How a Church SHOULD Grow…

One of the great blessings of working as a national church consultant is the opportunity to see so many unique expressions and diverse journeys of healthy local churches. There’s simply no single way to “do church” and anyone who claims there is undermines the creative genius of the Holy Spirit.

But from this privileged vantage point, there are evident common realities that can be observed, such as the fact that a growing church is always an outward-focused church, lost vision in the pew is the principle cause of plateau, and a few other items I’ve written about over the past several years.

Well, here’s another–the local church (at least the healthy ones) don’t grow the way one might think. There’s always been something “other-worldly” about the Church. Remember this is the arena where losing your life leads to finding it, turning the other cheek is the key battle strategy, and the greatest in the room are the ones carrying serving trays and waiting on everyone else.

No, the local church’s true path isn’t what you might expect and totally abandons the wisdom you might gain from a business seminar. In the local church, impact leads to effectiveness. Let me explain…

You see, the growing church must understand the relationship between the three key elements of its growth–excellence, impact, and organization. Excellence speaks of the quality with which we do things. Impact is found in the genuine life-change realities people are experiencing. Organization is the means by which we manage all of them and all we do with them. Excellence, impact, and organization are the E-I-O of the growing church (something for Old MacDonald to reflect on). 🙂

Unfortunately many churches today think that Excellence is the key driver for the local church’s future. Do it well–highest quality–and the crowd will come. Hire the best musicians. Put on the most amazing Sunday presentation. Do it better than everyone else and the consumers will pour in. When excellence leads the way, quality is job one. Many have found such a focus works! The crowds come!! Unfortunately such crowds are tough to manage and its extremely difficult to turn consumer crowds into true disciples. And those who provide the excellence usually end up exhausted, disillusioned, and burned out.

Organization is another available focus. Get the right systems in place and you can manage thousands. Systems shape the DNA of the local church–the way we organize people, the way we structure their involvement, the way we follow-up, the way we do whatever it is that we need to do. I once heard a megachurch called “a machine” for the incredible way they had organized their systems. Such observations caused me to one think that the key difference between large and small churches was their level of organization.

But a few more years and wider observations showed me something else more clearly. Jesus intended His Church to be focused on impact. He told us that the real mission is to make disciples, not build crowds, and then He went out and modeled such thinking every day of His earthly life. Jesus didn’t seek crowds. In fact, when the crowds grew, He either launched teaching they struggled to accept or sidestepped them altogether.

Jesus prioritized impact–deep, life-changing formation of disciples–over crowd-chasing every time. And His results turned out to be pretty remarkable as those deeply committed followers went on to turn the world upside down.

I’ve been to too many conferences where we help each other with Excellence and Organization strategies guaranteed to grow our local churches. One success story seeks to breed others with road maps to methodologies that either ramp up your quality or help you manage more and more with greater effectiveness. And the hope is that the kind of impact Jesus is after will follow.

But in Jesus’ Church, impact never follows. It leads–always. Excellence and organization must follow (and I suggest they follow at a healthy distance). If you’re trying to grow a church through Sunday performances or the unique tricks of the organizational trade, you may be growing your crowd, but not growing His Church. And I wonder if those are some of the things some will do in His name and find them empty someday.

The kingdom of God is not about numbers…it’s about stories. And stories are best told one at a time. So chase impact. Look for ways to help people grow and your local church will probably grow as you do. Grow crowds and you may not get many real disciples. Grow disciples and you’ll likely end up with a bunch of them!

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