Evaluating your motives for church growth requires a rare kind of humility and selflessness many of our pastors, having failed the character test, simply do not possess. Many of our pastors have become vain and self-absorbed, and would rather keep riding their shrinking base of struggling faithful than to evaluate, in any spiritually meaningful way, the effectiveness and purpose of their ministry or question their motives for desiring church growth. So, all the fundraising, all the pamphlet printing, all the pressuring of the faithful—what’s that all about? In most cases, “church growth” really means “church money.” Don’t ask God to add to your number just so you can continue going in circles, ignoring people who live next door.
When I used to work in New York City I’d routinely stop by the
little coffee shop on the corner which was staffed by
some of the rudest people I’d ever met. They were condescending
and brusque and basically herded the long line of
customers—which often extended out onto the sidewalk—through
their production line as quickly as possible. It got to the
point where you just got used to being talked to like that,
mainly because these guys made one heck of a breakfast sandwich
and the coffee was always fresh. They were so good at what they
were doing that a line of customers stretching out onto Park
Avenue South didn’t deter me from standing in it because I knew
these coffee shop guys were ruthless in their pursuit of
efficiency and would keep the line moving at all costs. There
were thousands of little rude coffee shops in New York City and these
guys knew it. To keep that line coming, every morning, they had to be
the best of the best. This little coffee shop on the corner grew
by reputation, by word of mouth, growing long and deep roots in
its community. It fed, literally, thousands of people on the
block it was located on—a block of Midtown Manhattan office
towers. This tiny little space sold more coffee, more breakfast
and lunch, than most restaurants in the city I now live in. They had
no marketing. No big sign. No TV commercials. No colorful
handouts. They weren't even nice. But they were the most
powerful rude coffee shop on the block. They were a neighborhood
fixture. Everyone—I mean everyone—on the block knew who they
were. Everyone ordered lunch from them. And, sooner or later,
everyone passed through there.
There’s an entire cottage industry sprung up around church growth, around helping churches grow and become more financially stable. Few, if any, of these commercial programs (many of which are expensive snake-oil hustles) seem to question, first and foremost, our motives for church growth. Church growth is an unquestionably good thing, a thing to be desired, so much so that there seems to be little or no discussion of motive.
Getting your church to grow is actually quite simple. You need (a) a slamming music program, first and foremost, and, (b) you need strong (or at least entertaining) preaching. Combine a strong music program with dynamic preaching, and you put butts in seats. You don't need some paid consultant to explain that. You don't need to purchase a kit from some online hustler to learn that formula. If your music department is a wreck or if your preaching is poor, stop reading now; there's your answer. If you're not a great preacher, seek God for the humility to come to terms with that. Many white churches have a "preaching" pastor as well as a "teaching" pastor, both of whom report to the senior pastor. A senior pastor will be a good executive but he'll also have a pastor's heart and a pastor's humility, which means he's a grown-up who has come to terms with the things he does well and the things he does not do well. He'll put the needs of the church before his own ego and bring in an evangelist or an administrator if he needs help in those areas. He will not only seek out a powerfully anointed music minister, he will invest time in cultivating a good relationship with that person who is so vital to the success of the pastor's ministry. This is the wise pastor, the anointed pastor, the pastor broken for Jesus and hungry to do the work of the Gospel.
The struggling pastor is, in some cases, an egoist lost in self. He's a lousy preacher or he's a dynamic preacher who nonetheless loves himself more than he loves Christ or Christ's church. He is jealous of the music minister and chases away top talent so that he may shine as the church's only "star." Or he is a poor manager and goes cheap on his music minister, who is often working very hard for the church, just so the pastor can brag about how much cash the church has in the bank or pad his own salary. Going cheap on your music minister forces that musician to struggle to pay his bills, and thus he ends up working two jobs or two churches. Exhausted, he hits burnout or he becomes easy pickings for some other ministry waving a bigger paycheck. The struggling pastor has usually, at some point or another, failed to recognize how essential a productive, Christ-centered relationship with his music minister is to the overall health of his church. He is just as often ignorant of the fact the successful church relies on a number of key persons and ministries. He can be a bully; inflexible, insecure, a poor manager of assets and resources. But he's the pastor. He gets his briefcase full of cash on his pastoral anniversary. I've met these guys, I've seen these guys in action, quenching the Spirit during service and making their music guy's life a living hell all because of the pastor's insecurity. Me, me, me.
God doesn’t deal in statistics. God doesn’t deal in numbers, at least not in a conventional way. God doesn’t deal with our words, and all of our hard work is utterly meaningless to Him. God deals, exclusively, with our motives. Not with what we do so much as with our hearts: with our reasons for doing what we do. If we do things out of habit, out of rote, out of obligation, because we’re being forced to, because we feel we have to, our efforts are in vain. If we are trying to grow the church in order to bring money in, that’s an insincere reason for our efforts. If we’re trying to grow the church simply because we’re tired, the faithful few exhausted from carrying the weight, that’s an insincere motive. If we’re trying to grow the church simply to fatten up the pastor’s paycheck, that’s an abomination, a dreadful perversion of the purpose of the church.
Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to grow your church? The answer would seem obvious, but it really isn’t, nor should it be. Why grow your church? Why not join your church to another body of believers and grow that church? Why is God the exclusive purview of your ministry, of your pastor?
What specific thing or things is your church doing in its community, I mean on the very block it is located on, that makes its presence invaluable and indispensable? Identify, specifically, individuals on your street who would be irreparably harmed if your church closed its doors and merged with another church across town.
I’d guess nine out of ten churches could not provide a satisfactory response to such an inquiry. Their reasons for stubbornly insisting on remaining a church—and remaining independent—is their inflexibility and unwillingness to embrace change. Without even a reasonable answer to the above, the observant conclusion would be the church contributes nothing to the community it is located in and therefore that community would not suffer loss should the church close its doors. The doors of that church are, therefore, being kept open by sheer arrogance. It has nothing, not one thing, to do with God’s will or the cause of Christ or saving souls or whatever nonsense these people are snowing you with. It is a social club, period. And THESE folk don’t like THEM folk, so they must insist on struggling along, living a capricious lie that their insolence is somehow pleasing to God.
If your pastor cannot name even one family who lives on the same block as his church, he needs to resign. If your church is contributing nothing at all to the community it is situated in, it needs to close its doors. This mess is the very definition of what the old folk used to call “playing church;” going through the motions of service while not actually serving anyone. Don’t ask God to add to your number just so you can continue going in circles, ignoring people who live next door.