To grow your church, think outside the building


And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18-20

WE SAY “THE CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE,” BUT OUR WORDS AND ACTIONS MAY GIVE A DIFFERENT IMPRESSION. We say “go to church.” We even call the building “the church.” We use a sketch of our building in our church logo. We display our building first on our Web site and weekly bulletin. We measure faithfulness by how often someone attends gatherings at the church building. I’m not sure we really believe what we say we believe.

Growing people grow people. Instead of building buildings, we need to build people.  To begin this process, there has to be spiritually mature leadership investing in discipling others. Spiritually stagnant people and nice buildings cannot grow a vibrant, healthy church. Buildings can be very helpful in allowing large groups to gather. I’m not at all against having a building. But if the first thing we think about when we think about growth is adding on, renovating, or rebranding, we’ve missed it. The elders and ministers should go to the deacons with a vision on how to grow people, and the deacons should figure out what financial, organizational, or physical resources are needed to make it happen. To grow people, we need to answer these questions:

  • How do we build faith in people?
  • How do we develop love in the hearts of people?
  • How do we help people overcome sin in their life?
  • How do we mentor married couples and parents?
  • How do we build wisdom in the next generation of leaders?
  • How do we reach the lost with the gospel?
  • How do we show the love of Christ to those hurting all around us?
  • How do we build deep relationships within our church fellowship?

These are important questions in addition to considerations of how to teach the full counsel of God and facilitate meaningful worship. Rather than programs that merely keep people busy and comfortable, the emphasis ought to be on discipleship. What are those activities that stretch people outside of their comfort zone and into the growth zone?

You’ve got to go to grow. A preacher friend of mine recently observed that people just don’t flock to church buildings anymore. We have to go meet them where they are in everyday places like school, work, the grocery store, youth sports, and in our neighborhoods. The mission field is not merely someplace we mail checks to; it’s where we live each day. There are people seeking all around us; rarely do they venture inside a church building. Or if they do, they don’t know the Bible well enough to discern the truth from error being taught. Many people have a desire to know more about God’s word. Can you and I help them? When people express concern and worry over current events, we can empathize and talk about our faith. When people share they’re struggling, we can empathize and share how God is helping us through ours. When someone responds with interest or with questions, that’s a great opportunity to schedule a time to get coffee and talk, listen, and pray. Then offer to do it weekly. When we take an interest in people, people often feel appreciative. There’s a lot of important work that can be facilitated by a central meeting place, but the ministry that makes the difference between stagnation and transformation takes place out in the community.

In the chart below, I have attempted to illustrate various areas of ministry. These vary from strategic to tactical, large to small. Each is vitally important. Each also requires a different set of spiritual gifts. Some of these are quite simple, and some can be quite complex. I wanted to see what insights I could glean from this exercise. You may disagree with where something is placed on the chart, and you may see something I’ve left out. If so, please say so kindly in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Christian Works

Here’s how to read the chart. From left to right are resource requirements. Toward the left are tasks that require few resources, and on the right are tasks that may be all-consuming. From bottom to top is difficulty level. Some tasks require little skill, while others require vast experience. It is not surprising that the work of ministers and elders falls at the top and to the right. At the bottom left are tasks any member and new Christian could potentially do. On the bottom right quadrant are primarily functions our deacons lead and highly involved members support.

For clarity, some definitions of terms…

Sometimes, the ministers are doing the elder’s work, the elders are doing the deacon’s work, the deacons are doing what every member should be doing, and the members are doing very little. Why is this? Is it because people don’t know what the Bible says about their roles? Maybe, but I have another theory. In my observation and experience, the road less traveled is a hard, hard road. Shepherding is hard work. It’s time consuming, messy, and requires a deep level of spiritual and emotional maturity. It takes a lifetime of intentional spiritual growth to prepare for this challenging work. Sadly, sometimes the only men who are prepared are preachers. For too long, churches have saddled preachers with most/all of the hardest work. (When we say we don’t believe the preacher is necessarily the pastor, are we practicing what we preach?) It’s a lot easier to do deacon work–so some elders do. That forces the deacons to find something else to do, and so forth. While many elders may be quite busy and sacrifice large amounts of their time, it may not be spent in true shepherding of the flock.

Shepherding looks like hospital visits, marriage counseling, mentoring those in recovery from sin/addiction, and personal discipleship of the next generation of leaders. Often, this work is given to the ministry team instead. If when you think “elder” your first thought is of a boardroom, know that for the church to grow, leadership must first assume it’s God-given role in the fields with the sheep.

Preaching is preparing and presenting Bible lessons.

“Deaconing” involves management of tactical functions of the everyday work of the church such as budgets, organizing people, planning, maintenance, etc.

Worship leading is preaching set to music. Substantial time and skill may go into planning and executing a worship service effectively encompassing all aspects of worship. Some would place this lower on the chart, but they probably mean “song starting” or some tiny subset of effective worship ministry.

Personal evangelism is investing hours of personal time in one-on-one Bible study.

Small group leadership involves weekly activities in facilitating the intimate fellowship of a few families, including tending to one another’s needs as they arise. It is the act of becoming our “brother’s keeper.”

Recovery is the process of spiritual transformation each disciple must undergo to die to sin and live to Christ. It may involve substantial effort to break addictions and habits and develop a new way of living by God’s strength and power. I believe this work encompasses the greatest spiritual challenge of all, especially to those who would lead others through it.

Let’s make a few observations…

  1. Spiritual maturity begins with spiritual disciplines. Without the investment and sacrifice of spiritual disciplines, there will never be the depth of faith and maturity to enter the growth zone of growing people and growing the church. There is no shortcut to spiritual maturity, and there are no shortcuts to growing a congregation of believers.
  2. The growth zone stretches us far outside of our comfort zone regularly.
  3. The most demanding tasks are often the most neglected.
  4. The ministries that happen primarily outside the church building out in the community are harder to organize, recognize, and measure–so fewer people sign up. Personal evangelists, recovery leaders, counselors and true shepherds receive little recognition, thanks, or compensation (not that they desire it) for their countless hours of service.
  5. We tend to fill our schedules with events and activities that consume time and resources, but fall safely within our comfort zone, and usually in our buildings. These activities may be vitally important to laying a foundation of faith, but it’s in the personal discipleship and more intimate fellowship where true transformation takes place.
  6. Women’s roles are just as important as men’s. While some may point out that the upper right quadrant looks predominantly male, I would argue that the wives of those men are crucial to their effectiveness. Paul was an exception, not the rule. Additionally, women in the Bible clearly played various leadership roles in the community, especially among other women. Further, while some roles may be less strategic and more administrative, they are still equally and vitally important to the church.
  7. Every member has a part to play in the church’s outward-focused mission. The members have the responsibility of being a light, showing the love of Christ, and inviting people to study or visit a church gathering. There is simply no way the ministry team or leadership can make the impact the entire church can make if we will all play our part.

Facing a task unfinished,
that drives us to our knees.
A need that, undiminished,
rebukes our slothful ease.
We who rejoice to know you
renew before your throne
The solemn pledge we owe you
–to go and make you known.

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