See also: Tract “The 3 B’s of Success”
To start off let me say that probably 9 of every 10 preachers in America will disagree with me on most everything I write in this page. So what! I will establish my views on the matter of church growth as I see them and maybe some of the people out there will agree, others who don’t will maybe consider my points, and the vast majority already know it all, so there is no hope for that kind of minister. I personally am still in the learning stage of my life until I die, how about you?
The Church Growth craze is completely out of control. I reject it completely out of hand as being a carnal attempt to do the work of God (an a poor attempt at that). Besides being man based, it has little real discernment or wisdom about how God works, nor any understanding of man’s real problem. I believe it was Horatius Bonar that wrote a book called, “God’s trees grow slowly.” I have not had the opportunity to read this book, but the concept seems extremely well grounded in what I know of Church Growth. It is amazing how we compare the church to a human body, and we completely miss this fact when it comes to church growth. Spectacular bodily growth is always bad. We call this tumor and cancer in human bodies, but we call it normal in church growth.
For growth to be normal and beneficial, it must be solid, slow, and well formed. In church work, a church can become unstable quickly because it grows too quickly. That is, there are not a body of old guard members which deeply feel that “this church is my church, and I am responsible for its welfare”. Another area of grave (fatal) danger is that of leadership. 1 Timothy 3:6 speaks of this in requiring that a minister not be a novice or recent to the things of the faith, or recent to the things of the ministry (which ever way you want to take them).
When studying the church cell system of David Cho (and the Columbian César Castellano, G12 system), it is remarkable their stated goals. Cho teaches that “normal” cell group (for him) is to divide each cell every 3-4 months, maximum 6 months. Within the next 6 months it should restore its optimal size (30-40 people) and push out another leader and redivide itself again. Of the 50,000 cell groups that Cho claims to have, 44,000 have women as leader’s. Castellano is not any better. I believe he his uses a bit longer time frame, 1-2 years, but each of his 12 groups should have twelve groups under them in that time frame.
It has been my observation that about 99% of these leaders are novices. There is no way they can be anything but novices. In practical church planting, I cannot see how a pastor can equip a young person with the tools he needs in less than several years, and I think a good time frame here is 5-8 years. That means he knows the tools of the trade and nothing more. To get pastoral y leadership wisdom, I see some taking 10-15 years to really get comfortable leading. (Some are at it 40-50 years and are horrible flops!)
These cell groups quite frankly fail in reproduction, but that is okay for their leaders because it is not reproduction that they are after, but domination. This is the old denominational monster raising its ugly head again. One man, or small group of men, that rule over the spiritual lives and local churches as a pope.
One of the thrusts that keep coming back to me over and over again as a pastor, God has laid out the plan for us to use. Work it. God structures our work (His work) as local churches grown by evangelism, then a single man is pastor, other men are co-leaders with him, and still others are servants (deacons). The name of this leader is pastor, and he is (1) chosen and called by God, (2) he voluntarily receives the burden of spiritual caretaking, (3) he is recognized by the church based on his spiritual and personal life example. “Somebody to follow.”
To by pass the divine calling and its burden, the individual sacrifice, or the process of local church recognition of this minister is to invite disaster and divine condemnation.
Divine Calling – The fact of the matter is that nobody should be in the ministry without the calling of God. Unfortunately I believe that the most of preachers and pastors today are not divinely called. This is concluded after seeing their absolute lack of priority on God’s approval of what they do. They are rogues, people who are independent of any real authority except “what works”, or “what feels right to them”. They make and base decisions on their own perceptions without any real searching and seeking to “find” God’s will in God’ word. When they approach Scriptures, it is always to justify their own preconceived decisions. They form decisions and attitudes, and they use (abuse) Scriptures to prove what they already have decided is what they are going to preach, or the position they already are decided to take. In many cases their preconceived ideas are not far off from God’s declarations, but God condemns and curses all they do anyway because they do not follow Christ, but are their own “gods”. These types always show up in the end as being Catholic Pope wannabees. You look at their ministry, and if they could get rid of the things that “bother them” they would set up a Popery just like the Catholics did.
Divine calling on the position side is a connection between what God sees needed, what God wants to do, and between a willing servant like Isaiah, “Here am I, send me”. Divine calling is always focused on what God wants, and not what we want our ministry to be. I truly believe that some of the most spiritual pastors I have ever met are out in little country churches. There is no glory there. There is little money. And yet these men do this ministry until their death simply because of the divine calling. This is spiritually, and this is the true calling of God.
