Church Growth Strategies

I don’t just post articles from someone else, but I read *Bill Wilson’s “Confessions of a Church Consultant”  today and had a flashback to the “Great Commission Consultation” that our church experienced in February 2010. Our church had a negative reaction, today I believe I know the reason why. Here are the highlights from the article and my comments:

Here is a secret: Congregational strategic planning is frequently a waste of time and can be counterproductive. Many congregations engage in strategic planning; some opt to conduct the process internally, while others hire an outsider to help.

Our local association provided what was billed as a church growth guru who was effective in many other areas of the country. Our church had been on a plateau for several years and sometimes it takes a fresh look at one’s situation, from the outside, to see what we often fail to see on our own. So we opted for the outsider to inspire, challenge and motive us toward being all that we can be for the kingdom in this place.

Consulting with congregations is all the rage. Most take some form of corporate planning and apply a thin veneer of spirituality to a secular model. Behind these plans is a paint-by-number approach to your future that, if followed, promises to produce a set of core values, a mission statement, SWOT analyses, strategic initiatives, SMART goals and the like.

This was the main focus of the consultation, there really was a “paint-by-number” approach. Other churches in whom I knew staff members had the same prescriptions for the same unhealthy diagnosis. If you don’t have retention of people who visit your church, you need an assimilation process. The same prescription included the Nelson Searcy assimilation model (from the Journey Church in NYC). It is a fine model, especially for churches who have no real strategy at all, but is not every church different? We have different styles, different communities, and different reactions to gathering information… the point is that if there is an assimilation hole, the consultation guy filled it with this assimilation product.

Some vary the theme and design a process that produces the same thing in every church that uses the plan. This sort of prescriptive planning is used by those who know what your future should be and have a not-so-subtle agenda of turning your church in a direction that they have predetermined. If you get hooked into one of those plans, expect unnecessary conflict and unhealthy upheaval.

The idea of a “predetermined direction” stands out for me. The guy came with an idea of what a healthy and growing church looks like, with stories and illustrations where he has turned other churches around using this same strategy. I think we have a tendency to be covetous of other churches when we see God moving over there more than over here. So we took the plan and presented it to the church and got all sorts of unanticipated “conflict and upheaval.” We talked as a body, shared the same feeling of being scolded; the founders of the church (who grew this congregation to what it is today) must of somehow failed because we have not kept the main thing the main thing (the Great Commission – If he only knew how mission-minded this church is). It is almost like this guy knew we could be a mega-church if we would only follow his plan, when all along our people simply chose to be faithful to God, follow his leadership and allow the Lord to cause the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

The truth is, far too many of these generic plans are a waste of time and energy because they give only lip service to the question of divine guidance. Oh, there is the obligatory prayer emphasis, but what is lacking is genuine spiritual discernment. Without this, the planning becomes an exercise in stating the obvious/inevitable, and wastes a valuable opportunity to deeply consider the future God has in mind for you.

I felt there was a lot of activity during this time, and we developed a few ideas for a new direction, but our people did not embrace the consultation, or respect the consultant since he came across as a know-it-all with a condescending attitude of who we are. We have a solidly strong church and he spoke to us as if we where dying and one day the doors would close if we did not make changes. Real and earnest spiritual discernment and seeking God’s guidance appeared to be lacking.

A spiritual discernment process is very different from a corporate strategic planning model or a biased approach to your future. Spiritual discernment begins by admitting we do not have the solutions. Spiritual discernment invites thinking, praying and reflecting at a level that most of us studiously avoid. Spiritual discernment is messy, often slow and extremely complicated. Most churches want neat, quick and simple. Sorry, but neat, quick and simple work in this area (like most of congregational life) will lead to shallow, predictable and counter-productive.

The article includes a time-tested pattern of spiritual discernment for individuals and organizations:

Spiritual discernment begins with disorientation: Something happens to knock us off our feet. Some event or series of events conspire to turn our world upside down. It may be an unpleasant experience such as a death, or a beloved pastor’s departure, or some crisis. Whatever it is, our life and world is shaken and we experience high anxiety. Throughout Scripture, disorientation is the portal God uses to break into ordinary lives and do extraordinary things. (remember Joseph, Moses, Esther, Mary, Paul, Peter, etc.) God’s people are constantly finding themselves thrown off balance and unable to manage things using old frames of reference.

