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The Ultimate Church Growth Model

The Ultimate Church Growth Model

Two men studying the Bible in an outdoor seting

Part 1 of 2

Members ARE the church.  Therefore, the church leaders’ job is to grow them, not an institution.

Ironically, if you grow disciples you’ll also grow the institution.  However, that can’t be the objective – it’s a byproduct of disciples being properly trained to be productive in the “marketplace”.

If your hope is to grow a church, but you don’t see the word “member” as synonymous with the word “church”, then:

  1. you’re trying to growth the wrong thing (a what and not a who)
  2. you’ll fall into the temptation of trying to hang on to members/attenders
  3. you’ll make a series of bad decisions that compromise the vision the Lord gave you

Building and sending disciples is the ultimate church growth model.  The best church growth plan was the early Church’s growth plan…and is what works best for any successful organization:

  1. Discipleship (training) maximizes leverage
  2. Sending disciples out creates relationships
  3. Relationships with disciples create more disciples
  4. Disciples get involved actively in the church

…and the cycle repeats.

Is that process in full effect at your church?  To help answer that, consider the 3 questions we addressed the past 3 weeks:

  1. Are your members really disciples?
  2. If not, how do you get them there?
  3. Once they are disciples how do you deploy them to maximize their usefulness for the Kingdom?

Two types of church growth

The healthy way to go wider (i.e. grow) is to go deeper.  Unhealthy churches go wider by allowing members to wade in the shallow end.  The waters are calm and no dangers lurk beneath the surface.  More folks will join them, safe and secure, knowing they’ll never drown or become “lunch”.  They’ll never be asked to take the risk to head into the deeper waters of real life change and discipleship.  Yet that’s where Jesus demands we swim.

In management consulting, we speak of two types of growth, which apply well to churches too:

  1. Acquisitive – Attracting people from other churches
    • Competitive Advantage – Offering facilities, programs and services (e.g. children’s ministry) that smaller churches simply can’t afford
    • Trying to Build a “Great” Organization – Countless books, articles, consultants and seminaries tell pastors how to lead better, but as we discussed previously in this blog series, better leadership isn’t going to make a bad business model successful. And nearly all churches today have the wrong business model – they ignore their true, intended “customer” and treat “insiders” like “outsiders”.  Therefore, they don’t properly train “insiders” to go after the real “customer” – the community.
    • Invite, Involve, Invest – Relying on growth models that may be “sticky” but don’t build or empower disciples
    • Cautious Sharing the Truth – Avoiding too many messages about sin, repentance, and the costs of following Jesus
    • Hesitancy to Challenge – To be discipled, disciple others and take time to serve the poor
    • Focus on Visibility:
      • Marketing tactics and collateral likely to attract Christians, not the unchurched
      • Compassion as a means to greater visibility versus from a heart of sincere concern for issues in the community
  1. Organic – Reaching people who aren’t Christians
    • Train (disciple) “insiders” to be productive in reaching the lost
    • Send disciples out to meet the “unchurched” where they are – in the “marketplace” (e.g. schools, businesses)
    • Follow Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love through acts of service before telling them who He is
    • Not measuring growth based on the number of people who darken the church doors but on the number reached and discipled by members
    • Become attractive to those who don’t know the Lord as they see your church’s love, fellowship and service to the least of these

Which of those did Jesus and the early church follow?

At the height of his popularity, Jesus did the unthinkable.  He preached His most controversial, challenging sermon.  In fact, He knew few would be left standing beside Him after telling the crowd of followers to drink His blood and eat His flesh.

Imagine the pastor of a large church in the midst of rapid growth preaching the most demanding, challenging message members have ever heard, knowing with near certainty that few of them would come back to the church again.  Imagine that same pastor pulling all the members aside and laying out the full picture of discipleship costs and expectations, knowing it was a pill few of them could swallow?  That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He preached it down to a select few.

