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 RASNet.org 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:
What about the concept of addition vs. multiplication (equipping the saints for the work of ministry by multiplying our efforts and effectiveness)?
What about the role of the congregation in discipling these new believers, (trying to close the back door)?
How welcoming is the congregation to the new believers the pastor has personally won?
What about the pastor who faithfully and regularly shares the gospel yet sees no fruit or growth?
What about the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to Christ?
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.