Archive for the ‘Great Churches Series’ Category

A church in Eastern Europe invited a campaign group of American Christians to come for about a week. For the last weekend of that effort, the campaign group’s schedule predicted simply “Baptisms.”  As was expected, over 1000 people were baptized that weekend with great celebration. Less than a year later, however, not one of those people was attending that church. Without judging what God did in the hearts of the baptized, we can say for sure that this growth strategy for the local church was not effective. 

 Another foreign church plant that we have worked with had virtually no growth for the first ten years! But the next ten years have seen an abundant harvest.  I would like to suggest that great churches understand two principles that help them develop strategies for real growth.

1.      Great churches understand that harvest is the result of a process that is particular and cannot be abbreviated.   Notice in this generic website explanation of how to achieve “successful growth” of seeds, what seem to be God’s laws about growth, then apply them to your efforts:

A seed is an embryo plant and contains within itself virtually all the materials and energy to start off a new plant. To get the most from one’s seeds it is needful to understand a little about their needs, so that just the right conditions can be given for successful growth.

  • One of the most usual causes of failures with seed is sowing too deeply. . . .
  •  Another common cause is watering. Seeds need a supply of moisture and air in the soil around them. Keeping the soil too wet drives out the air and the seed quickly rots, whereas insufficient water causes the tender seedling to dry out and die. . . . .
  • Most seeds will of course only germinate between certain temperatures. Too low and the seed takes up water but cannot germinate and therefore rots, too high and growth within the seed is prevented.  . . . .
  • Some perennials and tree and shrub seeds can be very slow and erratic in germination. This may sometimes be due to seed dormancy, a condition which prevents the seed from germinating even when it is perfectly healthy and all conditions for germination are at optimum. The natural method is to sow the seeds out of doors somewhere where they will be sheltered from extremes of climate, predators, etc. and leave them until they emerge, which may be two or three seasons later.

2.     Great churches have a strategy for each stage of development. The process begins with ground preparation and seed planting. After germination (length varies), the young plants must be cultivated and protected. Finally, the time—the right time–for harvest arrives.  Churches that hurriedly skip from one stage to the next—sometimes even omitting the more time-consuming steps—if they have any results at all, often  produce genetically weak Christians.

Two Questions: 

  1. What are the implications for mission philosophies that set specific timetables for new church plants to mature?
  2. What are your church’s specific strategies for each stage of development in the people you hope to harvest for the Lord?

 Next:  #4  Great churches are the result of group efforts, not individual efforts.

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We visited a long-established congregation in Europe a few years ago to talk about future LST projects there. It was a wonderful group of people—around 40—but they were located in an area of town that was widely known to be dangerous because of gang violence and drug trafficking.  These Christians were moderately affluent, drove to their building from other parts of the city, and were not prepared to reach out into their neighborhood. Their vision was for people like themselves and their strategies for the occasional public events were directed to people like themselves—who would likely never come to their part of town for any reason. For quite obvious reasons, this was not a growing church, but one that had settled into a comfortable size and a resignation with things as they were.

So why were they located there and why didn’t they move?  The answers were simple: they had been at the current location a long time and had invested heavily to make their facility very nice, and it would cost too much to move out of this district, so they accepted their circumstances as fait accompli.  

Another European church that LST has worked with over the years started from the desire of one national family to plant a church in their city. Before they even had a meeting place, they hosted an LST team with outreach to their entire city of several hundred thousand. Their first meeting place was quite adequate for perhaps fifty people, but after only a few years and long before they reached fifty, they moved to a larger more central facility, which itself was replaced a few years later by another larger, better situated facility. This group of Christians never outgrew their facility, but moved because they intended to outgrow their facility.

Great churches expect to grow, not just to assemble. They have a “be-fruitful-and-multiply” Vision and they make their decisions and plans (strategies) based on a trust in God’s promise that His Word will not return empty-handed. The fields they are given to work may be difficult—as is the case in Europe in general—but what God states in the familiar Isaiah 55 passage is, “my word…will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  

Great churches seek the vision of God in prayer, then expect and plan accordingly, assuming that God is both truthful and faithful.  Great churches seek both their goals and strategy in what God can do, not what they themselves can accomplish.

Question: Not what are the wishes, rather what are the expectations of your congregaton?

Next: Observations on Great Churches #3: Process Precedes Growth

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Sherrylee and I often joke that all we have ever seen in the 60+ countries we have visited is the airport, the road to the church building, and the missionary’s living room. While this is not literally true, it is true that we have had opportunity to visit with hundreds of churches around the world and to talk with hundreds of missionaries and national Christians. This proximity has given us an unusual vantage point for observing what I believe to be essential qualities for great churches.  And by great I do not necessarily mean the largest, but I do mean those churches that seem to me to be truly living and breathing as a strong body of Christ in their culture/country. Allow me to share these with you over the next few days.

Great churches and great missionaries realize that neither the church nor the work belongs to them.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) Missionaries/Ministers/Leaders may give their lives to a country or a congregation, but regardless of how much they have given for how many years, the church belongs to Jesus who paid for it with His sinless blood. Too many mature congregations have been “owned” by charter members, by large contributors, by family dynasties, or special interest groups. Equally as many have been owned by founding missionaries, legacy ministers, or irreplaceable elders. I have seen churches forced to literally ban their founding missionary from their building to escape their ownership.

 Great churches have leaders who know that they are replaceable; in fact, great leaders plan to replace themselves. It may feed some egos, but it is no compliment to admit that a work might die if a particular leader were not there. A great leader would be working intensely to remedy that situation quickly.

Even Jesus, the Greatest Leader, said, “Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work” (John 10:37). He also said, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you” (John 16:7).  

Great churches have great leaders who acknowledge with every word and deed the One who owns them as slaves and who intentionally give up a posture of “ownership” for the health of the body of Christ. The practical result of accepting this principle is the absolute end of turf wars, of jealousies over resources or results, and of battles over authority and control.

Question:  How would you know if YOU were acting as an “owner”?

Next:  Great churches work from a prayer-sought Vision with a prayer-based Strategy. 

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