The next phase of spiritual discernment is a time of reorientation: On the heels of our crisis, we look around for something or someone to hold on to that will help us make sense of our shaken world. We find that the promises made by culture, leaders, politics, money, possessions and an array of false gods are empty. We turn once again to the One who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. All of our self-made structures, programs and hollow leadership models collapse under the weight of the issue before us. In their place we rediscover our reason for being as a congregation. Our pride gives way to brokenness and humility as we reconnect to our mission and purpose. We lean into our future with a willingness to lay aside those things that have distracted us from our true calling.

Finally, a spiritual discernment process leads us to a new orientation to life and ministry: We reorder and re-prioritize our life as God’s people so that we are on his mission, not ours. We find a depth of meaning and fulfillment that has been missing. We sense passion and engagement rather than lethargy and apathy. Because we have taken seriously the voice and movement of the Holy Spirit, we no longer rely on others to prescribe our future, but we create that future as collaborators with God in an ongoing process of regeneration and renewal. Our time spent in re-visioning our future has produced a new spirit of openness to God’s leadership. We begin the hard work of aligning every part of our life with our new vision.

Bill Wilson* reminds us that we need to be a congregation who resists the temptation to cut corners and go for easy solutions to complex issues. Instead, let’s journey along the narrow and challenging way of spiritual discernment. That sort of spiritual journey leads us to become the people God intended us to be.

*Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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Direct Hit – Part 4

I’ve just finished the Paul D. Borden book, Direct Hit, and wanted to share many of the quotes from the book. The staff at King’s Grant is reading this together, and our pastor is currently involved with the Great Commission Breakthrough Cluster, and group of local pastors that are a part of this church growth strategy sponsored by the Norfolk Area Baptist Association.

Can We Get Some Help Here?

Many churches want the “results of change but are unwilling to do what it takes to get the results.”

“The consumer expects to have expectations met; if they are not met, the consumer will either go somewhere else or will stop shopping.”

Many people view the church as a weekly refuge from the world rather than as a “mission outpost designed to reach lost people.”

“The best medicine for those facing hurt is to become involved in effective ministry… hurt is often healed when we are no longer focusing on our own pain but on the needs of others.”

“Many competent pastors live under condemnation because of the incompetent pastors who came before them.” Others cannot lead systemic change because God has not given them the gifts to do so.

Churches need consultation, “it is more a matter of helping the leaders become better at what they are doing, and, in some cases, helping them find more leaders or staff who will compliment those already there.”

“An intervention is different from a consultation in that an interventionist knows that from the start that the job is to lead systemic change, helping to set aside the current system and replace it with one that is mission and vision driven. It often means devising strategies to remove the currect congregational bosses.”

There is a “line in the sand” weekend, then a year-long relationship with an outsider, to gain insights into the congregation’s five biggest strengths, five weaknesses and five prescriptions that require implementation.

“If we determine that [the pastor or staff] is the primary reason that the congregation is not growing, I ask whether the pastor is willing to resign… if the pastor is not willing to risk, then the congregation cannot be asked to risk.” Many will likely need to resign since it is under their watch the congregation has declined.

“Most unhealthy congregations are in a cycle of decline because of incompetent and/or untrained pastors and laity who want to control the congregation out of their need for significance rather than to focus outward… These pastors often build their empire under the guise of deep spirituality.” Abusive pastors cannot handle turning over control to the people.

It’s Time to Really Move

It is time to look at everything the congregation has in print, to focus on the message, vision and purpose of the congregation. There needs to be a ministry audit, to eliminate anything that does not live up to the mission and vision of the congregation. There is also a need to establish new leadership.

“Structure never changes first. If the primary focus is on structure, all changes will be like lightning rods that attract chaos from those wanting to stop change.” Therefore the congregation must implement a new vision and new mission… congregational structures reflect how the three basic values (power, turf and money) are handled.”

People need to “step down from their positions if they do not meet their goals on a consistent basis.” All staff members must accept three goals…

  1. the number of new disciples brought to Jesus under their ministry,
  2. the number of new people that each staff member will train to be involved in his or her ministry this year,
  3. specific numbers or percentages by which that staff member’s ministry will grow during the year.

The pastor’s new role centers on leadership rather than chaplaincy, caring for the congregation. He is seen as the spiritual leader, but “moves toward being the leader of a well-organized organism called the congregation.” He is the “keeper of the mission and caster of the vision.” He is to create a new urgency for the mission.  He is also the developer of new leaders, who turns much of the ministry over to the laity. The pastor becomes “an expert on media and the use of media in sermons.” Methods and content of preaching must change when moving from pastor as chaplain to pastor as leader.


