Measuring Church Growth?
Since my earliest memories, as a child growing up in a pastor’s home, church growth and its importance have been second nature in my mind. It became, without my even realizing it, part of my PK subconscious. Church growth in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was all the rage. Especially among Baptists, building big Sunday Schools was the mandate of our movement. In the church world, during my growing up years, church growth was the standard of success. If a church was growing, it was the clear evidence that God’s hand was on its pastor, and it was clearly the model to be followed by other churches. All of this was prior to today’s megachurch and emerging church movement. Before I get too deeply into my thought, let me declare that keeping sinners out of Hell and raising up vibrant, growing churches for the glory of God is still our central mission.
Let me declare, as I am fast approaching my thirtieth anniversary as the founding pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Gaylord, Michigan, that I am still excited about seeing souls saved and the church grow. I still have a vision to reach everyone I can as long as I can with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am still passionate about seeing every area of our local church ministry prosper and expand as we seek to impact our community and region for the glory of God. After three decades of ministry in a small town, God has been incredibly good to us. In these past 30 years we have seen thousands of people saved and have averaged between 700 and 800 in attendance for many years. We have been over 1,000 in attendance many times with a record attendance of 1,573 on one Sunday morning. We have started or had a part in starting 5 other churches and have given over $2,000,000 to Faith Promise Missions.
Our passion for church growth and winning souls is unquestioned, but pastoring in a town of 3,500 people and a county with a population of 22,000 has impacted my thinking about church growth in a way that I think qualifies me to make some candid observations that may be a little out of the box. I understand that challenging your thinking in this arena may make me the object of your criticism, but I won’t shy away from the truth just to be politically correct. Let me propose some fresh thinking on the subject of measuring church growth.
Although many of the church-growth and church-health principles taught at most pastors’ conferences and expressed in most Bible colleges sound good, they do not always measure up. I am not trying to be cutting edge; rather, I want to be Biblical in every aspect of our church. We are not looking to churches like Saddleback for inspiration, but rather to the churches in the book of Acts. The new catch words for church growth are “Community”, “Small Groups”, “Relevance”, and things like “Community Missions Projects” which are usually feel good events like painting a house, picking up trash for the city, or aiding the community in hosting a festival. These kinds of social gospel methods may be good public relation stunts, but I am not convinced they are the Biblical method of church building.
The bold preaching and proclamation of the Word of God and the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the main mission of the New Testament church today as it has been for 2000 years. It is refreshing to attend a church and see almost all participants with their Bibles open during the sermon. It is also impressive to hear lively, spirited, and yet conservative music. I am talking about a church with a choir, not a praise team. The song leader may not be a professional, but the people sing with joy. It is even more impressive when the congregation begins to pray, and there is a strong and focused emphasis on prayer. To hear a church pray for real and take legitimate needs to God during the service, sadly is not that commonplace. Unfortunately, what I have just described would never pass the church-growth test because it wasn’t an advertisement for the church or a display of their professional production capabilities.
In many big churches today, the service is so dependent on mood lighting, electric instrumentation, sound amplification, and video enhancement that if the power were to go off, they would not be able to have church. Let’s stop trying to have a show, and instead, let’s get back to the Scriptures. We don’t need to use lighting special effects or any other technology to create an atmosphere if the power of God is at work in the service. Many production-based worship services lean heavily toward manipulation rather than inspiration. I am for persuasion, but not manipulation. The preacher needs to stand before the congregation, filled with the Spirit, with a persuasive argument from the Scripture.
Here Is My Most Provocative Question - Do your church members know their Bible? Can they give a defense of the attacks against it? Can they rightly divide the Word of Truth? Do they have a Biblical Worldview that understands creation (A Young-Earth), Morality (Why Gay Marriage Is Wrong), Eschatology (Pre-Tribulation Rapture), Salvation (Jesus As Our Only Hope), Grace (As Opposed To The Cheap Grace Revolution Misleading Thousands), and so much more? Have you and I developed a church full of believers who know their Bibles and who live it out before their families, co-workers, and community?
Here Is One More Provocative Question - Is your church a house of prayer? Jesus declared loud and clear in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46) when he overthrew the tables of the money changers that the House of God should be a “House of Prayer.” A praying church is a powerful church. The leadership of the early church set the priority of leadership in Acts 6:4, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” This was the foundation of the church’s numerical growth and spiritual growth. A large church that is weak in prayer is a weak church that is large. There is no pretty way to sugarcoat it. A. W. Tozer said, “Preacher, for every half hour you spend in the pulpit, you should spend three hours in prayer.” He went on to say, “If our preaching matched our praying, we would have a lot shorter sermons.”
Here Is A Final Provocative Question - Does your church have an executive or a shepherd as its pastor? Pastor, quit acting like a corporate CEO and get back to your Biblical mandate of shepherding your precious people. The leadership model of the Bible is Servant-Leadership or what I like to call Shepherding-Leadership. In many of our fundamental Bible colleges, the leadership model being espoused is Kingdom Building not Shepherding the Sheep. When we call the pastor the “Lead Pastor”, I fear we are trying to sound corporate rather than Biblical.
The local church is not the Pastor’s Kingdom, and he is not a CEO over a ministry empire. In such a leadership model we tend to set up superstar pastors who have a celebrity image, and their church becomes the basis of their influence. If the church is big, the pastor is viewed as an expert and is in demand.
I praise God for the godly pastors of large ministries that have influenced me. My observations are not intended to sound critical or judgmental, just honest. We need a new generation of humble, anointed shepherds who have devoted their lives to prayer and the ministry of the Word, ministering to the flock under their care. I happen to believe that if people attend a church where they cannot call the Pastor and talk to him, they don’t really have a pastor. Preacher, your people need to know their pastor - not just know who he is, but know him. This puts a lot of added pressure on me as the pastor of a fairly large church, but just because something is difficult to do does not mean it is wrong.
Remember when Peter assured the Lord, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” Of course we know that Jesus informed Peter that he would not only fail to stand with Jesus in his most difficult hour, but that his would be the most spectacular of failures. In my humble opinion Peter was acting like a King when he made that prideful promise to Jesus.
Peter’s colossal failure is touched on in all four gospels, but John alone gives us a glimpse of his restoration after his fall. You’ll remember that Peter encounters Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He gets asked the same question three times and gives these answers. “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee,” and “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Do you remember how Jesus responds to Peter’s answers? “Feed my lambs” and “Feed my sheep.” Do you get the point? Jesus is telling Peter, “You used to act like a King, but now you have been humbled enough to allow me to make you into a Shepherd.”
Listen to Peter’s last words of counsel to future preachers and pastors in I Peter 5:1–4. “ The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, is revealing to us that the New Testament model of leadership is Shepherding not Kingship.
Pastor, while it may be true that larger crowds and greater results in salvations and baptisms may be an indicator of church growth, these alone are not an adequate measure of church growth. True, measurable church growth is far more than numerical and financial; it must also be Biblical and Philosophical. A healthy church is not just winnings souls; it is also Biblically Led and Biblically Literate. A healthy church is not just Financially Strong; it is also a Fasting and Praying congregation.