Direct Hit: A Follow Up Question from a Reader

Book—Borden,-Direct-HitI get emails (and insomnia) —

Jay…I ran across your thoughts on church leadership. If one wants to be trained in how to lead a church to grow, especially a CoC preacher like myself, where would you recommend? Preferably, I would want to sit at the feet of someone who has grown the church, not just read books on it. This has been the burning question on my heart the last few months. I can’t think of any resources except for outside the church. I’m lost. Loved your article and appreciate you bringing up a needed topic.

I’m not entirely sure myself, so this is going to be a little scattershot. I’d LOVE it if the readers could add to my late-night brainstorming.

1. I would find one or more preachers in settings similar to my own – urban, rural, blue collar, college educated, growing or declining community, whatever – who’ve pulled it off, and I’d then travel to visit him and his key elders and staff members for a weekend and a day or two of note taking. I’d considering bringing along the people at my church essential to success — key elders and staff members, most likely. I might even use my iPhone to transcribe the conversation for those who can’t make the trip. (And, yes, I’ve done every bit of this. It helps.)

2. There are professional consultants as well, such as Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer, who work outside of our tradition. Subscribe to their materials via email or RSS. (I do.) Rainer has a service he charges for. It might be worth the cost. Subscribe to the free service for a while and then decide.

3. I might look up Paul Borden, the guy who wrote Direct Hit and ask him the same questions, and he consults with churches. He may know people who work in similar environments to your own.

4. I’d call David Wray at ACU and ask his advice. David is very smart about this sort of stuff. He may not be the guy you want, but he’ll know who you need to talk to.

5. I would speak with Carlus Gupton.  He is very well qualified. I heard him speak on church growth several years ago and was very impressed. He’s part of the Church of Christ tradition and one of our most credentialed experts in church growth. He also has an email/RSS subscription service for new materials.

6. Study materials on church plants and missions and convince your congregation to think that way. Talk to the good people at Kairos and read Ed Stetzer’s materials on planting churches and revitalizing churches. There’s been a lot of serious research on why plants succeed and fail. And if your church can think of itself as a plant, good things will surely follow.

In short: network, network, network. Get on the road and visit these people. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn for the price of a phone call – and how much more you can learn over lunch or if you schedule an afternoon visit following a Sunday morning church visit to watch the church dynamics. Meet with church staff afterwards and lead a discussion on how they do it.

Somewhere in the mix, you’ll surely find a mentor/coach to help you through the process. In fact, you may even develop a committee of advisers who advise you as you go. (And when you figure it out, be prepared to pay it forward by mentoring others.)

Carefully distinguish between (a) building a better church that steals sheep and (b) being a conduit for God grace and love that draws the lost to Jesus.

Also, do not buy the silly arguments against the institutional church, against being attractional, etc. Don’t bother trying the house church model. These do not grow as fast as well-led traditional churches that have a clear vision, good leadership, and a culture of following the leader. There are exceptions, but not many. George Barna notwithstanding, I don’t think the future is in house churches. The future is in unity in fact. Being more divided is not the solution.

The First Century church had one congregation per city that met in house churches, because Roman law wouldn’t allow them to gather in public venues or build big church buildings until the time of Constantine in the Fourth Century. One eldership per city. One church. Meeting as a single congregation when they could by a riverbank or in an amphitheater when the local leaders were willing to look the other way. Meeting in homes the rest of the time. Very much like a modern church with a robust small groups program (which is essential to what you want to see happen, but not enough).

This is not easy because it requires your congregation to give up a consumer culture and submit to their leaders. And it requires elders who are not only on board with the goals but with the process of getting there — and the costs. You cannot grow a church around your elders. Either they are on board or it’s hopeless. Get new, better elders or find a new congregation to work with.

Be clear on your goals, and share your vision with the church. In fact, develop the vision with the entire congregation, rather than imposing one from on high. And if your vision requires a break from our traditions (it will need to), be upfront about it. Don’t leave your members waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then again, be open to the Spirit’s leading. And if the Spirit takes you in an unexpected direction, the church should be warned that the King lives in heaven and sometimes has plans unlike our own. Coach your members to be open to the Spirit’s leading.

