Too often congregations think if my pastor will excel in his job, then our church will grow. But there is an agenda for each of us, and frankly, there is one thing the pastor can’t do for me. There is something we must GET and if we don’t, our church will never move toward greater health.
As I’ve traveled in many small churches, I am often impressed with the sweet spirit and genuine desire to serve God among the people I meet in such places. I meet people who want to reach their neighbors. Recent studies have said that more than 90% of American Christians have no intention of sharing their faith with someone, but I rarely feel that is true when I’m in a smaller church. These are wonderful friends, and many of them want their church to grow. The answers just don’t seem to be easy.
But the one piece of the puzzle I see consistently in growing churches is a passion for God among the people. Churches that see healthy growth have people who are pursuing God and getting a fresh sense of His passion for the lost every day. These are people who seek God daily through His Word and commit to prayer in group settings and in their personal lives.
As we said, the Pastor must grow himself, but I am convinced that the people need to be just as aggressive in growing themselves in God’s Word. Pastor can rally them together; he can preach great sermons, but the people must take ownership of their spiritual growth and cultivate the habit of pursuing God for themselves.
This past weekend I attended worship with a nice congregation in Indiana. While they have been plateaued for a few years, I am convinced that something new is about to happen. Yes, their new pastor is a good leader and a great guy. I know he has the potential to lead them to greater days. But the real clue that something important is on the horizon was the look I saw in the eyes of some of their older saints. As I spoke to them Sunday morning, they were plugged in and eager to respond to God’s direction. They weren’t done, an attitude I’ve seen in some older adults. No, they were looking for a launching point. Many even attended the evening seminar I taught, though it would demand that they drive after dark.
The reason that church will grow is that its people are growing. Theirs is not just a Sunday passion, but one that leaks into Mondays and Tuesdays too. They will make a difference, I know it, ’cause that’s what happens around growing people!
A few years ago, Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area tackled a research project where they evaluated their congregation’s spiritual growth. This REVEAL study looked for insights into what most contributed to an individual’s spiritual development. And they discovered that while the small groups and classes and other programs of their church were somewhat helpful, especially for their newer believers, the real activity that impacted individual spiritual growth was daily reflection on Scripture and prayer.
Here’s what you need to understand. The longer that you are a Christian, the more critical it is for you to spend time daily with God. When you hunger after God, He is able to keep your heart focused on His purposes around you. When you don’t give Him that opportunity, you will become stagnate and even self-focused. You’ll be more resistance to change and less willing to sacrifice for the needs of others. If you aren’t growing in God’s presence every day, you’ll eventually become the person that keeps your church from moving forward.
You see, in the church the two causes of plateau and decline are lost vision and inward focus. Lost vision means we’re no longer aimed at God’s purposes. We wander around in our self-designed wildernesses and never get to where God wants to take us.
Inward focus is the next stop on a visionless journey. Here we start thinking that church is about us; that we exist for what we receive. We can even start thinking that God likes what we like and wants what we want, and in so doing, we create God in our image. You may think that’s extreme, but I’ve met many good people that are holding their church hostage to their own preferences and comforts.
The only answer? Meet with God now, immediately, and often. Let His purposes return to the dominant place in your mind where they belong. If you want your church to be healthy and grow, demonstrate that by getting hungry for God. That’s why a growing church follows prayer—not because we finally convinced God to bring revival, but because He finally convinces us of the purpose He wants to fulfill and the path He wants us to walk. Would you do that to see your church be healthy and strong?