Jesus’ disciples also violated nearly every principle of the Acquisitive church growth model:

  • preached hard messages exposing sin, demanding repentance and boldly shared the highly controversial gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • performed miraculous acts of love and service before, after and often during those sermons
  • were determined to spread the gospel far and wide to all those who would listen, knowing that few had the humility and audacity to stomach the implications of what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ
  • went wherever necessary to find those with hearts ready and willing to commit their lives fully to Jesus, not waiting for them to show up at the front door of the church
  • invested countless hours discipling others

Why is discipleship the ultimate growth model?

Scale wasn’t the goal for Jesus and his disciples.  They were looking to build a rebel band of Spirit-filled followers fully committed to changing the world for Christ.  And they did.  And the church grew dramatically, not because people were attracted to the institution but because they were attracted to disciples.

The growth potential of discipleship is about leverage and empowerment, fueled by the Holy Spirit.  There is so much latent leverage sitting idle in the pews.  We just have to disrupt their comfort and complacency to mobilize that manpower.

Ironically, the more a church challenges versus caters, the more it will grow.  And unless a church disciples, it won’t have the right kind of growth – the healthy exponential, organic expansion that comes from people who’ve experienced genuine life change.  Acquisitive growth without discipleship leads to internal turmoil you’d expect of churchgoers who aren’t fully committed disciples – squabbles, splits and consumerism.

It’s your turn…

I know what many of you are thinking…

What about visitors, infrequent attenders and non-believers?  They’re not ready to hear the gospel and be discipled right out of the gates, right?  We’ll discuss that more in Part 2 next week but in the mean time we’d love to hear your thoughts…


2 Responses

  1. Spot on Brother!! Beautifully written and concise. Thank you for your heart and willingness to be bold and challenge the church. May God use this to build His Kingdom here!

  2. I have felt burdened for a while about the church & what it calls discipleship. I started writing a blog about it today & want to share a part of it because your post confirms the message God has given me. Thank you for sharing your vision.
    Part of my post- Has the church today lost its effectiveness to reach and save the lost? I don’t think it has but I think it needs to change its focus in order to bring more people to a saving relationship with Christ. The “little church” is causing the church (body of believers) to lose its effectiveness. The church’s original goal was to grow and strengthen believers in their faith so that they would bring other to Christ. Today our churches are trying to cast their nets too wide and in the process too many people are falling through the cracks. The one thing we should be about as Christians is giving others Jesus- only a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior will truly save a person now and forever but the average pew sitter is not being equipped to bring Jesus to their world. Most Sunday sermons are geared to the lost especially in the large church model instead of equipping the ones that are already in to “go and make disciples of all nations”. Pastors need to grow their church up in Christ but what is happening in many U.S. churches is that we have a lot of baby Christians, fat on spiritual milk, not knowing how to give up the bottle. These baby Christians need to be fed solid food so that their relationship grows in Christ which makes them more excited to tell others about Christ. Once a baby has solid food, they began to grow and develop physically because they are taking in a variety of nutrients. The same is true with Christians- we spiritually begin to grow when we are given spiritual milk and meat- we will never mature spiritually on just a bottle. Pastors have an army ready to be equipped for battle who can cast their individual nets to win more for Christ. Everyone would be better served if the seeker friendly church would focus on become a training ground for Christians that causes them to go out into their own communities and convert the seekers. The seekers are not coming to church like they use to- if we want to reach the lost, we need to go to them. An individual pastor cannot reach and save all the lost but they do have an army of people that they can equip to go out and fight the battle. We are all to be a part of the Great Commission but if a new believer never matures past the self-help message series and is shown how to live the abundant life through the power of the Holy Spirit, they will never be able to fulfill their duty for this commission. Churches that never grow their members past the baby stages of Christianity will never have congregations that serve abundantly, give generously, and love extravagantly. They produce consumers of Christianity who come on Sunday to be entertained and filled- stuffing more sermons and information in but not knowing how or why to give it back out.
    It is time for the church to stop playing church and be the church- to be willing to forsake all things to bring others to Christ. To stop blending into our communities and to stand out for our God. To let the Spirit have its way in our church services- to allow people to get uncomfortable in a safe place- to still be excellent in presentation without quenching the Holy Spirit.

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