Church Growth, Pastors and Evangelism

I just read a Bill Easum article about how to grow a church with less than 500 in worship (this also was sent out through the newsletter). Here is an excerpt:  

You want to know the most important ingredient for growing a small church? It’s a pastor who has one-on-one conversations with non-Christians that leads to their conversion to Christ. I’ve been saying this for decades based on my personal experience as well as my observations of pastors who grow small churches. However, now this insight is backed up by a 2005 study of 700 church plants funded by The Lilly Foundation and the Lutheran Brotherhood titled “New Church Development in the 21st Century.” The study included churches from seven mainline denominations (You can read about the complete findings in the book Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times).  

The study compares church plants that grow beyond a small church with those that either failed or succeed and then hit a plateau and didn’t grow beyond a small church. Here is the key finding of the study as far as I’m concerned – The more focused the pastor is on evangelism the larger the church becomes.  


If you are in a church under 500 in worship the most important thing you can do to grow that church is to practice personal, one-on-one evangelism. In a church this size you can grow the church all by yourself. Just bring in fifty to seventy-five new Christians and/or new members and everything changes. You are the solution, not another program!  


I can’t help but believe that thousands of faithful pastors of small struggling churches reading this article have just dropped into depression or into feelings of failure. I know many churches with evangelistic pastors and yet the churches continue to remain small (and the reverse is also true; church growth in spite of the pastor’s efforts). This article caused me to ask a few questions: 

  1. What about the concept of addition vs. multiplication (equipping the saints for the work of ministry by multiplying our efforts and effectiveness)?
  2. What about the role of the congregation in discipling these new believers, (trying to close the back door)?
  3. How welcoming is the congregation to the new believers the pastor has personally won?
  4. What about the pastor who faithfully and regularly shares the gospel yet sees no fruit or growth?
  5. What about the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to Christ?
  6. At what point does the pastor admit that it is God who is causing the growth? (perhaps growing to over 500 in worship, when the pastor’s evangelistic efforts have less impact).

It appears this article suggests the lack of church growth is the pastor’s fault, and the converse would also be true, if the church grows it is due to the pastor’s effort… which is something great to talk about at pastors’ conferences.  


Kent and Barbara Hughes’ book Liberating Your Ministry From Success Syndrome redefines success as faithfulness, serving, loving, believing, praying, holiness, and attitude (it is a great read).  I believe direct evangelism grows churches, but to make it all about the pastor’s evangleistic activity seems short-sighted.


I believe that church growth is more than adding numbers to the roll or notches on a belt; it is about the people of God, on mission with God, making disciples for God, in order to make a difference in the life of the world and the kingdom.


A Golden Compass for Atheism

If we are to believe the media, atheism appears to be taking the offensive. “We’re good people, we’re just not God people.” Sounds like positive PR. According to the Barna Group, over 81 percent of Americans claim to pray at least weekly, which means to me that for people to pray, they must pray to or believe in some sort of Deity; either Christian or otherwise.  


There is movie coming out December 7, The Golden Compass, which is directed toward children; but it’s sort of like anti-Narnia. It will get a lot of publicity because it stars Nicole Kidman. What concerns me is this movie is based on the first of a trilogy of books for children called His Dark Materials written by award winning author, Philip Pullman of England. He’s an outspoken atheist and apparently his objective is to bash Christianity and promote atheism. Pullman said, “I don’t profess any religion; I don’t think it’s possible that there is a God.”


Critics of Pullman’s books point to strong anti-religion and anti-God themes, and although literary works are subject to a variety of interpretations, Pullman left little doubt about his intentions when he said in a 2003 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald that “my books are about killing God.” Here is a summary of the novel, the controversy, and an interesting book called Shedding Light on His Dark Materials. For parents wanting to make a more informed decision about seeing the film, visit Plugged in Online.


I’ve read that this movie is a watered down version of the first book, which is the least offensive of the three books. The second book of the trilogy is The Subtle Knife and the third book is The Amber Spyglass. Each book gets worse and worse regarding Pullman’s hatred of God. In the trilogy, a young streetwise girl travels through multiple worlds populated by witches, armor-plated bears, and sinister ecclesiastical assassins to defeat the oppressive forces of a senile God. Another character, an ex-nun, describes Christianity as “a very powerful and convincing mistake.”  


Bottom line: let’s not see this movie. Rather, if you’re into spiritual fantasy, let’s wait for the release of Prince Caspian in May 2008.


And The Survey Says…

Results of a LifeWay survey of 2000 adults — “Top 10 Issues Facing Today’s Family”

Click on the first phrase to read the desired article.


