2,367,526 Reasons Why Church Growth is Holding Up Church Growth

Imagine a church of about 50 believers. Not too hard for many of us. A church that keeps the main thing the main thing, prayerfully seeks the lost, and sees about 4 baptisms in an average year. It’s nothing too amazing to imagine, is it? A church like that gradually grows. Sure, some people die, some people transfer out. But some are born, others transfer in. Let’s assume they cancel each other out for now.

Let’s imagine two different ways forward for such a church:

Vision A: Let’s Grow! Over 100 years, this church is going to grow to 450. That’s a very different looking church. It will require some significant changes – to buildings, to staff, to administration, to pastoral care systems. Getting through those changes alone may take decades and the sanity of several pastors. But at the end of the day, a church of 450 is not to be sneezed at. That’s a more than respectable Aussie Baptist church, isn’t it?

Vision B: Let’s Send! We’re growing by 4 each year – so let’s send a dozen out to church plant every 3 years. And let’s encourage them to do the same: Once they get to our size (at 4 per year it will take them about 12 years), to send a dozen every 3 years. In 100 years our church will have… …drum roll… …about 50-60 people, just like now. Perhaps in the same building. But the network of churches we’ve planted will be 2,367,976 believers spread among 59,864 churches!

Just think about the difference between those two outcomes.

What’s holding up the growth of the church in Australia? Could it be that Vision A is the default? That we dream of churches of hundreds, instead of hundreds of churches? Are we pouring all our efforts in to winning what turns out to be the wrong game?

What Happens in a “Vision A” Church

Lots of good things happen in these churches. But what doesn’t happen well enough is ministry replication. There’s something standing in the way of a potentially-great preacher sitting in that church: A team of great preachers! Something stands in the way of a potentially-wonderfully-wise elder: A group of wonderfully wise elders.

You see, Vision A churches only really feel the need to develop enough pastors, elders, musicians, preachers and youth leaders they need for their church. They tend only to ask, “What do we need?” Instead of “What does the harvest need?” Instead of being tapped on the shoulder and called to step up to the next level of ministry, good people are shunted into sidings where they are (usually) content, and the church is content with them, as Bible study leaders, or to play guitar every 3rd Sunday.

As a Vision A church grows and grows, people are diverted into less and less directly-relevant-to-disciple-making ministries. Instead, they find themselves cleaning the office of the person who is doing the graphic design of the album cover of the off-shoot of the worship band. And the church grows to hundreds…

What Happens in a “Vision B” Church

A “Vision B” church makes a choice to measure success by ‘throughput’ rather than size. “It’s seen more in how many we send, than in how many we get together.” I’m blessed to pastor a church like that.

A “Vision B” church believes that “Those that want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose them for my sake and for the gospel will find them” (Mark 8:35) applies not only to individuals, but to churches. We give ourselves away. Even to the point of endangering our existence as a church.

In fact, in the maths above, if you factor in each church in the network dying after just 25 years of existence, the numbers drop from 2.4 million disciples to a lazy 1.8 million. It’s not about my congregation lasting forever. I don’t need a building and a corporate identity that will last 100 years. I do need to make disciples. Disciple-making disciples.

And so a “Vision B” church has a strong focus on training. Some hospitals are training hospitals. We talk about being a ‘training church’. My role as pastor is not to be the star player, but a coach. This next roster of 13 weeks – I’m preaching twice. I spend more time preparing preachers than sermons.

How can a small church train? We tried offering seminars on everything – it was hard going. Now, instead of having a training program, we’re a training church. We’re building Feedback deep into our culture – everyone is to be open to it. Feedback is great for a church. It pushes us beyond politeness (“great sermon, thanks”) to reach for love (on the part of the person giving feedback) and humility (on the person receiving it). Love and humility are very good for a church! Oh, and it’s amazing how fast people can develop in ministries when they get constant feedback, and learn to give it too.

And I’ve found that people reach out to access the training that they need. I can point them to Bible colleges, I don’t need to start one myself. We’ve recently sent two champion administrators – one became a pastor, another went with a church we planted. And it sure left a gap. I approached a congregation member, who said, “But I don’t know how to use MYOB!” Less than half-an-hour later he put his head in my office and said, “I’ve had a look online, and there’s DVDs you can get to learn MYOB at your own pace at home. Can I get them?”

Give, And It Will Be Given to You

It’s safer to wait until you overflow with talent before considering sending. But doesn’t get around to happening. We’ve just sent some of our very best, and now are thrilled to see how other members are now stretching themselves to fill their shoes. And others to fill their shoes. It’s a frenzy of learning and training and setting up mentors – in the wake of a church plant, rather with a view to one.

I am convinced there is a special blessing of God for those who send in faith. A church might send like the widow of Zarephath gave her last flour and oil – and find there is more. Or a church might send out cherished members and hear heaven say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few, I will put you in charge of many.”

This is not the big-church versus small-church argument. I’ve seen large churches do great sending, and small churches fixate on growing large. This is about vision. Why have a vision for being big, or for being small, when with God’s blessing we can be many?

Andrew Turner is Lead Pastor of Glen Osmond Baptist Church, and Church Development Facilitator for the Baptist Churches of SA. [email protected]

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