable and attractive in the world – and these churches have done exactly this. They are now noticeable and their new visibility has been a positive influence on the number of new people coming into church.


Going out into communities 
All these churches have invested in organising fun events in their community, in the name of their church. They are getting out there into their community and doing fun things to get their neighbours involved and garnering interest. They are showing their local community that Christians are normal people and we like to have fun too. We’re not boring old fuddy-duddies rotting away inside old, dank church buildings. We’re relatable, personable, fun people and we want to share that fun and our love for life and for Jesus with everyone we meet. The emphasis is not about getting people IN to church, rather that we should be willing to go OUT into our communities and engage with our neighbours, striking up relationships that will hopefully lead to significant kingdom growth.


Gospel message not compromised
Fun was definitely a common factor, with one exception. My own pastor stressed that we are not a fun church! However, I will clarify for him on this subject. As a church, we also do all of these things – organising fun events for the church and for our town. Just this past weekend I know of at least three separate “Fun Days” arranged for the express purpose of having fun and building relationships with those who might not usually darken the door of a church on a Sunday morning. My pastor is himself a fun guy, very warm and approachable. 

I go to his church though, so I can confirm that he is correct when he says our church is not fun. I know – I’ve been in the services! That’s not to say they are not enjoyable, or that they are not warm, but they are definitely not “fun”. Which brings me to another commonality found in the five churches involved – they preach Jesus Christ, crucified and raised to life, who now sits on the throne and is King forever and ever. Yes, they are all able to have fun, they all like a good laugh, but they do not compromise on the message of Jesus. Jesus is a serious business and this is what they preach. They are laying firm foundations that are built on solid truths. The message of the gospel is not compromised in any shape or form in order to be relevant to the world. There is a well known phrase that states that we should “be in the world, but not of it.” These churches are great examples of how it is possible to be engaged with the world, but not at the expense of the message of the gospel.


Discipleship 
When a church experiences significant growth by way of new believers it is absolutely essential to disciple these new Christians. This was evident in all the stories shared over the course of these couple of days. The foundations are laid in their preaching and teaching, convicting the hearts and souls of their listeners and people are responding by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, which is wonderful, exciting, glorious news! 

But these leaders are invested in ensuring that these new, baby, immature Christians become good, strong, lasting Christians, which is where discipleship comes in. It is so important that these new shoots are protected and don’t get plucked with the weeds, but grow into strong, healthy, blooming Christians, who in turn help to multiply the church. Discipleship is key when making sure your firm foundation remains strong and unyielding to the temptations and difficulties of The World outside.


 
In closing I’d like to share a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:


“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even when there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary we keep complaining that everything is paltry and petty, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow.”


We may assume that it is up to our church leader to do all the work to grow a church. We may even complain when we think they’re doing it wrong, or when we’re bored. But the onus is on us, as members of the church, to diligently pray for our leader and to pray for our fellowship. Just as we can be an aid to God in growing The Church, if our attitude is not right, we can also be a hindrance to The Almighty.  There is no such thing as a perfect church.  Rather than complaining about it, pray about it.  Work with your leader and pray for your leader; together you can accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God.

 

Image | Zach Taylor | Creationswap



Danielle Rosoborough is a member of the Beacon Church, Stafford. She was asked to be a listener during a Growing Churches Forum held at the Beacon in July., and this is her subsequent reflection.

A second Growing Churches Forum is due to take place in November. 




 

Baptist Times, 12/09/2017
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