10. Materialism:  “Placing high regard to ownership and consumption as a priority.”
9. Balance of Work and Family: “Pressure to invest energy in work at the expense of family.”
8. Negative Media Influence: “Influx of destructive images and messages into the home.”
7. Lack of Communication: “increasing abbreviation of meaningful family interaction.”
6. Financial Pressures: “Chronic misuse of debt and/or mismanagement of resources.”
5. Lack of Discipline: “The death of respectful behavior as a norm.”
4. Lack of a Father Figure: “The absence of a father in the home or lack of participation.”
3. Busyness: “The participation in numerous activities crowding out quality family fellowship.”
2. Divorce: “The wave of broken marriages and families both within the church and without.”
1. Anti-Christian Culture: “The stripping away of Christian heritage and traditional values.”


Disappointment With God

Philip Yancey has written a thought-provoking book (about 20 years ago) called Disappointment With God that asked the questions: Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God hidden?  


I suppose that disappointment in anything comes to us when there is a gap between our expectations and reality. If we have the expectation that God should act in a certain fashion (like we read about in the Bible), we can become disappointed with Him when He does not. I suppose atheists don’t feel disappointed in God since they expect nothing and receive nothing. But as believers, perhaps we begin to think that God is toying with us. Why doesn’t He quit fooling around and show himself? Many might say, “If He would just speak aloud one time so that everyone could hear, then I would believe.” Probably the whole world would. So why doesn’t He? 


Yancey makes a great observation… the book of Exodus describes this kind of world. It showed God stepping into human history almost daily. 


Is God unfair? Why doesn’t he punish evil and reward good people? Why do bad things happen to people good and bad, with no discernable pattern? Imagine a world designed so that we experience a mild jolt of pain with every sin, and a tickle of pleasure with every act of virtue. This would be an elaborate system (or covenant) of rewards and punishments. Since the old covenant served as an object lesson, demonstrating that human beings were incapable of fulfilling a contract (covenant) with God, He needed to bring a new one. 


Is God silent? If He is so concerned about our doing His will, why doesn’t He just reveal it more plainly? A lot of people claim to hear a word from God but how do we know they have really heard from God? God simplified matters of guidance in the exodus: should we pack up and leave or remain here for a while? Simply look at the cloud over the tent. He set up other ways, like casting lots and some 613 laws that covered most anything else. Did a clear word from God increase the likelihood of obedience?  


Now for the philosophical question: why pursue God if he has already made himself known so clearly? Why step out in faith when God has already guaranteed the results? Why wrestle with the problem of choices when God already resolved the dilemma? In short, why should the Israelites act like adults when they could act like children? This method might help get a just-freed mob of slaves across the desert, but it doesn’t encourage spiritual development in human beings.  


Every choice would be a matter of obedience and not faith. Moses met with God, which was no secret, and God’s directness seemed to produce the opposite desired effect. The Israelites did not respond with worship and love, but fear and open rebellion. God’s visible presence did nothing to improve lasting faith. A burst of miracles would not nourish faith today, at least not the kind of faith God is interested in. The Israelites gave proof that signs from God only attract people to signs, not to God.


The Purpose of Prayer

When I taught at Hargrave Military Academy, one of my students in the Bible class brought to my attention a site he found that mocked prayer and the existence of God by appealing to the readers as educated and intelligent people who, if they were honest, must come to the same conclusion as him, that God is imaginary and prayer is an illusion. The site’s point was that prayer does not work, after all, just notice all the starving children around the world or the lack of world peace, or some other prayer request we feel has gone unanswered.  


We cannot discount the man’s questions, but he comes to the wrong conclusion based on his preconceived belief that God is imaginary. His anti-God bias affects his conclusion. God’s apparent silence is not as it seems. We cannot forget that we live in a fallen world. 


The best of all possible worlds is a place where there is no sin yet we still have free will (to do good and to love God because we choose to). To me, this sounds like the Garden of Eden before the Fall and eventually heaven. This is opposed to exercising our free will by sinning or perhaps loving God with no free will; like a robot programmed to recite a recording of its “love” for God. But in order to get to this “best of all possible worlds” we have to allow those who choose to sin or use their freedom to not love God, the option of not going to heaven. They are weeded out, so to speak. This present world, I believe, is the best way to the best of all possible worlds! 


Before I go on a tangent about all the solid and rational evidence that God exists, let me conclude with these two quotes from Oswald Chambers regarding the point of prayer and the purpose of prayer: 

The point of prayer is not to get answers from God, but to have perfect and complete oneness with Him. If we pray only because we want answers, we will become irritated and angry with God. We receive an answer every time we pray, but it does not always come in the way we expect, and our spiritual irritation shows our refusal to identify ourselves truly with our Lord in prayer. We are not here to prove that God answers prayer, but to be living trophies of God’s grace. 


Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man. We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. When a person is born again from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve or nourish that life. Prayer is the way that the life of God in us is nourished. Our common ideas regarding prayer are not found in the New Testament. We look upon prayer simply as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical purpose of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself. 

If our understanding of prayer is faulty, no wonder this guy comes to the conclusion that God is imaginary and prayer is an illusion… he does not know what prayer is. He is like a child praying to God for candy, and when it does not miraculously show up, the child concludes that God must not exist.