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Direct Hit – Part 3

I’ve just finished the Paul D. Borden book, Direct Hit, and wanted to share many of the quotes from the book. The staff at King’s Grant is reading this together, and our pastor is currently involved with the Great Commission Breakthrough Cluster, and group of local pastors that are a part of this church growth strategy sponsored by the Norfolk Area Baptist Association.

No One Does it Alone

“Healthy, growing, reproducing congregations, which reflect a very small minority of congregations in wealthy nations, and average, normal, dysfunctional congregations , which are the majority, are two very different cultures that cannot and will not exist together.”

“Healthy congregations are defined by sacrifice. They exist more for those who are currently not a part of the group… They are missional in nature… outwardly focused in orientation…” They organize themselves to accomplish the mission and are willing to change whatever organizational structure that inhibits the accomplishment of that mission.

“Dysfunctional congregations, on the other hand, despite all their rhetoric about sacrifice exist more for those who already rule the congregation than for those who are on the outside.” They are more inwardly focused, more institutional than missional, organized to conserve the status quo, and make only peripheral changes to adapt to new environments.

When recruiting new pastors, congregations often hide who they really are, believing that the congregation desires to reach out at all cost, and are seeking a pastor to lead in that change.

“Most pastoral tenures are short because new pastors quickly become old pastors when they realize that the recruitment rhetoric that appointed and lured them to the congregation was not much more than propaganda.”

Pastors desiring to lead real change in an established congregation “must realize they are signing up to lead not just a few battles but all-out war.” They fail in this war because “they have too few officers and are usually outsmarted by better generals who are fighting on their home turf.”

Every congregation has a structure. “The formal structure states how things should be done, and the informal structure determines how most things get accomplished.”

“Many will talk of the need for change while doing everything in their power to inhibit it… When they realize that changes means loss of influence, they quickly turn and become the pastor’s adversary.”

Various teams need to be in place. The prayer team commits to pray regularly for changes that lead to health, growth and reproduction.” The pastor must find people “whose hearts are broken over the condition of the congregation and the needs of the community.” Praying corporately and not for individuals. They pray for great vision and motivation to do great things. They do prayer walks, map the community, and create lists of economic, social, political, educational needs of the community.

Team two develops ideas, full of people dissatisfied with the status quo, and is never more than ten members. They think creatively about ideas to reach the community. Often idea people are not the people to implement those ideas.

Team three develops personnel, making the team as large as possible, full of people who lead the change. The team must grow; growth is a sign of health. “Growth in any congregation comes in proportion to the number of groups that are started and the number of new leaders that are recruited and trained.”

The pastor shares his vision for the congregation and “must try to connect this person’s personal vision to what God wants to accomplish through the congregation.” People must be willing to give up personal goals and join God’s agenda, to fulfill the Great Commission.

Servant leadership “produces new disciples who in turn will join God’s mission.”

A missional audit determines how a “congregation’s ministries can be brought into alignment with the mission. If a ministry cannot be brought into alignment, it should be discarded.”

The pastor then trains others in the vision, and has to deal with structure and authority. Staff-led means someone has been provided with responsibility and given appropriate authority, and held accountable for the results.

When one tries to bring about systemic change, the real values of the congregation will surface: generally power, turf and money. The goal is to focus on the primary customers of the church, those who are not yet a part of the congregation.

Critical Mass is Critical

“Never take a knife to a gunfight.” The leader must spend time in creating urgency and casting vision. Then go into battle with a big enough army and the required number of officers. If there are not enough leaders, systemic change will fail.

“Only God brings life out of death, but God does not bring transformation until God’s people are praying, acting and behaving wisely, and willing to endure major suffering.”

Pastors get no credit for doing the obvious; visitation, preaching, etc, that’s what he’s paid to do. “They do not gain influence by doing what is expected.” To lead change, it is helpful to bring in a mentor or coach who has been through the same struggles.

“Building resources while preparing for systemic change is more like saving than investing. Developing leaders is a critical investment that will take time before a payoff. So the pastor and key leaders must now focus on building up their savings account, putting in small deposits at a time.” The leader must be seen as a trainer who makes disciples. The leaders must recognize workers, which pays great dividends and retains loyal workers.

