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:
- you’re trying to growth the wrong thing (a what and not a who)
- you’ll fall into the temptation of trying to hang on to members/attenders
- 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:
- Discipleship (training) maximizes leverage
- Sending disciples out creates relationships
- Relationships with disciples create more disciples
- 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:
- Are your members really disciples?
- If not, how do you get them there?
- 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:
- 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
- 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…