Voluntary Surrender and Sacrifice – Another key factor here in church growth is the voluntary surrender and sacrifice of the minister and his wife. 1 Timothy 3:1 speaks of if a man desires the office of bishop, he desires a good thing. The ministry is a hard thing. It is extremely difficult to do it right. It is very easy to mess up a church and the spiritual lives of everybody in it. A local church is like an outpost in a war. You must deal with what comes at you, not what you want to do. It is a ministry to people, therefore it must deal with the problems they have, where they are, and help them to get where God wants them to be spiritually.
A church is also a lighthouse in that it declares what is God’s will. This in itself will make for untold manifold problems. It is entirely normal that some people will come to your church, be wonderfully thrilled with it, and then pick up and leave. Why? At the heart of this is because if you preach the whole counsel of God, sooner or later you will step on their toes of their pet favorite sins. Most Christians will not tolerate much of this and they will pick up and leave, quietly or loudly. This is not limited to a single locality, but across the world, this is what happens.
The preacher responds to this “unpopularity” of his message by either shrugging it off and continuing in the same, or avoids all controversy in his message (nullifying his divine call). A few, very few, pastors take extreme measures in prayer, and in incorporating godly men in his church to support his spiritual confrontation by praying and seeking to establish love and friendship with these people so they can “get over the hump”, repent from their sins, and stay faithful to that church. This is rare but it does happen. It does not happen in a super church. The larger the church grows, the farther and weaker the relationships are, and it simply doesn’t happen except to the inner circle of the pastor. Anybody outside this inner private circle of the pastor just leaves and nobody notices.
Congregational Recognition – In considering the minister aspect of church growth, there seems to be a congregation recognition aspect. Although we do not have much biblically speaking to base this on, we do have Hebrews 13:7, 17 which establishes that the pastor is to have an exemplary relationship with his flock. The flock is commanded to follow his spiritual example, his faith. In Titus 1:5, Paul establish Titus (a missionary, preacher, pastor?) to “ordain elders” or to establish the spiritual leadership of the church. Thereafter the spiritual requirements are again given, echoing 1 Timothy 3.
I believe that there needs to be a congregational recognition of the pastoral ability and qualifications according to these passages. Simply put, if the pastor is not a spiritual leader that the congregation can follow, then we do not have the biblical example. This has to be decided by someone other than the prospective pastor.
I would quickly note that the cell system abandons all of this for a simple appointed group leader by the denominational body (the main church pastor).
When we talk about church growth, we need to define exactly what we are talking about and what should be our goal in church growth. Does church growth mean only a growth in attendance and income, or also is infrastructure included (buildings, ministers, etc)? No growth can be sustained for very long without a growth in infrastructure. We need to understand that church growth needs to address the spiritual growth of the entire group, and the development of leaders, workers, ministers, and awareness of issues of growth within the group. How long does it really take for your people to be spiritually responsible for a large building, complex, and extensive ministry? This does not happen overnight, and therefore it is something that must keep pace with physical growth, and the spiritual maturity must be in place and well founded before advances in physical growth really are sustainable.
Here I would interject that the greatest problem of the cell movement churches is exactly that. They present a plan of dividing their cells groups every 6 months or so, but to develop a person into a leader and spiritual feeder in 6 months when they come from a false religion is impossible. Not even Jesus did that. Jesus started with disciple who were Jews, well trained in the Scriptures and already seeking the Messiah, and it was about 3 years before they had even passed through the course. At his crucifixion they all failed the exit examination. Jesus’ disciples were all trained from birth, and we do not see a short cut to spiritual maturity with them. We are deceiving ourselves if we think we can do better than Jesus.
This is directly addressed by Paul, when he prohibits the installation of ministers that are “novices” (“newly planted,” “neophyte” someone recently come to be a Christian 1Tim 3:6). Now there is a question here also of putting in people which were trained under other people and not your local church as ministers. If these other people have qualifications of time, experience, and training (personal Bible study is first and most important) then that is acceptable. If the group they were with that provided them their experience, training, etc. is of good doctrine and practice themselves. If the fidelity of the group is unknown, or in doubt, then they are no better than novices and should be treated likewise.
There has to be a time and experience factor that goes hand in hand with spiritual maturity, and this is no light thing in itself. I remember hearing of a “fantastic missionary” who went to a foreign country, and without learning the language of that country, he started 5 local churches in his first 4 year term. When I investigated more, he got 5 preacher boys from a Bible institute in that country under another missionary’s ministry, and simply paid them their salaries each month, and preached once a month to them via an unsaved woman interpreter. That was basically the extent of his “ministry”. I always wondered when I heard this how he could discern the spiritual qualifications of these men for the ministry. Everything he had to trust the judgment of others. In comparison to my own ministry, I am fluent in Spanish and having heard some of our preacher boys preach and teach, and working beside them in the ministry, even then some have deceived me. I laugh at leaving all of that to others. It is pure foolishness to trust others when hunting for a preacher boy to send money to support him, and you cannot even communicate directly with him.
