Sunday, September 27, 2015

How We Grow

 You ever think about Church Growth?  You ever wonder about whether or not Cornerstone is growing?  Does it every cross or mind, is it even relevant in your life?  

There are some folks at Cornerstone who honestly never think about church growth, they attend, they enjoy the services but whether the church is growing or in decline never crosses their minds, until it effects them personally. 

They arrive and can’t find a parking space, the coffee has run out or they have to sit too close to the front.  Or if all of a sudden we didn’t have the volunteers to greet them at the door or make their coffee then they might wonder where folks went.  But it’s not on their radar, if asked they might say: Not my circus, not my monkey.

Then there are others who are asking me all the time about how our attendance is?  Are there more folks attending now then there were last year?    Others want to know what our plans for growth are, will we add more services or expand the building?  

And they want to know what Cornerstone is actually doing to grow, do we have a plan?  Because they know that in order for us to continue to grow we need to have a plan for where people will go, or we will end up in the same situation as the restaurant in St. Louise that Yogi Berra was speaking of when he said “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

And then there is a third group and they think that any talk of church growth is worldly, that we should simply let God take care of growing the church and we should focus on more spiritual issues.

But regardless of how you view church growth the reality is the church was born to grow, just like each one of us was born to grow and everything alive was born to grow.
Listen to some of the early descriptions of the church Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. Acts 2:47  all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.  Acts 4:4  But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.
Eventually they just stopped counting, and so we read in Acts 5:14 Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. Acts 9:31  The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.
Last week Stefan led you through “Why We Need to Grow” and he spoke about how Jesus Commands it, the Bible Illustrates it and Reality Demands it.

But that still leaves us with the question: how?  How do churches grow?

Sometimes I embarrass Angela, for various reasons. One of those times was when we went to see “A League of their Own” with a group of friends in Australia.

Perhaps you remember the movie.  It starred Tom Hanks, Madonna and Genna Davis and it tells the story of the first professional women’s baseball league which was formed during the Second World War.

And there is a  scene where Coach Jim Dugan is confronting Genna Davis’ character who wants to quit the team and  move home to Oregon.  So let’s pick it up with this clip.  (Clip for A League of their own.)

And I loved that quote, and so in the dark of the movie theatre I start asking who has a pen and paper to write it down.  Because that is not only the reality of baseball it is the reality of church growth, it is supposed to be hard if it was easy everybody would be doing it, and they’re not. 

There are only a small percentage of churches that grow on a consistent basis.  The rest?  The best case scenario is that they hold their own.  They aren’t growing but they aren’t declining, they have plateaued.  Sometimes they will say they are consolidating or just stepping back so they can get a running start at moving to the next level.  And often it might seem like it’s a plateau but once you start looking at it over the long term you would see that it is actually a gradual decline. 

But for too many churches the decline isn’t gradual.  Every year there are fewer people worshipping than there had been before.  And it wasn’t always like that, I mean before they could stop being a church of 100 or 200 they had to become a church of 100 or 200.  There was growth somewhere in their history.

Last week Stefan talked about how church growth was modelled in the New Testament, our scripture reading this morning was a letter written to a growing church by the Apostle Paul, but not one of those churches still exist today. 

So let’s start with the last verse of the scripture that was read earlier,  1 Corinthians 1:10  I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

So we need to begin by Preparing the Church.  Sometimes, when I talk to pastors about church growth they seem to imply that perhaps it isn’t God’s will for their church to grow.  And I’m not quite sure how to respond to that.  Not God’s will that their church should grow? 

Does that mean that it’s not God’s will that people will be reached with the love and grace of God?  Does that mean that while God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to die for them that he doesn’t want them to be reached by a particular church?  Does that mean that when Christ commanded the apostles to go into all the world teaching them, baptizing them and discipling them that he was only kidding?

I do believe that there are some churches that God doesn’t want to grow, because they are aren’t the churches they are supposed to be.   Paul was afraid that the church in Corinth was heading down that road and he addressed those problem in the two letters he wrote to them.

And while I think it is God’s will that all healthy churches should see growth I also believe that there are times in the life of a particular church that it would be unhealthy and unhelpful for Christians or pre-Christians to become part of the group.

And so the church needs to be prepared for growth, no quarrelling, no divisiveness, and no bitterness. In the book of Revelation there are letters addressed to 7 churches and in those letter Jesus addresses issues that are keeping those churches from being all that can be.  Issues like they had lost their first love, their love for one another and their love for God, that they had accepted false teachings in the church.  Teachings about doctrine and teachings about moral behaviour. 

And so in order for a church to be prepared for growth they need to be prepared to be the church.

You’ve often heard me quote Bill Hybels who says “The local church is the hope of the world.”   But that’s only a part of the quote the full quote says  “The local church is the hope of the world.  When it’s working right.”  

But it’s not just about the “Church” in general.

In his second letter to Timothy Paul instructs Timothy with these words  2 Timothy 2:15  Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

So, along with preparing the church it’s also about Preparing the Pastor  I have been around the block a couple of times and I have discovered that some pastors grow churches and some pastors don’t grow churches.  That is a reality that cannot be denied. 

You can check, there are pastors out there who have never consistently pastored growing churches.  The previous pastor might have seen church growth and the next pastor might see church growth but they don’t. 

That doesn’t mean that they aren’t men and women of God, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a great prayer life or that they don’t love Jesus,  it just means they can’t grow a church, or at least they can’t if they continue to do what they’ve always done and continue to act like they’ve always acted. 

One of my favourite sayings comes from Mark Twain who said “If you always do what you’ve done then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  And we all know the definition of insanity “Doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results.”  And you might be thinking it was Einstein who said that.  Probably not, it also been attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.

