Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Church Growth Engines

Marcus Bigelow, then president of Stadia, first introduced me to the concept of church growth engines for visitor assimilation. Since then, as I've continued to work on the idea, I've broadened it to include those key areas of activity that provide a church growth energy.

There are three primary cylinders involved in constructing a church's growth engine: 1) the worship experience, 2) the relational/discipleship groups, and 3) individual Christians sharing faith. For many established churches some sort of Bible class for children and/or youth programs act as a fourth cylinder.

Cylinder 1: The Worship Experience
The gathering of God's people in worship is one of the great ordinances of Christian life and history.
Something powerful happens that creates unique experiences of God with regularity as God's people gather. For every church context, whether that church works first from an attractional beginning point or a missional one, our gatherings are points of entry where unbelievers experience our meeting of God and--perhaps--may have their own experience (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). The worship experience is often the first cylinder of growth for an established church.

How do we measure the strength, the functioning power, of the worship experience for growth? We count the number of new people who come to our worship experiences and provide them a pathway into our community of belief. This is where a strong assimilation process is a must, beginning with collecting information on all our guests. We activate this growth engine through the invitations our members give to their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. When our members are so moved by their experience of God in our worship they will gladly tell others!

Cylinder 2: The Relational/Disciplship Groups
We people are made to live in relationships with other people in which we find support and encouragement. That's what families are intended to do for us. Relational groups that provide discipleship growth, service, and mutual ministry are the second cylinder of a church's growth engine. We like the name missional community better than small group because it has an external, active focus.

How do we measure the strength of our missional communities for growth? We count the number of groups and the number of people involved in those groups. Here is where we know our people are praying and caring for one another, sharing in significant life together, and taking their witness out into their neighborhoods and networks through the mission of service. For new and emerging churches the missional communities become the starting points for growth as they reach into and invite new networks of people to explore faith.

Cylinder 3: Sharing Faith
The old word was evangelism. But somewhere along the way the idea of evangelism was associated with the high-pressure, salesmanlike, "just tell them what to do" approaches. Most of us feel awkward in those kinds of situations, as if we're in the clutches of a used car salesman. Sharing faith, however, is inviting people into conversations where we do more listening than telling. Sharing faith is us being authentically curious about what God may be doing in the lives of those people around us and initiating the opportunities to find out.

How do we measure the strength of sharing faith for growth? This is much more difficult because it is so much more personal, but here are some ideas:
  • Let our people share testimonials
  • Ask our guests how they connected with our church
  • Have our missional community leaders keep sharing journals in their MCs that collect the stories their members tell about sharing faith
  • Let our members record their sharing faith conversations as part of their prayer responses

Cylinder 4: Children's and Youth Programs
One of the times in life when people are most receptive to God is when they start having children. People want good things for their children and there is still enough shadow of Christian understanding in many people that draws them towards church when their family begins. Strong, positive children's and youth experiences are often a compatible growth cylinder for a church's growth engine.

How do we measure the strength of children's and youth programs for growth? The most obvious way is by counting the number of participants. But let's go beyond that. How about the number of families involved? How about the number of faith commitments made as children grow into young adults?

If your church is looking to jump start any growth activity pick one of these cylinders that makes the most sense and provides you the easiest entry. Pay deliberate attention to what you are doing to make that cylinder start working for you. Then, when your first cylinder is working add a second. By the time you have three cylinders working well you will have an active, vital growth engine creating growth energy in your church.

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