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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Church Growth

Much has been written about church growth. In fact, good money is even paid to consultants to help figure out how to grow churches. It's as if we think there is a science to it. If there is, does that science leave room for the supernatural workings of God and His Holy Spirit? What portion church growth do we attribute to that?

If the pastor and elders will adjust the way they relate together in leadership and realign some of the internal structures they build into the church, perhaps the church can grow. What am I talking about? I'm talking about relating to each other effectively. Does anyone know what that really means? How about sincere, authentic, transparent and accountable relationships?

Henry Cloud and John Townsend, famous authors on leadership, have said that "The future of Christian leadership rises and falls on the ability of the leaders to own their brokenness." Can this leave room for egos in an elder body? Can this allow the avoidance of confrontation in an elder body? Doesn't this require that the leaders of the church really be willing to stand spiritually and emotionally naked before each other?

Most churches don't seem to be able to make the adjustments that are required to run their churches effectively. They don't see the barriers that their ineffective relationships pose to church growth (I think that's called "denial"). They don't want to change what they perceive made them successful in the first place. In other words, some churches get so comfortable with status quo that they fail to change with the times.

I've counseled a lot of pastors, and everywhere I go the dilemma looks very familiar. Pastors are frustrated with their leadership teams, and the leadership teams are frustrated with their pastors. Typically this means the church is not growing (and most churches aren't). Moreover, the mechanisms required for problem solving get obscured by the perceptions of the leaders about is or isn't and what can or can't be.

I believe the real secret to church growth lies in two things: (1) leadership; and (2) decision criteria. Let me explain that.

The transition from a stagnant (or perhaps even dying) church to a dynamic, growing church requires a monumental change in the relationship between the senior pastor and the leadership team or elders. The indivisible unit, where each party feels valued, loved and respected, makes the church prepared to address any kinds of growth barriers successfully. So we need senior pastors and elders to get their hearts knitted together in that indivisible way.

The criteria that is used for making decisions in the church is often flawed. For one thing, there's not enough prayer in most of the decisions that are made. I hear people say they've "made decisions prayerfully." I wonder what that looks like. I wonder if it's really true (in fact, I doubt that it is). More importantly, we fail to develop a decision process and identify appropriate decision criteria before we charge into the business of making the decisions. And when this happens, we get disappointing results and often look back to see that that our decisions were flawed.

I'm distressed that churches in America are closing by the dozens each month. I'm distressed that churches in Europe are reported to be "dead." It's disturbing to see so many ineffective churches loping along, lame and unspirited. That many of them can disappear with no impact to their communities is a testament to their lack of effectiveness.

I long to see the church released into the world, acting as a vehicle for the aggressive advance of the kingdom of God here on earth. I want to see the churches changing the world. I want to see average Christians being used by God to change that world too! But for this to happen, I really am convinced that church leaders must stand up and change their behavior in some radical ways. It is time for our churches to be structured for growth. We don't have time to sit in boring meetings and wonder who is in charge.

We have a world that is dying and needs us to change. So come on church, let's be about that change!

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