Churches grow when the life of the church becomes the life of the community
The objective is the people, not the numbers, but didn’t Jesus preach to crowds…? | by Rob Carman
Church growth? Let me give you the newest formula, the latest strategy that hypes you up, the trendiest fad. Not really. Instead, might I say just the opposite? What is church growth, really?
Let me give some background. My wife and I planted our church in 1980 with thirty-five people. Thirty-four women. One man. The church experienced amazing growth. It became one of the largest churches in our state (New Mexico). We had a thousand trained volunteers who went out into the community for outreach. It was just as awesome as it sounds. However….
I can remember buying into all the talk, articles and strategies of church growth. Most offered some great ideas that did help us. But over time, I saw what I considered a flaw from some of those who taught it. I came to realize that church growth is a by-product, not a product. Church growth is actually not the objective of a church—it’s the result. When growth becomes a church’s objective, it breeds negative results. If church growth is our goal, our congregation becomes our customers, our message becomes our product, and the other churches become our competition.
Our objective, our target, our goal is people. Jesus never preached to a crowd. He preached to people. All the great miracles in the Gospels were one-on-one. Numerical growth is not the objective of a church. It’s a by-product. Growth is the result of reaching, healing, and lifting hurting people. When we confuse a product with a by-product, we can become protective, driven, competitive, envious, jealous, critical, and often dissatisfied. How do I know that? I’ve experienced it.
In the Garden were two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. God said that because man ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “he has become like us” (Genesis 3:22). Like us? What does that mean? Like God, in the fact that we think our opinions are right. God’s are, ours aren’t. Most of the arguments, divisions and relational separation in church denominations are due to the fact that we are eating from the wrong tree. Our opinions become our gods and we think we know good from evil. Thus we become the judge and jury of others’ lives.
What does the Garden have to do with growing a church? When our objective is people and bringing them to Life, we eat from the correct tree. Life is the centerpiece, the mantra of the Bible. Jesus came that we might have Life and have it more abundantly. God breathed into Adam the breath of Life. Paul told us to walk in newness of Life. Life means vitality, excitement, enthusiasm, satisfaction, zest, achievement, energy, compassion, fulfillment.
When our goal is bringing people the life of Christ, we then see life expressed in our…
Life comes through God’s Word. His Word is life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is the way, the truth and the life.
As we build and maintain good and godly, non-disposable relationships, we transfer life to each other and our life becomes bigger, richer and deeper. No man is an island and God said it’s not good for man to be alone.
The life of the church needs to become the life of the community. If life is not expressed, it dies. In other words, if you don’t give life away, the day will come when you have to throw it away. You can’t save it. Life is a perishable commodity.
I believe the following story best illustrates what I’m trying to communicate.
A man phoned me to tell me of his situation. “I’m calling you for encouragement,” he explained. “I thought you might pray for me over the phone.”
“What seems to be the problem?” I asked.
“I run a furniture business,” he said, “and selling is slow in our area. I’ve got to persuade more people to part with their money. Perhaps I bought a bigger inventory than I should have.”
While he was talking, I was listening and praying. Out of my silent prayer came this thought: Your attitude should not be to get people to part with their money. Rather it should be to help them. The purpose of business isn’t merely to get money from people, but to render a service to them.
“Take Mrs X,” I said when he stopped talking. “Maybe Mrs X wants a chair and hasn’t the money to buy it. So, she stands outside your store and looks in your window at the chair and wishes she might have it. You stand inside and look at her and wish she would come in and buy it. And the merchandise doesn’t move and so both you and Mrs X are unhappy about it.”
“That’s exactly how it is,” he said.
“Think first of helping Mrs X,” I said. “To do that, you must first get to know her and her family, study her needs. Don’t think so much about putting money in your pocket as about putting her in that chair. Pray about ways to help her have the furniture she requires. Do this with all your customers.”
The man soon saw his business from an entirely different perspective.
I could say the same to a young pastor just starting out about how to fill his church. The truth is, the more we get to know the people in our congregation and in our community, the more we discover how to help them. Filling chairs isn’t the goal. Filling the needs of the community is the goal. People are the goal.
Think of your members and your neighborhood as people needing your goods instead of you needing their attendance. Find ways to help them overcome their difficulties and you will overcome your own in doing so. And, if you will go around your community spreading joy and faith and trying to help people, instead of merely thinking about yourself, the Lord will bless you and you will turn over that inventory and have a wonderful time living.
This story is actually adapted from an article by Norman Vincent Peale. It illustrates the objective and purpose of the church. When this becomes our goal, it brings amazing freedom and joy into our lives. Our church fulfills what it was intended to do, become the source of Life, salvation, healing, and help to all those around us.
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