Charles Revis, Executive Minister
When a church tracks its attendance and finances it may become alarmed to find that decline has set in and major difficulties will be coming down the road. Such awareness may awaken a desire for renewed growth. There may even be a willingness to explore new ministries, launch a different worship service or increase outreach activities in an effort to stop the decline and jumpstart some growth.
I'm all for careful planning that leads to new ministry initiatives, especially if these are motivated by a heartfelt concern for the unchurched. However, I'm leery of new ministry programs that are motivated by church survival. These tend to have a short lifespan and do little to renew growth.
For me church growth is first about effectively implementing the Great Commission within a congregation's immediate ministry reach. Sustainable growth is usually the result of the church's intentional, steady efforts to make new and better disciples who in turn make new and better disciples. With this perspective in mind church growth is not about embracing the latest music style or hip program to attract a larger crowd on Sunday mornings.
The power for true, lasting disciple-making growth is first and foremost spiritual.
One overlooked key to effective church growth is the role of prayer. We tend to look first to techniques, programs and quick fixes when desiring growth. By contrast real growth is first and lastly a spiritual enterprise empowered by the Living Christ. If one can grow a church without the power of Christ then that growth will prove to be shallow, unsustainable and ultimately yields no disciples. It may produce a crowd of religious spectators but that's not real church growth. The power for true, lasting disciple-making growth is first and foremost spiritual. And, only the Holy Spirit can provide such power.
This is why prayer for growth is so critical. There is such a thing as a real, humble desire for renewed growth in the church. It is motivated by a longing to see people far from God enter into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. When the church prays for growth along these lines I believe that the church is praying in a way that is line with God's will for His church.
Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24) The Apostle John wrote, "If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." (1 John 5:14-15) Since it is God's will for His Son to build the church we can pray for the church to grow and at the same time be confident that we are praying in accordance with the will of God. Paul reflects this, "God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth." (1 Timothy 2:4)
If you want your church to grow I suggest you start with prayer! I'm talking about specific prayers that are focused on seeing people far from God come into a faith relationship with Jesus through your church's evangelistic and outreach efforts. Renew the church's prayers for the lost and there will be a corresponding effectiveness in ministry. Consider this simple outline for praying for growth today:
- Start with the church leaders praying together for growth at every official board meeting. This shouldn’t be perfunctory but a real yearning for renewed congregational effectiveness in reaching the lost.
- Confess any and all wrong motives for growth such as survival, achieving financial solvency, or attracting a few young adults to shoulder some of the load.
- Pray against the strongholds that close hearts to Christ: obsessive love of material possessions; over-scheduled lives; spiritual coldness; bitterness; intellectual suspicion of Christianity; addictions of various kinds; poverty; racism; etc.
- Pray for specific people by name starting with family members, coworkers, neighbors and guests who drop in to church. OIKOS is a good approach for doing this in a systematic and church-wide way.
- Form an intercessory prayer team that meets on a regular basis. In addition to praying for the various needs of the congregation and community the team should pray strategically as described in this list. They should meet early before the worship service(s) and pray through the sanctuary.
- Conduct prayer walks through the neighborhoods that surround the church.
- Be prepared to respond to "out of the box" opportunities for ministry that suddenly pop up as a result of praying for growth.
- A few years ago I heard a church planting coach teach on prayer and starting churches. He told the story of a woman in a house just a few streets over from a new church plant who was standing at her sink washing the dinner dishes when suddenly she had a strong urge to attend church. She was not a regular church attender, but was so compelled by the feeling that she walked into the new church that Sunday and eventually gave her life to Christ. She later discovered that the church's prayer team had walked her street praying for the unchurched that very day. This is a true story!
I encourage you to start praying for growth and look for God to do some really amazing things in your congregation as He empowers renewed congregational vitality and strength.