In I Corinthians 3:6, Paul writes, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

That’s the mystery of church growth. It’s all up to God, but we are involved.

Ultimately God grows the church, but don’t forget that he uses people like Apollos and Paul to plant and water and He uses you too.

Here are five things God uses to grow the church.

#1 – A clear sense of vision.

The church has a mission, an always-striving-for-but-never-truly-accomplished reason for existence. Maybe you say you’re here to make disciples. Or maybe you have a long, detailed, purpose statement.

But that’s not vision.

Vision is a picture of what it looks like when you get where you’re going. It’s specific, timely, and attainable.

Most churches do not have a clear and compelling vision. They have a lengthy purpose statement that might define who you are but doesn’t inspire anyone to action.

But when pastors get really clear on vision (and usually, this takes a lot of work, a lot of focus and some outside help), the church will rally around it and it can begin to grow.

Here’s more about the difference between mission and vision.

#2 – Quality ministry that reflects the needs of the community.

The other day I got a disparate email from a pastor who wanted the church to grow beyond 35 people. This pastor was called, committed and trained, and he wanted to see people in the community understand the gospel. Passion definitely wasn’t the problem

We launch ministries that work in other churches despite the fact that the needs of our community are totally different.

Passion wasn’t the problem; it was focus. In this case, the church was not offering any programs or ministries to truly meet the needs of the community. They were doing “church things.”

But when churches begin to say no to good ministries that aren’t truly connected to the vision and start focusing on the community around them, growth can happen.

Once again, this is really difficult. Because some of the programs in your church are near and dear to your heart. But look around your community and then seek to meet the needs that truly exist.

#3 – A church services that engages the mind and heart.

For most churches, the church service is the most public ministry of the church. It’s the front door – the means by which most people will experience your church for the first time.

Like it or not, people will judge your church by your church service. That’s why we advise pastors who want to lead a healthy, growing church to start with the service.

You might think your service is good, but you’re not the best person to make that call. You know and like the people. You’re used to the way things are done.

Instead, planning and executing great services requires a team of people who are willing to ask tough questions. Questions like…

  • Does your church service make sense to an outsider?
  • Are the sermons practical and actionable?
  • Are we building services with intentionality?
  • Are we being as creative as possible?
  • What is God doing in other churches?
  • How are we teaching and modeling the Gospel?
  • Are we using video and technology appropriately?

You don’t need a bunch of money or new staff people to start having better church services. Planning can solve your problems.

What would happen if you gathered a few people together once a month to evaluate the last few services and look ahead to the next few. Talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Talk about where God spoke and where the room felt dead? Then discuss upcoming sermons, songs and creative elements. Let people speak into what is going to happen and share ideas. Meetings like this can breath life into church services.

Here is a form you can use to evaluate church services.

#4 – Preaching that meets both felt and eternal needs.

The Apostle Paul wrote a good bit of the New Testament in response to people’s real questions. And interestingly enough, when Jesus preached, he didn’t preach line by line through the Old Testament. He didn’t just teach the truth; he answered questions.

This isn’t an argument for or against expository preaching, but it is a call to connect God’s eternal Word to the needs of today’s people. The people in your congregation have real struggles, hopes, and fears. And your sermons must address those concerns.

The sermon, like the church service, needs to be written and delivered with real people in mind. Your sermon should be Biblical, eternal, and not built on some fad. But it’s not delivered in a vacuum, only for God to hear. It’s preached to very real people.

If you’re going to preach the Bible (and you should), you should rightly divide the Word of Truth and deliver lasting hope to the people in the chairs.

One helpful way I try to manage this tension is begin my sermon prep in the Bible but begin my message with the people. I don’t start my sermon prep with another pastor’s series or some current event. Those things are changing and fleeting.

But when I stand to preach, I spend the first part of my sermon connecting with the audience, talking about what they already think or know about today’s topic, and building a case for what’s at stake.

If you want to lead a healthy and growing church, working on your own preaching is one of the most effective uses of your time.

#5 – Systems and Strategy.

Passion and vision aren’t enough.

Those are necessary but they are not enough.

Because you can’t vision-cast your way out of a systems problem. You can’t throw passion at a problem and hope it goes away. That might work for a while, but those problems return quickly.

Systems and strategy answer the HOW questions. It’s great that you’re going to make disciples…HOW are you going to do that exactly? It’s going to take more than a sermon series.

HOW are you going to fund the vision? Preach on money three times this year isn’t going to do it. You need a complete and coordinated strategy.

God uses systems to grow the church, so what systems do you need to crate?

  • What is your system for making disciples?
  • What is your system for connecting guest?
  • What is your system for raising money?
  • What’s your system for planning the church calendar?

If you’re like most churches, there are MANY systems in your church that need work. Just pick one and camp out there for a while. Don’t try to fix everyone at one time, but pick the one system that can do the most good, and work on it until it’s effective. Then you can move on to the next thing.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list.  God uses prayer, social media, leadership, politics, and so much more. He can use ANYTHING to grow the church. The goal here was to point out key elements worthy of your focus.

So What’s Next?

Feel like your church should be growing, but it’s not?

Ultimately, church growth is up to God. Are we being good stewards of what He’s given us? Are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?

We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. So we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.

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