I love Rich Birch. He’s an independent, out of the box, creative thinker. I love people who challenge prevailing wisdom and push the limits — not rebelling for the sake of being a rebel, but someone who looks for better ways to accomplish the mission.
His recent post, Should You Even Bother Worrying About Church Growth? is a must read for those practicing the pastoral arts.
THE church growth question
In this post, Rich asks questions that resonate with me.
- Do you ever have time during your day to think about church growth?
- Why has “church growth” fallen out of the vernacular? (He “wonders aloud” rather than posing a question per se).
- What are we doing to change, to grow, and to reach the next generation?
- And he ends with a challenge: I challenge you to carve out a portion of your weekly schedule to wrestle through questions about church growth.
I’m delighted that Rich zeroes in on the fundamental issue that blocks most pastors and churches from flourishing. He puts his finger on one of those “of course!” truths. Once you see it clearly, it feels like a slap upside the head.
He lays bare the obvious. Something must change if your church is going to grow. (And yes, it should).
On the right track
Rich moves the discussion in the right direction.1
If a stagnant church is to become a flourishing, life-giving ministry of conversion growth, the first change must happen in the pastor’s time management.
Leading a stagnant church off plateau requires a different mindset and new skills. You can’t acquire these without scheduling time. You must create time in your weekly schedule to:
- Study the literature on church revitalization
- Discern how your personality helps and hinders ministry
- Create a personal and professional development plan
- Acquire leadership skills you lack
- Learn to plan, execute and stick with it
“Church Growth” has gotten a bad rap
Rich touches a provocative issue that’s still a hot-button in some circles.
I wonder if the idea of church growth has fallen out of the common vernacular of our leadership simply because some of those ideas seem outdated and disconnected from a pastor’s every day life.
I see several reasons why church growth has fallen on hard times. They aren’t the only reasons, but they’re significant.
- Seminary education fails to prepare pastors for ministry in postmodern, post-Christian twenty-first century America. Graduate theological education equips grads with library research, exegetical, writing, and presentation skills. This was sufficient for ministry in the 1950s to 1970s. Today’s graduates lack crucial skills in personal and relationship management, cultural competence, leadership development, strategizing, and change management.
- Several books — which were unfortunately influential in the 1990s —reduced Church Growth to “marketing.” This dreadful misunderstanding of a couple of well-founded church growth led to today’s “build it and they will come” church-in-a-box formula.
- Adapting the cultural focus on “self-realization.” This is the highest good In our therapeutic society. Thus,“good life now” and prosperity messages are powerful attractors today. Church “health,” “emotional health,” and other popular strains of contemplative spirituality often reduce to “me and Jesus” centric reflections of American therapeutic culture.2
Need of the hour: culturally competent leaders
I want to build on something else Rich laid down.
For me, when my ministry feels like it’s at its most effective point, then that’s when I need to wrestle with the question, “What are we doing to change, to grow, and to reach the next generation?”
The words “change,” “grow,” and “reach the next generation” are pregnant with significance that oft goes unrecognized. Answering the question forces us to wrestle with cultural competence.
Each generation differs from the preceding due to each cohort’s experiencing different formative events. Worldviews, values, social mores, and arts change from generation to generation. This produces subtly — and sometimes not so subtly — distinct cultures decade by decade.
To reach across generations to draw people to Christ and nurture their spiritual growth you must understand the their culture, and it will be different than yours. Those who inhabit the next generation think and assign value differently than you. This is why the approach to spiritual issues that appealed to you falls on deaf ears when I talk to your grandchildren.
Cultural competence is required to reach that next generation.
You don’t get that training in seminary. You don’t get that training in workshops, expos, and conferences. You acquire that by study, hard and disciplined effort under the tutelage of an experienced mentor.
In answer to Rich’s question, yes, pastors must focus on church growth. I urge you to take him up on his offer.
And, while I’m at it, allow me a crass commercial message. Training pastors how to lead their stagnant churches off plateau is in our wheelhouse at Turnaround Pastors, Inc. We’ll help you learn
- Best ministry practices for church revitalization
- Best leadership practices of revitalization leaders
And we’ve got the research to prove that the process works. Ping me if you’d like to know more.
- My responses are based on the research my colleagues and I have conducted into the characteristics of church growth pastors, my years of serving as an intentional interim pastor, and my work as a trainer and mentor of pastors leading plateaued churches. ↩
- This is an intensely Western concept of Christian spirituality. The notion that the primary spiritual relationship is “me” and God is foreign to the Oriental culture in which Judaism and early Christianity flourished. ↩