So here, let’s just say that most church growth material today simply addresses increases in attendance, which is really the easiest thing to do. How to grow the largest Sunday School in your state or the world for that matter. You want a big church in a month? Give away cars, bikes, free food, and money and the people will be waiting in long lines outside your door before you open on Sundays. Of course you won’t do God’s work that way, but it will increase attendance. Jack Hyles is not my favorite preacher, but to me, this is his approach exactly.
My observation is that you always have two types of church members, those who come for the freebies, and those who provide the freebies. Nothing is free in this life, not even salvation. Somebody, somewhere had to pay for what you enjoy free. Christ had to die on the cross to give you “free salvation”. It is free to you, but somebody had to buy it at some cost.
Some members come simply to get what is free. Their mentality is very easy to identify. When there are church socials, church outings, giving away free food, etcetera, their ears pick up, they are very attentive, and they are first in line to enjoy this things and be involved in these things. These people give nothing, they are only on a baby’s immaturity (or not saved at all). Babies we give everything to them, and they give us nothing back except the satisfaction that maybe one day they will grow up. Ditto this in our attitude to these members. Bus ministries with kids are like this. These kids don’t have a clue about ministry, giving, or anything else, just what is the next give-away they may possibly get. To gear up an entire church to work on this basis is to condemn it to always be immature. To give prestige to those “soul winners” who bring in more than others, etc. is to do the same thing on an adult level. You get fame (sometimes microwaves and stuff) because of your participation on a qualifiable level.
The other type of members are the givers. They are the people who quietly do everything and give everything. No church can function without them. They tithe and give to support everything the church does, among them are the real prayer warriors, they are the ones who teach the Sunday School classes, who buy, cook, serve, and clean up at the church socials, and the ones the pastor always go to really get something done right in the church. They are the ones who are worried about how well they do something because God is checking up on them, and their service is not to the church, the pastor, nor men, but to God.
Now the real problem is how to move the freeloaders into the givers group. This can only be done spiritually, through teaching and preaching that impacts the heart and soul of the person. This is real church growth. We will never be rid of immature “baby” Christians that others must take care of all their problems. But to grow the body of servers, of givers, of real “ministers” (laymen or professional), this is the key to church growth. Without it, disaster lays ahead of more people, more money, and more of everything except the backbone of the church. This is not growth but fat. It has no structure, it cannot carry its own weight, and it drags the entire body of the church down, giving nothing useful or needful in return.
When we talk about things that draw crowds, we need to understand that people are drawn to a church for a reason. What they take away is always based on what in the beginning drew them. If the drawing is only carnal, little spiritual will really be taken away. The idea to get them in the building by any means available is simply unscriptural. Gideon went to war (Judges 7:6-7), and he had too many warriors, and God cut out those who had no spirit, those who had no concept of what they were doing. The ones who lapped the water instead of cupping it with their hand were excluded. Why? Because they were going to war, in enemy territory, about to confront the enemy. Those who were aware and vigilant were the ones God wanted. The rest can go home because they spiritually are unless, therefore practically they are useless. Who thinks like that? Only God, and those who understand and follow God’s way of doing things. We think; “Big is best.” God thinks; “Best is best”.
I could list a lot of things that will draw a crowd, but I will refrain from doing so. I wish to try to classify some and to mention the problems (as I see it) with some of them.
First the give-away church. When a church takes the approach of giving away things to draw people into the church, it is a very carnal basis for getting people. First I see a problem of where the money comes from. We drain God’s people to just keep the attendance up. It is a drug, and stopping the drug causes withdrawal. The attendance takes a hard hit if you don’t always have “something” to draw people. One program begets another program, in an endless chain of stupidity and carnality. If the money is there, faithful people have to give it, because the jimmies won’t. A jimmy is like the saying, “My name is Jimmie, I take all you can gi’me”. Is this really what God’s tithes and offerings should be spend on? Can we find one single give-away program like this in the Bible? Jesus in one place expressed his disgust at the crowds that followed him only for the free food which he gave away.
The point here is that there is a valid giving to the needy that a true Christian does, but this is based on the good heart of the Christian. These meeting of needs are not based on get if you let us count you in the number mentality.
