Five changes the church must make

It can be frustrating when you desire church growth but see obvious opportunities that are missed. Here’s five of mine I think that are crucial to church growth.

1. We need to make corporate prayer the priority

If young people were as passionate about prayer as they were about worship music, the church would change overnight. The command to “pray without ceasing” was not an oversight, nor an off-the-cuff remark. Both privately and corporately the church needs to up it’s game in listening to God.

We need to be inventive about how we do this. People are working longer hours than ever before, which can make both early morning and late evening prayer meetings a drain for similar reasons. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for them, but in a 24/7 paced world, we need to make available a multitude of options for people to gather and pray. Perhaps that means starting a workplace prayer group, or a Sunday afternoon prayer meeting, or central lunchtime city centre prayer group for those in full-time employment, or a mums morning prayer meeting. Let’s look at the demographics of our church, identify five ways in which people can meet to pray, and encourage each other to do so.

Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C. H. Spurgeon preach. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.

Daily Bread

2. Get serious about giving

I have personally sat through thousands of offering talks on a Sunday morning. Each person providing a different spin on the same message – how much will you give this morning? What a prehistoric way for the church to communicate this message.

To choose ten minutes during a Sunday morning service to make an impact in such a crucial area of the church – an area that funds the leaders, all the ministries, community outreach, overseas mission, plus all the practical elements of a church that need finance – is simply madness.

If Christian’s commit to a church, then they need to commit in finance as much as any other area. Churches need to make giving easy. Every church has a Worship Leader, does every church have a Giving’s Leader? Do we talk about it enough outside of Sunday services?

Of the four churches that I have attended as an adult none of the leaders have talked to me about my personal giving on a one-to-one basis. Christianity is not meant to be a private faith, but a public declaration. We should be comfortable with talking about our giving without feeling pressured, accused or beholden to levels of giving that we cannot achieve. But that doesn’t mean that people (including myself) should not be challenged and encouraged to increase our giving.

As we look at inventive ways to pray, let’s also look at inventive ways to give. Text message giving, web forms, wireless chip and pin machines on a Sunday morning, How many churches encourage Payroll giving? This is where employees can donate a certain amount of their salary to charities before tax is deducted, a scheme encouraged by HM Revenue & Customs. When we get serious about prayer, and we get serious about giving, we will finally have a church that can do mighty things.

Give me five minutes with a person’s chequebook, and I will tell you where their heart is.

Billy Graham

3. Teach the Bible well, and teach often

I once read an article by a young man who had attended a cross-denominational young adults mission week. I can’t remember where this was, or what the specific occasion was, but I remember him saying something quite illuminating in his article – something that really struck a chord with me. He said that the Pentecostals had turned up and had instantly connected with those who weren’t Christians, talking the same language as them, culturally engaged with them, and doing a fantastic job talking to them about Jesus. The Anglican Christian’s didn’t really do so well at this, they were more stand-off-ish and unsure of how to proceed. But, he said, the Anglican young people had a far better grounding of scripture than those of the Pentecostals, and were able to teach the Bible far more effectively.

This was, and is my experience of both those denominations – although I’m sure there are many exceptions (HTB springs to mind). But why is it that we cannot have one without the other? Can we not have young adults sold out for Jesus who can connect with the world but with a far better grounding in scripture?

What is “good teaching”?

Well clearly it can’t just be defined as just teaching that only I necessarily agree with. With so many interpretations on secondary issues, it’s important that young people are grounded in different doctrines as long as they are consistent with biblical context. I meet many young people that only know the doctrine of salvation from an Arminian understanding. Anything else is foreign to them. But they should at least be aware of the Calvinistic approach to salvation, even if they don’t agree with it. Teach the bible, teach all strands of thinking behind every passage, and then allow the Holy Spirit to convict that person as to the correct understanding of scripture. Perhaps this is naïve thinking of my part, that denominations will teach contrary to their own doctrinal statements, but if it’s not a dispute of primary important (e.g. the trinity, Jesus’ divinity, etc) then we should all be aware of the theological make-up of the church. Not only because we may find faults in our denomination’s stand point (which should continually be tested), but we need to be able to answer non-believers questions with an understanding of what another believer may have told them from a different denomination.

How often is “often”?

I was recently told that Sunday services are not about teaching believers, but about evangelising to non-Christians. I wholeheartedly disagree with this viewpoint. If Jesus found it necessary to teach at every stage and location of his ministry, then so should we. Church leaders need to understand that when you are not in “the ministry” and employed to read your bible, then a person’s self-discipline at maintaining their bible education may slip and slide at different stages of their lives. It is then when Sunday service teaching becomes most important, so that our daily bread at least becomes our weekly bread until we pick up again where we left off. Small groups during the week also have a big part to play as we teach and encourage each other in the faith.