“One way to deliver training is to e-mail materials or internet links that provide insight into specific areas of ministry.”

The pastor must model that which he desires to produce in the congregation, being willing to get out of his comfort zone to join God’s mission. Effective leaders do not ask followers to go somewhere that they have not gone, and would not go as leaders.

“People vote with their feet and their wallet.” If the money does not come in, they believe they will discourage the pastor and he will “lose support for the new changes he is seeking to implement.” That is why the pastor has been gathering financial resources over several years for the change effort.

“As the pastors gains more and more influence and more new people come, the congregational bosses realize that they will soon be outnumbered and outvoted, thus losing control.” This leads to passive-aggressive or even aggressive behaviors. The pastor must be gentle as a dove but wise as a serpent (Matthew 10:16).

“If you can’t stand the heat, don’t redo the kitchen.” The evil in our culture will rear its ugly head when the kingdom breaks out in new ways. Don’t be shocked when suffering occurs. Perhaps now we finally have the right enemies.

Jesus’ “followers must expect conflict when directing the church to act like the missionary culture that Jesus requires… remember that Peter lost his life by feeding sheep.”

“Ministry is accomplished in community.”


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Direct Hit – Part 2

I’ve just finished the Paul D. Borden book, Direct Hit, and wanted to share many of the quotes from the book. The staff at King’s Grant is reading this together, and our pastor is currently involved with the Great Commission Breakthrough Cluster, and group of local pastors that are a part of this church growth strategy sponsored by the Norfolk Area Baptist Association.

I See a Better Tomorrow

“Vision is derived from the passion of a leader who has a prophetic burning within the soul to accomplish something significant for God.”

“The biblical mission of mission of the church is 180 degrees opposite to the mission or purpose of most congregations [in affluent countries].”

In the development of vision: the first time period is from one to five years prior to systemic change (preparation). There is a lot of prayer at this point. The second phase works within one year, but no more than two. This involves seeing the community for what it really is, a complex social unit (discovering the values, interests, desires and aspirations of the community.

The “pastor creates a preaching calendar for the vision… how he will communicate the vision over the next one to five years.” It is cast by telling compelling stories and metaphors.

“The pastor is also looking for those within the congregation who are responding to the sermons, training, and comments on vision.”

Going along with the status quo creates job security but demands few if any risks.

When is Somebody Going to do Something?

“Vision is God’s major tool to provide hope for people.”

“New visions require risk, which entails leaving that which is known and comfortable for that which is unknown.”

Presentation of the vision must “always be accompanied with a presentation of urgency for that vision. Without the constant presentation of urgency, people vote with their behavior for the status quo. A good leader must make the status quo so unacceptable that people are willing to embrace a new vision.” Or people will not change.

Theological urgency: people are lost and on their way to hell. There is a spiritual need to act. Many times we talk about urgency but our behavior does not demonstrate any urgency.

Clergy and lay leaders must “lead the congregation to confess the sin of complacency (no urgency).” We simply do not believe that the majority of people around us are lost.

Practical urgency: people must see where they are headed if they refuse to change. Help the congregation to see the community in which the congregation exists for what it really is. Help the congregation to feel the loss of people because they have left; therefore they are no longer a healthy, vibrant and growing congregation. We must also describe what is happening to the culture of our nation (morality of the congregation is not much different from those outside the congregation).

“If one creates urgency from a prophetic perspective so that everyone feels guilty about all that could be happening but is not, there will be no change. Prophets create guilt, and guilt is designed to produce repentance, which is a type of change.“ Change in congregation may start with repentance, but must be led by leaders and not prophets. “Shame and blame do produce change.” But this must be paired with casting vision.

The pastor must constantly preach on themes that talk about why it is important to be a disciple of Christ, the need to be reconciled and the need for forgiveness. He uses charts and graphs to see what has happened to the declining congregation. Use interviews of people in the community who deal with the issues around the congregation. Use interviews of non-church people who see the church as irrelevant or boring.


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Direct Hit – Part 1

I’ve just finished the Paul D. Borden book, Direct Hit, and wanted to share many of the quotes from the book. The staff at King’s Grant is reading this together, and our pastor is currently involved with the Great Commission Breakthrough Cluster, and group of local pastors that are a part of this church growth strategy sponsored by the Norfolk Area Baptist Association.

It’s More Than Just Talk

“We usually expect that for one to lead well in a congregation, he or she must have the ability to communicate reasonably well in some form so that people are motivated to follow.”