Pray. Get your whole church to pray with you.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Direct Hit: A Follow Up Question from a Reader

  1. Chad Hackler says:

    Jay,
    Another fantastic resource is the leadership network. They deal with helping all kinds of churches build growth and discipleship by bringing in a church staff to meet with other church staffs to share ideas as well as hear from experts who have “been there, done that”.
    Tim nations is one of their experts and he is a CoC’er here in the Dallas metroplex where leadership network is based. They have free resources, of course.

    Here is his contact info:
    Tim Nations | Director of Facilitation | Leadership Network
    http://www.leadnet.org
    tim.nations@leadnet.org
    817-915-8955 Cell
    @timnations

  2. Mark says:

    First, are you trying to grow your congregation or Christianity at large? There is a difference. I believe that the recent reported shrinking of Christianity is the result of mistakes made in the 80s and 90s. Thus, your efforts of today may pay off in 10-20 years.

    In the mean time I would suggest:

    Make sure that there is not even the perception of second- (or even lower) class Christians in your church. A Christian should be considered a Christian regardless of background, gender, etc. There is a blog post by Patrick Mead with an answer to a Christian female who asked if God hates women. You need to read his response to see where this originated.

    If you are in a college town, talk to the Methodist minister about what they do for students (meal, service project, student worship service on Sunday night, etc.). They tend to have large university groups and are inclusive. (I was a little envious of what the Methodist students got in terms of university group, acceptance and an informal service with a relevant sermon.)

    Consider using the lectionary. You would be surprised how many younger people want to hear the Bible read intact (and more than 2 verses from the Pauline letters) and the psalms sung. Now the lectionary may make you have to write new sermons and preach out of the Gospels but it will pay off.

    Talk to an Episcopal priest. Listen to some of their homilies. The homilies are short, typically one-point, but some will make you squirm in your seat. They don’t repeat even the tough parts. The priest generally reminds people they have a choice and have to decide how they want to live their life (no one can decide it for you). Then they sit down. Also, learn from them how the focus is on the communion after confessing both beliefs and sins, not the sermon.

    Make a large effort to understand human nature. By all means, mention it in a sermon but don’t trash people over it.

  3. Mark says:

    This is a really good read for all of you. In fact, I read it just the other day. It approaches growth from many different perspectives.

    http://www.reformjudaismmag.org/strengthening-congregations-symposium

  4. Royce says:

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is Jesus and the gospel. Churches I know personally that are growing (Coc, Bible churches, Assembly of God, Presbyterian, and Community churches…) are gospel saturated. Every ministry, every event has gospel intentions.

    I think it’s easy to get too concerned about methods and programs and neglect what is of first importance. Churches that focus their efforts on members being better people, improving their morality, etc are sometimes missing the best. God is not looking for a better me or you to love and approve. Jesus died for ungodly people. God doesn’t want dedication He demands surrender.

    Just mentioning the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is not gospel. Unless people know what those things mean for them, now, today, you have not preached the good news about Christ. Churches are populated with a large percentage of members who have always gone to church, don’t drink, cuss, or cheat on their spouses, have been baptized, and have no relationship with Jesus. They are depending on their history of good things rather than on what happened over 2,000 years ago.

    Nothing is wrong with the things Jay suggested. But none of those are useful if Christ and the gospel are not first in everything. Churches in our area sometimes have “gospel meetings” for a week and not one time in a week do they preach Christ and the cross. Paul said the gospel is the power of God, not great devotionals or sermon series.

  5. I wonder how things would change if we candidly said what we really mean by “church growth”, which is nothing more nor less than: “Having more people attend OUR services, fill OUR coffers and work in OUR organization, whether these persons come from unbelief or from other religion clubs.”

  6. Dwight says:

    My comment: we have a gross misunderstanding of what the church is and this leads to misapplications. To most church is a place at a time, but the church or congregation is the people of God. And it is not OUR church, but GOD’s church. The money we give isn’t our money or the churches money, but is an example of giving meant to fulfill the purpose of aiding others.
    Mark, makes a good observation in that often we think that growth of our locally church is the growth of the kingdom, so we often try to grow our church, but our attempt should be to grow the kingdom and not our local congregation. The call was never to get more people into the church of a certain town by the apostles, but to get people to Christ.The message was Jesus…the savior.
    We primarily preach the good news to those who have the good news. If we want the gospel to be effective we must effectively take it to the lost. Gospel meetings don’t do much except make the saints think the gospel is being spread in the community. The first rule of public speaking: Know Your Audience. We somehow have the saved confused with the lost in assembly.

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