I think that the problem with these churches is that they actually think that a large number of people impresses somebody. It does impress somebody, the unsaved. It does not impress God, and it should not impress Christians. Typically they have 10,000 saved, 500 baptized, and 50 join their church, and 5 still there a year later. These kinds of percentages are totally foreign to the NT. The churches were “increased” or “added” to the church rolls. They only counted people who were serious and dedicated their lives to serving Christ with that church. Cho’s cell groups have some dirty secrets, like they count the same people in every different service. Their attendance figures 250,000, are based on adding those in the Sunday School, AM services, PM services, and weekly cell meetings. One single person may actually be represented 4-5 times in that 250,000 figure. Also the cell groups are presented as Bible studies, and the majority of these 50,000 do not attend Sunday services at Cho’s church. 50,000 cells groups multiplied by 30-40 people per cell yields 1.5 to 2 million, not 250,000. Why are they trying to impress us with this? Cho’s actual church has seating for less than 50,000 people. They count attendance at not local churches that broadcast Cho’s services via satellite. Again, all this is to try and prove spirituality, God’s blessing, or greatness and fame for them. If this is so, why has Cho’s church gone bankrupt several times?
We deal with people’s sin and God’s remedy. This is the basis of a healthy church. When there is a carnal system of “you do this and you will get this from us”, then you destroy most all of the real ability of the church to deal with people’s sin and present God’s Word to them. They are not concerned about learning and growing, but about not getting gypped out of freebie this week. My opinion is that this kind of church will only frustrate any real spiritual growth of the people, and it will totally absorb all energies of God’s people there in trying to keep the carnal system alive.
The carnival church There are churches that simply are like the carnival. People go to carnivals to be entertained, and many times the attraction has to novelty, the bearded lady, the snake skin man, etc. Weird stuff that nobody has or has seen. The carnival church uses this approach to commercializing God’s work.
First of all, God’s work is not a freak show, where we parade strange and novelty items. It is disgusting to lower God’s work to this level of entertainment all in the name of “growth.” Just think a minute about carnivals and fairs. When have you seen a successful carnival or fair permanent? Never. Why? Because presenting novelties is a losing business. You must always come up with some new, and there just is not that much novelty things out there. Once you show it, you have to dump that and find a new novelty. Think of the instability of a carnival. Carnival people are notorious for being unstable because they never know when they will no long draw a crowd and be dumped.
The same principles work in the carnival churches. What draws a crowd has to sustain the crowd and keep the crowd. Novelties, programs, and give aways simply don’t cut it. When the Catholic or Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness churches give away more than what we do, we lose our crowd to them. Does that bother you? Where are these people that have no doctrinal moorings, and can move from group to group so easily without problem? They are not true Christians, and for having been in one of these “our” churches, even though they may hold good doctrine and good practices in other areas of the Christian life, none of this appears to really stick to these kinds of members that are seeking on a physical, non-spiritual, carnal level.
The “better than the rest” church Some churches combine the above two with a “we are better than the rest” church. They get to the point of being on the border of a cult. If you are not a member of our church, then you are not saved. 2 Cor 10:12 says “we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Wisdom, God’s wisdom, is to stay away from the competitive atmosphere in the ministry, and especially among the members of a church. It destroys real spirituality and growth, and competitiveness never does anything good for God’s work.
The “Libertarian” Church A new breed of crazy churches have appeared from the 50’s which is a libertarian type of church. This church tries to draw people by what they allow (still being called a church). Some churches advertise that they use real alcohol in the Lord’s Supper, others that they have abandoned the KJV version, others that they allow (and under the table promote) a lax dress code, pants on women, no suits or ties for men, even shorts are allowed, and now some even take advantage of this and just about come in Pajamas. I heard of one church that meets in a parking lot and has a truck with a stage, and broadcasts on FM short range frequency. You don’t have to get out of your car. It is like the old drive in movies. You come in your PJs if you want, bring your coffee and breakfast, and nobody knows nobody. Honk if you want to say “Amen”. Disgusting.
But the basis of these churches is their freedom and liberty. They do not restrict or “cramp” their member’s lives. Where this fits into a ministry view of being the instrument of God to tell people what is wrong in their lives and fix it, I cannot find a clue. The entire presentation of the church is totally contrary to what God actually wants us to do. We do nothing good by being more lax towards sin and standards, but only by promoting obedience and hard personal sacrifice to God’s norms.