Churches need to have a communication strategy that includes “before or after the formal presentation to make comments to the audience.” The pastor takes every advantage to communicate the mission and vision of the organization.

Pastors of the church “develop relationships, model discipleship and train leaders who may be open to following when change is being implemented.”

“Good leaders are constantly raising up new leaders.”

“The ability for any organization to effectively accomplish it’s purpose is ultimately determined by leaders who are effective because they communicate well.”

“Few pastors are willing to assume the role of a leader who takes responsibility for mobilizing the congregation to accept the mission of obeying our Lord’s Great Commission: to make disciples for Jesus. Instead, many pastors and other church staff presume that their job is to call individuals to personal discipleship.”

The church is often an “environment where faithful endeavor is honored, but fruitful results are not expected or demanded… The church shies away from accountability perhaps better than any other organization in the world.”

When people gain positions of leadership by default, that “leadership deteriorates to one of conserving the status quo.” They fear losing people, and have a theology that the church is for them, rather than for those who are not yet a part of the congregation. Change, and an influx of new people, would mean “a loss of control” and therefore a decline in personal status.

“Change always starts with mission and vision. No new mission or vision will take hold and last over time if the structure is not changed to allow both to flourish.”

“Congregations are created by God to be God’s primary tool for making individual disciples and for changing entire congregations.” The pastor’s leadership is directed “more to the congregation as an entity than it is to the individuals who comprise the congregation.”

“Your purpose as a church leader is to lead a congregation to find those strategies and tactics that will enable followers to effectively reach lost and dying people with the good news.”

Will the Real Leaders Please Stand Up?

Many times leaders will speak “against [other] leaders complaining about issues of power and authority. In effect, we have now developed a theology of smallness.”

“According to Leith Anderson, leadership involves a person seeing a need and taking the responsibility to see that the need is met.” The leader then influences and mobilized others.”

“Leadership refers to the employment of disciplines that people can develop regardless of their talents or mix of spiritual gifts.” There is an art and a science to leadership.

“At the heart of all effective leadership is passion,” which “begins with a prophetic burden”  and “arises when we are focused on God and are able to see the needs that people have because of the great chasm between them and God.”

“We can tell if people are truly called by whether they possess a passion for God and for reaching the lost… passion comes as we, in our own ways, take God seriously.”

“A leader’s first task is to be clear about the mission. A leader must then ask if this mission is one that God wants him or her to lead and if it is worth dying for.”

“Primary customers [of the church] are ones who are not yet part of the congregation [basically lost people]… secondary customers are the disciples who are already involved in the congregation. Secondary customers are developed to reproduce more primary customers.”

We must have “movement from an inward focus to an outward focus” which “demands a major shift in who controls the organization”… it takes “courageous leaders who are willing to risk all for the sake of the Great Commission.”

“In today’s culture, “people vote with their feet and their pocketbook”… “Congregations going through major changes find that there are often more people leaving than new people coming.” It may even cost a few long-time relationships. The Great Commission must be obeyed above personal interests.

“What worked yesterday in one congregation produces little change today… More congregations die than are started each week in North America… If leaders cannot handle flexibility, they will find it difficult to let go of old behaviors and lead new initiatives, and long-term systemic change will probably not occur.”

“The very nature and essence of the church is to be involved in a passionate, missional effort of turning lost people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”

“Most of [the church’s] ministries are designed to provide service and fulfillment to those who are already related to [Christ]… The most effective pastors are missionaries at heart.”

“Missional leaders are open to accountability” because effectiveness is measured by loses and new recruits into the kingdom.

“Followers are motivated when leaders proclaim a clear vision, which is the answer to a great urgency.”

“The church in North America has lost is primary sense of mission. We spend far too much time and money engaging disciples in tasks and responsibilities that do not advance the mission.”

Regarding wisdom, “[leaders] never ask more of their sheep than they are willing to do as leaders.”

Positive leaders are constantly showing disciples what God can do and wants to do… they cast vision and assume the best.”

Good leaders take responsibility for what happens. Most excuses for lack of growth are:

  • Environmental – our location, neighborhood, resort area, transitional community – this is a missionary issue, people don’t see the harvest before them.
  • Lack of commitment – if my people were more committed, serve more, give more – this is a vision issue, people have not caught the vision.
  • Spiritual – God has left, or is judging our city or church – this is an issue of denial, saying God has written off our area.


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