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Ways I have actually witnessed churches growing

1.  Put on a circus.  People will come for a show.  I will say this as tenderly as possible, but there are certain movements which have specialized in this method of church growth.  Outrageous antics and bizarre misbehavior together with improvised and freakish theology have drawn crowds in abundance.  Two obvious problems with this.  First, it’s unbiblical and thus dishonoring to God.  Second, the spiral of ever increasing stunts quickly exhausts the ingenuity of the circus master until every week’s stunt is just more of the same.  They establish a new normal that is just plain weird.  I cast my vote against this one.

2.  Hire a world class talker.  These can be great if you can find one, but big league talent is rare, so there aren’t enough of these people to go around.  A high voltage pulpiteer probably knows he’s good, so he’s going to be moving to a big church in the big city to expand his reach.  And you can’t blame him for doing that since, if he’s a sincere man of God, he wants to reach as many as he can with the Gospel.  A word of caution to churches about trying this route.  World class speaking talent doesn’t guarantee good character.  If you hire a guy who can spellbind ’em, you may also find him using his talents to create a personality cult around himself, and no end of evils will follow that.

3.  Plant a church in a bedroom community that’s already experiencing explosive growth.  If your goal is to be the pastor a big church by the quickest possible means, this is your best option.  It’s not an easy route — you’ll work long hours, face stiff competition, endure all the problems of fast growth (space, parking, dissension, financial headaches), but in my personal observation, this is the most sure-fire way to end up with a congregation of several thousand.  There are some background factors that help this along, by the way.  The new bedroom community with the fast growth is often heavily populated with a certain kind of personality.  These are people who are often young and aggressive.  They’re jumping into life where things are happening.  You don’t have to encourage them to strive at growing a church; they’re the kind of personalities that strive at everything.  It can be a wild bull ride to manage such people into a coherent church.  But as I view things from this altar, it’s the path to take for ambitious ministers in search of a high-revving career.

4.  Intensive and sustained pastoral visitation in hospitals.  For small town or rural pastors, this is do-or-die.  A friend in Georgia has a long and prosperous ministry where he’s grown a church from roughly 50 to roughly 200 in something like 25 years.  For churches in a rural church setting, that’s a positively phenomenal achievement.  I asked his son, an engineer friend of mine, what his dad had done to succeed like this.  He explained that his dad had tried all the usual Thursday night visitation programs, but those were always the same three or four people and invariably fizzled in a few weeks.  Eventually his dad hit on the idea of taking every possible opportunity to visit people from the community in hospitals because that’s the only place where modern Americans appreciate a visit. This required a good spy network to keep him informed about who was sick and where they were situated.  Every few years, a family he’d visited would join the church and just as often, he said, they’d end up bringing two or three families in with them.  After 25 years of that, the church had grown significantly.  The down side is that the pastor made hundreds of dead-end visits for each family that joined.  The total time investment was upwards of a thousand man-hours per baptism.  Working 60 and 80-hour weeks for 25 years is a very tough way to end up with an entire church smaller than a Sunday School class in a metropolitan mega-church.  But again, if your pastorate is out in the country, this is the only route I’ve ever personally witnessed that succeeded.

5.  An engaged, diligent congregation.  I’ve seen this only a time or two, usually in the context of something else such as a fast-growing bedroom community or an Apollos-style orator.  Nevertheless, if a congregation for whatever reason takes up the task of regularly and insistently inviting people to church, some invitees will come, and some of those will stay.  The problem here is getting them motivated to do this.  People generally get only one shot at successfully persuading a neighbor to come to church with them, and they won’t expend that silver bullet for just another ho-hum Sunday service where an average preacher offers an average sermon after an average song service.  Preachers and singers have to present something exceptional now and then if they expect their congregations to muster enough surplus interest to attract a neighbor.

2 Comments

  1. Gary Roberson

    Yes, I have witnessed some of these in Macon. One smooth talker is actually accepting worship from his congregants.

    Posted on 01-Sep-09 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  2. Hey, Gary! What exactly is this guy doing? I’ve seen some displays that come close.

    Posted on 02-Sep-09 at 16:04 pm | Permalink

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