It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.

Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ

4. Invest in marketing

As a professional marketer, I understand that to gain a return you have to make an initial investment. I’ve worked for a holiday company that would spend over £100,000 in sending out direct mailers to houses, and then receive £500,000 in holiday sales. I currently work with companies that spend thousands of pounds each month advertising on Google through Pay Per Click advertising, because they know the return will far outweigh the investment. Even when I ran my own small design business, I knew that if I spent £100 on A5 leaflets advertising my services, it would only take 1 sale to make that investment worthwhile.

So why is the church so reluctant to invest?

For some Christians ‘marketing’ is a dirty word, not to be associated with evangelism. But what is marketing? At it’s simplest, it’s communicating a message to as many people as possible. Jesus used marketing as he went about his Father’s business. He preached to thousands and encouraged them to tell the people they knew of this good news, of a Messiah born to be the Saviour of the world. He had no technology back then, but this was marketing at it’s simplest.

Today we have many different channels to communicate a message. Most of them require investment before we see the returns. Whether it be billboard advertising in your town, paying for large television screens to be erected on the outside of the church promoting services, Facebook or YouTube advertising (which can now target specific towns or areas) or perhaps just the humble leaflet posted through a door. How many churches have a minibus – a perfect place to put advertisements of the services it provides to the community, or a message of welcome or hope for people to see as it goes past. The local church needs to get with the programme and start communicating it’s message.

Let’s be clear, this is no way replaces the best form of evangelism – one person to another saying “God loves you, he cares for you, come get to know him”. It doesn’t replace prayer and a total reliance on God to do the saving and the calling. It doesn’t replace living a life of integrity and good witness, loving those around us. It is simply a tool to be used to counteract the barrage of secular advertising that is heaped on the world every day. In a world full of models in their underwear on billboards advertising the latest fragrance, wouldn’t it be great to see a different message, one of hope, love and a reminder of the Cross in our town centres. Most churches will only have a small budget for promotion, but churches combined can do mighty things. Come on church leaders, let’s do this.

If the Great Commission is true, our plans are not too big; they are too small.

Patrick Morley

5. Quality trumps quantity

Thankfully, I’ve been a part of some amazing churches and amazing church leaders. And all of these churches have been reasonably small (max 200 people). None of these churches have tried to be something they’re not – they’ve just humbly tried to serve the community that they are in. However there is still an increase in the American-driven thinking that every church should aim to be big and if you’re not achieving that, then you’re not successful.

I can’t remember which book it was that I read, where the author made the point that a man could well start a church in small numbers, grow it to be a huge church, with a large congregation, huge finances and a massive impact in the community – and still could of missed the calling that God had planned for him. How could this be?

We’re not called to create mega-churches. We’re called to make disciples of Christ. How can you possibly make inroads into getting to know someone personally in a church full of thousands. I’ve never wanted to be in a big church. I’ve wanted to be a part of a family. God’s family. I love going to a place where people know me – warts and all – and still love me. I love community. I love spending time with people who have known me for years, put up with me for years, and still take time out to check up on me. Still put that effort in. In return I love serving people who are in the family. I love doing whatever small thing I can, to make the lives of my family better. To make things easier. To being a listening ear when one is needed, or driving someone to the airport when they don’t have transport. It’s what I live for.

When a church gets too large it should split, and plant a new church. So that this unique closeness that I have experienced in churches in my life is not lost, but guarded and valued like a precious jewel. When Paul writes to the churches, he knows their names. He sends good wishes to specific people. How great is that! Let us do the same and not be distracted by size or stature, but be focused on the goal of making disciples of Christ so that we can create community together.

I am reminded of a great quote from a great man:

When I have heard of large congregations gathered together by the music of a fine choir, I have remembered that the same thing is done at the opera house and the music-hall, and I have felt no joy. When we have heard of crowds enchanted by the sublime music of the pealing organ, I have seen in the fact rather a glorification of St. Cecilia than of Jesus Christ. Our Lord trusted in no measure or degree to the charms of music for the establishing his throne. He has not given to his disciples the slightest intimation that they are to employ the attractions of the concert room to promote the kingdom of heaven.

Charles Spurgeon

When we think of these great megachurches, and how many churches try to emulate them through worship music, performance, staging or the likes, let us remember that our call is not to entertain, indulge or entice people into church. A church is no use to anyone if people walk around in it like strangers.

Church is family, church is where Jesus takes centre stage and nothing else matters. That should be the desire of the church in every town, city and nation.

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