The beauty of a church plant is that you can set the right DNA from the beginning. Many churches don’t grow and will never grow even though they believe the Bible. It all comes down to healthy building blocks you hope to pass on to every member, and eventually every new congregation. But these are things that have to be thought about from the very beginning. The trouble is that after a while we can’t see the problems with the way we do things – our own our DNA.
Over the last three years I’ve driven 90,000 km visiting churches, talking with ministers, scratching my head and rubbing my chin with them, thinking about ministry. Of the churches I visit the vast majority are gun barrel straight in their theology and committed to teaching the Bible. However only about 20% of them are growing solidly – that is, 20% per annum or better. It’s worth asking the question – why? So here we go…
It could be that Australia is hard soil. Our nation began as a group of convicts, and with respect to religion it all went down hill from there. But some churches are growing and their success doesn't seem to be controlled by demographics or sociology. What we see is the sovereign hand of Almighty God giving growth as He will. However we have to operate at a human level and God does seem to bless those churches that are busy with gospelling in a disciplined, prayerful and sacrificial way.
This is the beginning of a series on '10 Barriers to Growth' that I've collected over those kilometres. The first two are below. All ten are reversible; they can even be turned into positives. But if all ten are present in your church it's as sure as eggs you won't be growing. These ten barriers also operate at a congregational level rather than a denominational one – they're not Anglican or Presbyterian or Baptist or even Independent problems – their ours. So, iff you’re setting up a church plant, watch out for these, and make sure they don't creep into your congregational DNA…
Leadership that has no vision for where we are going
If the leader of a church doesn’t know where he’s going, or where the church is going, you’re collectively going nowhere. What are the church's goals, what’s the 'main thing'? And, most importantly, has the leader communicated this to the people he's leading?
If you’re just turning up week by week to kill time before Jesus comes back, growth really isn't an issue. And like kids just sitting in a car waiting, you’ll probably be fighting with one another because there’s nothing else going on. Churches without vision and leadership will either hold hands and look inward, or fight with each other … and look inward.
What’s your vision, where are you going, what’s your goal for year one, year two, year five? Then talk to people until you’re so sick of talking about it that you’re ready to scream – and they’ll be just getting to hear you.
A lack of resources, especially finances and gifted people
This is a consequence of the first barrier to growthh. People simply will not give without a vision, or purpose. They won’t give money and they won’t give of themselves. If your church is just in maintenance mode your giving will be too.
If you have a vision, (growth, risk, stepping out in faith) people will give to it. The greater the vision and the better it is communicated, the more sacrificially people will give. The more people are gripped by the vision of the Gospel the more they will open their wallets – 2 Corinthians 8:9. Let’s face it – turning up week after week, year after year, because that’s what we do, isn’t really conducive to developing new and sacrificial commitment. Answer the questions 'What are we doing?' and 'Why are we doing it?', and people will give.
There are many other factors that effect how well a church is financially resourced. Growing churces will always be under-resourced simply because they are always playing catch up with respect to growth. Some churches operate in a balanced way; they exist on 'just enough'. But they can actually still be in decline; they are only maintaining an even keel by slowly scaling down what they are doing year by year. Death in churches, I have noticed, is usually slow and carefully managed. However the over all growth or decline of financial resources remainsw very much effected by the vision put forward by the leadership of the church.
People’s personal contribution – their service in time, and effort – will also be determined by how much they have caught a Gospel focussed vision, and how much we have understood how God has gifted them. We’ll talk more about people and service under Barrier 8, coming soon.
Next article – Barriers 3 & 4, how a pastor spends his time