This Strange Thing Called Growth

john-johnsonChurch 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.

To read this guest post in its entirety, click here.

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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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church planter, coach and church growth strategist, working with churches in over 45 denominations. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in San Francisco and Boca Raton, FL. He first developed the Assimilation System 10 years ago at the Journey Church and has since implemented and improved these strategies with over 3,000 churches across all sizes and denominations. He started coaching pastors in 2006 and has personally coached over 2100+ senior pastors, helping them break common growth barriers like 125, 250, 500, 1000 and beyond, all while maintaining personal life and ministry balance. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has trained more than 50,000 church leaders (3,000+ church planters). He is the author of over 85 church growth resources and 17+ books, including Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests Into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church and The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life and Ministry. His continued mission is to help church leaders around the world cooperate with God in creating healthy, thriving churches. Nelson is married to Kelley and together they have one son, Alexander.

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