When I was in college, I learned how to play the guitar so I could lead worship.
Songs like Awesome God, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, and Lord I Lift Your Name on High (with hand motions) were really popular, and I wanted to lead them at the Baptist Student Union.
Luckily, mastery of these songs only required three or four chords.
I spent many an afternoon sitting around with a cheap guitar practicing Indigo Girls and learning G, C and D, with a little Em thrown in there for interest.
I didn’t need to invent new chords to play them, just master the basic ones.
It’s been 22 years since then, and those simple chords haven’t changed much. Christian worship songs have grown a little more (with lots more water references), but the foundation of their music is still the same.
Church growth is a lot like this too.
There are complicated guitar solos, unique sounds, and pedal combinations that can make your music sound unique, but there are still a few things to master in order to be successful.
The basics still matter. And they still deserve your focus.
Here are a few basic church growth tools God uses to grow the church.
#1 – Casting Vision
There are many examples in the Bible of casting vision.
Nehemiah 2:1-18 describes how Nehemiah inspired the people of Jerusalem to rise up and rebuild the walls of the city. Throughout the project, he continued to remind them how much it mattered and continued to push them toward a completion date.
1 Chronicles 2 describes Solomon casting vision for the first temple. He asked people to donate to the project and continually reminded them why it mattered.
Vision isn’t just a picture of what the future could look like; it’s a picture of what the future should look like. And it’s one of the most basic church growth chords to master.
Vision is different from passion.
A lot of pastors and church leader have a tremendous passion to reach people. They wholeheartedly believe the Bible and are passionate about sharing the Gospel. Likewise, people in the church can be passionate about what God wants to do in the community. But passion for the church doesn’t translate to a vision to do what God has called the church to do.
Vision is also different from purpose.
Every church needs a deep sense of purpose, an answer to the “why” question. Purpose is something big, even eternal, and it comes straight from the Bible. But in a way, this purpose is never really accomplished. Your church isn’t going to wake up one Monday morning and think, “Wow, there are no more people in our community who need Jesus.” You’re going to keep striving and keep working because of a deep calling. That’s purpose.
But vision is different. Vision is not about what’s forever; it’s about what’s now. It’s got an expiration date, or a “date accomplished.” You and your church should be able to tangibly see the vision happen in a set amount of time.
We’ve worked with thousands of churches and many of them struggle to cast and communicate a clear vision. They are caught up in ministries and programs and issues, but don’t make time to clarify and communicate where the church is going.
Proverbs 29:18 says where there is no vision the people perish.
But if people perish where there is a lack of vision, they prosper when vision is clear. That’s why casting a clear and compelling vision for the future is one of the basic tools God uses to grow the church.
#2 – Loving Jesus and Loving People
Pastors and church leaders love to talk church growth strategy and leadership tactics.
And rightfully so.
These are fun and important topics.
But there’s something that matters more than worship style, service times, and multisite. Those are guitar solos, not basic chords.
Teaching your church to love Jesus and love people is far more important.
It’s simple, but it’s hard.
Because people (you and me included) are naturally inclined to love themselves and overlook their neighbor. Culture screams this.
Your family. Your schedule. Your job. Your hobbies. Your bills. Most people really do live in a carefully constructed bubble.
But the message of Jesus has always been counter-cultural.
- The first will be last.
- The Kingdom not of this world.
- Love your enemies, not just your friends.
- Lay down your life.
This is foundational to life as a Christian and that makes it foundational to the healthy growth of a church. If you want your church to grow in a healthy way, it’s going to happen when your people love Jesus with all their hearts and love their neighbor as yourself.
Your church services, ministries and programs, and staff should reflect this core value. And while it’s a pretty simple principle to understand, it can be tough to flesh out in your church.
- Church people should prioritize the needs of others over their own comforts. Pastors, if every part of your ministry makes you feel right at home, that could be a sign you’re prioritizing the wrong people. Frankly, there should be things in your church you don’t personally like.
- The needs of the community should drive ministry programming. Too many churches offer programs and ministries based on the wants of the members or the successes in the past. But churches with a people-first outlook create programs that truly match the needs of the community.
- People who are not like you should feel welcome at your church. It’s one thing to SAY you’re welcoming to outsiders, but if people don’t FEEL it then it’s just not reality.
#3 – A Good Church Service
G, C and D and Em.
With those four chords, I can play 80% of the songs on the radio. Of course there’s more to music, but those basic chords are the starting point. It’s kind of silly to move on to more complicated things until I’ve mastered those basics.
One of the most basic things your church can get right is the church service. What happens when the people gather? What’s Sunday like?
It might be different where you life and all cultures are not the same, but for most churches, the Sunday morning service is the starting point for church engagement.
It’s when people hear sing songs, hear a sermon, and see one another. I’m not saying this is all there is (or that it’s even the most important), but it is usually the most visible thing a church does and a basic starting point for many people. You don’t have to say “it’s all about Sunday” to make sure Sunday is engaging.
That means the church service is one of the most important things to get right when it comes to healthy church growth.
Not special events, not one-off programs, and not ministries that involve a few people. It’s the church service – the thing that happens every week right on schedule.
This is why we start the Breaking 200 course by working on the church service, making sure it’s truly ready for guests. And it’s why we continually come back to this topic inside our Church Fuel One membership program.
We often forget about the church service because it’s so common. It’s easy to take for granted because we know how to do it. But it’s worth your intentional focus. It’s worth making sure it’s the best it can be.
Here are three things you can do to improve your church service.
- Pray. As pastors, pray for the service and the opportunity you have to share the gospel and encourage Christians. Ask your leaders to pray. Organize a prayer call or send out a prayer guide. Pray throughout the week and meet early to pray.
- Practice. It doesn’t cost any money to run through the songs, preach the message to a mirror and run through transitions.
- Evaluate. When the service is over, talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Talk through what connected and what missed. Ask people to complete an evaluation form. Do this all the time but a few times a year, make evaluation a big deal.
Your three chords might be different from these three chords. Maybe small groups are your starting point or maybe you’ve got a different focus. The point here is there are three or four elements that make up the bulk of your ministry.
Identify them. Talk about them. Make sure you get really good at the basics.
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But what else can you do as a steward to reach more people?
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