What do you think and how do you feel about this question: should your church plan to grow?
I don’t remember any group of church leaders every telling me they did not want to grow. I think most leaders know that growth in their church is good. Where I sense the pause is about planning. Should a church actually plan to grow? Can a church plan to grow?
These are important questions, so let’s take a look at them.
First, should a church plan to grow? This a theological question for many people. There is something about a church planning that, for some, feels like it takes the initiative away from God. It feels a bit sacrilegious or presumptuous for anyone to plan to do something that is God’s prerogative.
Absolutely, we live under the sovereign will of God. As believers we do believe that King Jesus is the ultimate motivating, energizing, directing force. Ps. 127:1 is absolutely truth, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” But, look at these passages:
Luke 14: 28-30, “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost . . .”
Matthew 9:38, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”
Romans 15:20, “My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named,” and then Paul sets out his travel plans.
1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are co-workers in God’s service . . . I laid a foundation as a wise builder.”
Planning does not nullify God’s work and his intent. In fact. I believe that planning honors God as we take seriously the desires, commands, and visions he lays out for us.
Second, can a church plan to grow? Looking back at history will help us answer this question. Do any of you remember gospel meetings, revival meetings, tent meetings? These activities used to be a staple in many churches. Everyone knew, in the church, and often in the town, that once or twice a year a visiting evangelist would come in for 5 days, a week, and sometimes even two weeks for preaching every night.
There was excitement that built up as the evangelist was named and dates were set. People began to anticipate what the evangelist would preach about, what topics he would highlight. The building was spruced up. Prayer meetings would begin. People would talk about who they would invite. Lists were made of wayward members to visit. Bulletins were prepped. Handbills and doorhangers would be delivered around town. The church signboard by the road would advertise it. The anticipation was palpable.
There are two memorable gospel meetings for me. The first happened in Jerome, Idaho in 1976. I was part of the Northwest Campaigns group from Harding University that was in Jerome to help them prep for a gospel meeting with Thomas Jefferson Walling, yes, Jeff Walling’s father. TJ would gather us for prayer every morning and send us out to knock on doors inviting people to come to the gospel meetings. But he also asked us to ask people for “frog boxes” for Friday night. His sermon was titled, “One More Night with the Frogs” from Exodus 8:9-10. When Moses as Pharoah when Pharoah wants the plague of frogs removed, Pharoah’s answer is, “Tomorrow.” That Friday night the building was packed, and we kept all the windows and doors open so the overflow could stand outside the building and listen.
The other gospel meeting occurred when I was a youth minister at the East Frayser Church of Christ in Memphis, TN. Eddie Cloer came over from Harding for a three-day meeting. I don’t know what Eddie expected, but what God did was break open a revival in that church. Nightly there were dozens of people who came forward to rededicate their lives, confess their sins, or to be baptized. It was awesome.
I believe it is both right and good for churches to plan to grow. Here is one way to begin.
Create a Church Growth Calendar
The church year has seasons for growth and seasons for discipling. My friend and great church planter coach Tom Nebel talks about the church calendar as a “3-hump camel.” What he means is there are three periods in a year when people are more receptive to invitations about church: 1) when school starts, 2) Christmas, and 3) Easter. These are natural times of the year when people are making new starts, more thankful, and have cultural cues that prompt them to think about their spiritual life.
What we need to plan as church leaders is invitation activities that make sense at each of these times. What can you do that will offer your people the opportunity to invite their relationships to?
There’s so much more that goes into planning for growth. But planning for three seasons of invitations in the church calendar is a good place to start.