Wrestling – Here the basic issue or factor that causes spiritual maturity is a personal wrestling with spiritual issues. This is the reason why if you want to know how to do something (a real short cut that works), go find somebody that has already done it, and ask them every question imaginable, and just be around them for a long time learning from them. If a man wants to build his own boat and sale around the world, go find somebody who has done that, and get everything you possibly can from their experience and wisdom.
Here there are identifying factors which we need to be very “tuned into” in order to get the real thing and not just a “blowhard” (somebody who talks a lot but is not real). The first thing is that that person must be spiritual victorious in his own life. This is the problem with unstable Christians who are considering divorce. They always ignore this and go to divorced people to ask about divorce. They mucked up their marriage, so why ask them or why put a premium on their opinion on anything marriage related? Go to somebody who has lived victoriously for years and years, and ask them how they did it.
The next identifying factor of a spiritually mature person is their knowledge of Scripture. Here there is a trick that we must identify and side step. It is easy to get book knowledge, and it is very difficult to get wisdom. I define wisdom by the definition of knowledge used skillfully to effect real benefit, spiritual and eternal value. There are expert Bible teachers out there who really are living a fraudulent spiritual life. The majority of the popular Bible teachers are ecumenicists that really are living in open disobedience to God and His principles of holiness, separation, and true sanctification. That being the case, knowledge in itself is not as useful as discernment, spiritual wisdom in identifying problems, understand problems, and dealing with these problems. Here look for people who have avoided the spiritual pitfalls in life, or at least have discerned these things and have made a highly expensive break and repentance from the problems involved (it cost them dearly).
Another factor to identify is a skill in wrestling with spiritual principles. Here we would seek somebody who not only knows the cults for example, but somebody who can confront them and refute them. In marriage counseling, the pastor must know what makes the marriage tick, and what destroys a marriage, and how to fix a marriage. We want a balance between being simple, and being able to understand and refute complex arguments. The preacher that grows his sheep is someone who can go into the deepest and most complex spiritual systems and discern problems and mark out solutions.
In my personal opinion, I am not a Calvinist. But Calvinism is one of these deep spiritual systems, and I see very few pastors that really understand the dynamics of why Calvinism has the doctrines and practices that it has. In my opinion it is a remake of the Jewish system, spiritual pride being the most important characteristic. A clear negative here is that people follow a man that is not Christ (usually using his name as the identifying mark of their belief system). If what Calvin taught is biblical, why do we not just say we are Christians, followers of Christ? Why didn’t Jesus and the Old Testament plant election at every opportunity of evangelism? I still cannot find an evangelism situation in the Bible where the first thing taught is election. The man Calvinists follow is John Calvin, a protestant Pope that ordered the death of Servantus, a dissident of Calvin. That is Christian liberty? That is being a Christian gentleman? I never see anyone in Scriptures burning a heretic as Calvin did. Somewhere the desire to be a Calvinist simply evaporates when I consider these issues.
The point is that true spiritual growth must come from a preacher who feeds his flock with “the good stuff.” This means that he must discern false arguments and positions and preach against them, or at least avoid falling into these traps or stepping on landmines.
Problems – Problems and disaster both spiritual and financial
Baby Care –
God sends people.
Members evangelize the lost.
Members invite friends and relatives.
Rebuke Sin (Fundamentalism)
Titus 1:9-14 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. 10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. 12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; 14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.
The biblical church is a church which is focused on sound doctrine and biblical practice. This causes a very definite atmosphere within the church of rebuking sin and false doctrine. Simply put, you will run people away from your church if you are biblical. There are many people within the larger concept of Christianity that refuse to submit to God, and they will not change their life when God rebukes them. This will cause a phenomenon of attraction to your church because it appears biblical, then a honeymoon time when they are enjoying your church (you preach hard on issues that are not their problem), and then a “membership divorce”. This is when they abandon you in an incorrect way because you have touched on their pet sins.
Different preachers take different tactics, but I understand God’s way as all pastors much preach to the sins of their people. You do little spiritually to preach against divorce among a crowd of unmarried people, or against the sins of the wealthy among all poor people. Each group has their sins, and you should seek to find out what those sins are and preach against the sins of your people. This is not an exclusive thing, where you preach nothing else, because even single adults need to understand the sin of divorce, and all need to know and practice good doctrine and Christian habits, but as a regular matter, you should be constantly preaching on the sins of your people, as well as giving them “breathers”. Basically all the prophets of the Bible preached the sins of their people. This is what God is interested in. Those who follow the leading of God will confront their people with their sins, and God’s word against these sins.
Persecution, Suffering, and the Cost of Following Christ