The volume of literature written on the subject of church growth is mountainous. Put ‘church growth’ into Amazon and it recommends 3,945 books! No doubt I’ll be able to spend eternity working out what I should have done. But in essence it’s actually very simple. There are three very straightforward things to do in order to grow a church in an urban environment.
1. Throw open the doors!
We want people who don’t normally come to our church to start coming to our church. That can happen in one of two ways. First, people who currently go to one church leave that and start coming to ours. That’s called transfer growth. I’m alright with that if people are moving into our area or leaving behind a church which doesn’t live by the Bible. But it’s not really kingdom growth is it? It’s just shifting Christians round the chess board! Secondly, people who don’t currently go to any church start coming to our church and come to faith. That’s called evangelistic growth. It’s the best kind! When people become Christians it means that God’s kingdom grows. We’re not simply redistributing the Christians.
Everyone in a church can be involved in ‘throwing open the doors’ by persuading people to come to church. Persuasion isn’t coercion, so we’re not doing anything inappropriate. Persuasion attempts to address the will and change it; coercion bypasses the will and forces its hand. We need to try and persuade people without the inclination to come to church to change their minds and give it a go. But when was the last time you persuaded someone of something? If you’re out of practice try it on your kids or your friends! Have a go at convincing them to do something they don’t want to do; like coming to church.
2. Offer them a home!
We want people to feel that when they’ve come to church, they’ve found a home. We want people to belong. And so we’ll not only want to welcome them but we’ll want to help them fit in. Consequently relationships are crucial.
Everyone in a church can be involved in ‘offering a home’ by being involved in church life. We can participate in groups and events and, most importantly, relationships with newcomers. So one of the key things we can do is pitch up. If we’re not at church then we can’t encourage others and we can’t contribute to the building up of the church body. If we’re not there it’s like losing an arm from the body. We’ll get by but it won’t function as well as if we’re there. If six families happen to be away at the same time that has a huge effect on the congregation that’s left. We’re talking about being 20 people down on normal, once you take into account the kids as well. That affects a congregation. Of course, people have weekend commitments from time to time. If we live away from parents and family we’ll need to be away to visit them. And let’s be honest, the concept of arranging when we’re away with others is just weird. So what’s the answer? I’m not sure. But we need to be aware that, in general, a crowd attracts a crowd and so the growth of our congregation will be slower than if we were all there. Since relationships are at the heart of offering people a home, another significant way we can make a difference is by sharing meals together. Let’s face it, we bond as we eat and we share conversation. It doesn’t matter how chaotic the experience or how horrendous the meal we serve, let’s get others into our homes or sharing a table at Pizza Express. There are some great 2 for 1 offers at the moment!
3. Stem the flow!
We want people to stay. Not everyone will be able to stay in the city long term but some will. There are always reasons for people to move out of town. Sometimes those are good reasons. Sometimes they’re not. Staying put requires sacrifice and we won’t all be able to live with the sacrifice. Of course, if people move away it cancels out the growth of our church, though presumably another church will benefit. At CCB we’ve lost some key families in recent months for really good reasons. But it’s had an effect on our all age congregation. That’s why sometimes it feels like we’re taking three steps forward and two steps back!
Everyone in a church can be involved in ‘stemming the flow’ by shelving our desires to leave the city, or at least delaying them for a while. It doesn’t have to be forever, but if we were thinking of leaving next year why not stay for one more year. If we thought we’d stay for two more years why not make it four! Of course, the recession may be an answer to our prayers! Urban churches will always be churches in which people leave. It’s in the nature of urban ministry. And urban ministries can serve the wider church by sending out people ready to make a contribution at whichever church they end up in. That’s a great ministry. But we also need to ensure that we’re growing and building the kingdom where we are.
I know it’s more complicated than what I’ve suggested. Presumably that’s why there are so many books on the subject. But it’s not rocket science, is it? If we open the front doors and let people in, if we give people a home and help them settle in and then we stem the flow so that fewer people leave than arrive then, well, you do the maths! I think it means growth.
Every individual has a part to play. And isn’t it great to be doing this with others? We should be encouraged. The Lord can use our efforts for His glory in growing us, not simply in maturity but in number, if we’ll commit to these three simple principles. Well that’s the theory, now for the practice!