Church growth is on my mind (actually it always is) and I wanted to share with you a very insightful and thought-provoking piece I came across on this subject. The author John Johnson is a pastor and Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary. Here he approaches growth from several angles, noting that “All of us are somewhere on the growth curve.”
Back in 1988, Kent Hughes, then an emerging pastor, was part of planting a new church. All the signs were positive. The mother church endorsed the project, and Kent was an up-and-coming star. The community was strategically targeted, and a solid core was part of the initial foundation. As he put it, “We had everything going for us…the prayers and predictions of our friends…the sophisticated insights of the science of church growth….a superb nucleus of believers…and we had me, a young pastor with a good track record who was entering his prime. We expected to grow.” But something astonishing happened. The church did not grow. In fact, it began to shrink. Out of it came one of his first books, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.
Growth is generally hard to predict. Sometimes it happens despite our failures; sometimes it eludes us, no matter our best preparations. There is a certain mystery to growth. People insist upon it, as if pastors control some growth lever. Paul must have felt this pressure when he wrote these words in his first letter to Corinth: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (3:6). Looking back, he found that behind lots of human activity was a more active God determining the outcome. Richard Neuhaus, in his pastoral theology, sums it up this way: “At the beginning and at the end of every day, we offer up our ministries. We are responsible for the offering, and God is responsible for the consequences, and His is the infinitely greater responsibility.” We rely on this!
But fresh from the latest conference, where “growth sightings” are showcased and strategies are passed on, we can begin to believe growth rests largely upon us. We do have this tendency to carry too much of the burden for growth. Isn’t this what we’re paid for? It’s not to say we are free of any responsibility. It is critical we constantly discern those factors that impede growth (sloppy sermons; unloving people; inauthentic leadership; unconfessed sin). But it’s also important to understand the nature of how growth works.
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Your partner in ministry,
P.S. To join me on a larger discussion of church growth – and specifically overcoming the top barriers to growth, register now for a brand new webinar I’m doing called Top 3 Growth Barriers. It’s FREE and there are several times to choose from. Just RSVP at this link below:
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