Whenever I come across a book with a flashy cover and a title that has something to do with growing your church I get a little skeptical. I get especially wary when I see numbers in the title, like “How to Break the 200 Barrier” and the like. I come from a background that taught me to mistrust numbers- they are misleading and distracting. But since I’ve been in ministry I’ve struggled with the issue of growth. Shouldn’t a healthy church grow? Is something spiritually wrong with the church that is losing its members? What about the church that basically stays the same size forever?
I do not think we can determine success by numbers. First of all, if we were to use numbers, what would we count? Conversions? Membership? Baptism? Un-churched visitors? Counting conversions is risky– often times it’s incredibly difficult to tell if they’ve had a genuine heart change. I personally don’t like assuring anyone of their salvation (strange, eh?). I can’t see the heart. And I’m terrified of assuring the salvation of a person (especially a student) who actually isn’t saved. That’s patting them on the back as they walk toward damnation. If we count our members to determine success then we’ve stopped too short. It doesn’t matter how many members your church has if they all have hard hearts and don’t follow Jesus. So counting members isn’t the asnwer.
So where do numbers fit in? Should we even consider numbers? Or if we’re in a declining church, do we just sit back and watch the congregation dwindle until we realize we can’t afford our building payments anymore, holding fast to our numbers don’t matter policy?
These are the questions that have been bouncing around in my brain for the last few months. The church has been the object of my obsession– I’ve been reading books, devising strategies, listening to sermons trying to figure out answers. Here are some of my conclusions.
- A successful church is one that has a high view of God, is centered on Christ, and exalts scripture.
A church that says “We have all those things, we’re just not good at outreach” is fooling themselves. A church that does not outreach does not have a high view of God. How? Because lack of evangelistic zeal is the the symptom of a deeper problem: you don’t take Jesus’ command to “go” seriously. You idolize comfort more than obedience. A church that doesn’t have a biblical understanding of the imminent wrath of God that will consume sinners apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ doesn’t take the Bible seriously. If they did, they be more desperate.
2. A successful church doesn’t “use the Bible to espcape the Bible.”
I heard John Piper use this is a sermon once, saying that we pastors who say we believe so steadfastly the Word of God often use Bible preaching to escape what the Bible has clearly commanded us to do. We sit back in our offices and behind our pulpits and preach, believing that is where our responsibility ends, believing that if we can preach good enough the church will grow, at the neglect of biblical commands for the pastor other than preaching.
Here’s the text that has been pushing force in my ministry, causing me to question how I do ministry and is obviously demanding more than just teaching and praying:
Timothy 4:5 “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Let’s not use the Bible to escape the Bible. Let’s fear God more than men and be evangelists.
3. It strategizes.
It strives to know the demographics of its city. It learns its culture. It casts a visions, makes a plan, empowers laypeople. It makes goals. It prays strategically and structures strategically. But it never, ever thinks about compromising the gospel. It adapts style but never changes content. It doesn’t sacrifice depth believing that will help in breadth of ministry.
I believe that if a church has these three characterstics I mentioned, it’s going to be healthy. Growth only comes when God wants it to– but this doesn’t mean we are relieved of our mission to seek out and save the lost.
To answer all the proposed questions about whether or not numbers are reliable statistics to determine the health and success of a church.
A healthy church will grow, by God’s grace. However, a church that is growing isn’t necessarily healthy.
HOWEVER, if you are a dying church that isn’t growing, seriously examine your obedience. Here are some questions I need to examine in myself every now and again:
- Do you believe that the Word of God transforms minds? (Display it in your lifestyle to your church as the God-inspired, life-changing, practical truth)
- Do you fear God enough to do the work of an evangelist? (Don’t just tell your church, model it for your church)
- Do you depend on God for everything through prayer (Why would God answer our prayers if we ask half-heartedly and inconsistently? It might only reaffirm the idea that we can accomplish things on our own)
- Do you love your wife like Christ loves the church? (Model of a Christ-like husband for the church)
I started this blog post as a book review of a book I read by Ed Stetzer called “Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too.”
I’ll make that my next blog post.