May 2009

In ‘Ministry Matters’ we’ve been thinking about the issue of growing a church through gospel ministry. 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.

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 this 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 church start coming. This is 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.

We can all be involved in throwing open the doors by persuading people to come to church. 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. 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.

2. Offer them a home!

We want people to feel that when they’ve come to CCB, 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.

We can all 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. Last week there just happened to be six families away at the same time. That has a huge effect on the congregation that’s left. There were about 12 adults missing and all their children. This means we were down on about 20 people. That affects a congregation. I know that we all have weekend commitments from time to time and that the concept of arranging when we’re away with others is just weird. 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 Balham 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. We’ve lost some key families in recent months for really good reasons. But it has had an effect on the all age congregation. That’s why sometimes it feels like we’re taking three steps forward and two steps back!

We can all be involved in stemming the flow by shelving our desires to leave London, or at least delaying them for a while. It doesn’t have to be forever, but if you were thinking of leaving next year why not stay for one more year. If you thought you’d stay for two more years why not make it four! Of course, the recession may be an answer to my prayers! We’ll always be a church in which people leave. It’s in the nature of our inner city suburb. And we 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.

Conclusion

I hope we realise that we all have a key part to play. But isn’t it great to be doing this together? Be encouraged. The Lord will 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!

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