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 pose the issue as a question, but he does “wonder aloud” about it).
- 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 grow. That first thing that has to change is the pastor’s schedule. You’ve got to set aside time to learn how to lead a church into growth.
On the right track
Rich moves the discussion in the right direction.
If a stagnant church is to become a flourishing, life-giving ministry of conversion growth, the first thing that must change is how the pastor manages time.
Leading a stagnant church off plateau requires a different mindset and a different set of skills. But you can’t acquire these without first changing your schedule. To become a church revitalization pastor, 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 also touches a provocative issue. After all these year’s it remains a hot-button.
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idea of church growth has fallen out of the common vernacular of our leadership simply because some of those ideas seem outdated and disconnected from a pastor’s every day life.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, writing, and presentation skills. This was sufficient for ministry in the 1950s to 1970s. What seminarians lack are crucial skills in personal and relationship management, cultural competence, leadership development, strategizing, and change management.
- A couple of books which were unfortunately influential in the 1990s reduced Church Growth to “marketing.” This dreadful misunderstanding of church growth deteriorated into today’s “build it and they will come” church-in-a-box formula.
- Adaptation to the cultural focus on “self-realization” or “self-fulfillment.” In our therapeutic society this the highest human good. This why the “good life now” and prosperity messages are so powerful today. Church “health,” “emotional health,” and popular strains of contemplative spirituality are “me and Jesus” centric reflections of American therapeutic culture.
Need of the hour: culturally competent leaders
I want to build on what Rich laid down. His post includes this “money quote:”
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 generations which precede. They differ because they experience different formative events. From generation to generation worldviews, values, social mores, and arts change. Each generation’s culture differs from that of other generations.
To reach across generations to draw people to Christ and nurture their spiritual growth you must understand the mission field. The dialog, the pedagogy, the approach that appealed to me in my late teens and early 20s fall on deaf ears when I talk to my grandchildren. The same is true for churches.
Cultural competence is required if you would 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. 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. ↩