As one commentator wrote, “It’s not surprising that it has been attributed to Einstein, since everything but the Book of Genesis has been attributed to him at some point.”

And so some pastors will go through their entire ministry doing the same thing year after year without seeing consistent growth in the churches they are serving, but they never change the way they do things, they keep doing the same things and they keep expecting different results.

Oh they might have a year here or there when things pick up,  but in reality the church has either plateaued or gone into decline.

Now this is where it get’s tricky, because there are pastors who do see growth, consistently in whatever church they are in.  Oh there might be a year here or there that they see a decline or things plateau but the trend is normally one of growth.  And the scary part is that there aren’t a lot of those pastors out there.  Right now on our district there are probably fewer than a dozen.

Why is that?  Why are some pastors capable of growing a church and some aren’t?  Well I have discovered that if you suggest that it’s because they are talented or skilled at what they do then there are those who would say that is vain the real reason is that  that God has chosen to work through them. 

But really which is more vain to say that 1) Someone has skills and abilities that allow them to grow a church or 2) That they have God’s favour upon them? 

I’d rather have someone tell me that they are more skilled at something than I am rather than that God loves them more than he love me.

We all understand that we aren’t all naturally gifted at all the same things.  I can’t sing.  That’s not a spiritual issue that is reality, I love to sing but I’m really horrible at it.   

Now, not only can’t I sing but if you know me at all then you know, surprisingly, that I am not comfortable meeting new people. 

It’s not that I don’t like people, or I  mind getting to know people, I’m just really uncomfortable in the process. 

I wasn’t here last Sunday because I serve our district as director of Global Partners, that’s our overseas work.  And I need to represent our district occasionally at events, last week I was in Holland Michigan for a conference.  I really wasn’t looking forward to it because I didn’t think I would know anyone at the event, so it was looking like a day of meeting new people. 

I can’t do anything about the singing, I’ve tried.  Not going to happen outside of a supernatural work of God.  And people who sing can’t understand why I can’t sing.

And people who love to meet new people can’t understand why I find it really uncomfortable, not just a little uncomfortable but really uncomfortable.   

But that is something I can do something about, so I work hard at being able to meet new people, I’ve read books, watched videos and I go out of my way in order to intentionally do it.  

I’m still not comfortable, still don’t enjoy doing it but I do it.  Why?  Because it’s important for Cornerstone and important for the Kingdom.
So the pastor needs to prepare himself to be all that God would have him to be if the church is going to grow.  And that may involve stepping outside their comfort zone and maybe even changing their behaviour.

But let’s continue, in his letter to Titus Paul tells the preacher he’s writing to in this letter  about the behaviour that is expected from various groups in the church and he finishes by saying:

Titus 2:10 . . . Then they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive in every way.

So now we need to look at Preparing the Church  Now in case you are thinking that I’ve slipped a gear I know that this was the first point.  In the first point I was speaking about preparing the “Church” spiritually but now I want to talk about preparing the “Church” in the practical sense. 

Might I even say working at making the church more attractive?

What happens at your home when you are expecting guests?  I would suspect that if you are like most of us you tidy things up and are on your best behaviour.  I’m not talking about being phoney but simply putting your best foot forward.

You ever sell a house?  When you know there is going to be a showing you do your best to make sure that everything looks the very best it can.  You might have it staged,  you paint where it’s needed, you get rid of the clutter, you clean up.  You do all the things that you’ve been putting off.   It would be dishonest if you showed them somebody else’s house but you do everything you can to show your house in the best possible light.

That is one of the reasons we refreshed the carpet this year that’s why when I walk back across from Tims and see garbage on the lawn I pick it up and it’s why Tamara and the gardeners work so hard keeping the gardens looking fresh. 

And Kudos to Ben and Kaitlyn Slauenwhite, two of the youth at Cornerstone, who adopted the garden around the big rock by the driveway and kept it weeded and tidy this past summer.   

And you can make a difference, if you are walking across the parking lot and see a piece of garbage just stop and pick it up.  I love the fact that we can drink coffee in the worship centre, but if you spill it, just tell one of us so we can clean it up, because fresh wet coffee is a whole lot easier to clean up than dry coffee.  And I promise we won’t think any less of you.

And it means being courteous to our guests, every once in a while we  have a baby who objects to being in the service.  And folks at Cornerstone are usually pretty good about that, they understand that can be distracting and take the little one out, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.  Sometimes it’s a guest and they aren’t comfortable leaving their baby with strangers.    Let me give you a hint, glaring at them will not make the little one any quieter nor will it endear you to the parents. 

And if you arrive and someone is sitting where you normally sit then making them feel uncomfortable isn’t an awesome way to react.

One of our challenges at Cornerstone is parking so how can we make sure that there are parking spaces for our guests? 

There is all kinds of parking off the pavement.  Both up by the corner where I park and over on the side where the rest of the staff parks.  It might mean walking another 20  or 30 feet but really in the light of eternity is that all that far?  Some folks have started parking on Gatehouse and that is another option especially if you are concerned about not being able to get out of the gravel area in a timely manner. 

It might mean moving over so there is room for others in your row, even if it means you won’t have an extra seat between you and the person next to you, most of them don't bite.  The reason we spent the extra money and put racks under the seat is so you’d have a place to put your bible and purse.

And just take the time to be helpful and friendly.  For a lot of people coming to a church for the first time can be a little intimidating. 

I mentioned that I was away last week, I was in Holland Michigan for a denominational function where I was representing the district, and I can be really cheap when it comes to booking flights.  I figure that a travel day is pretty well shot anyway so If I can save some money by making an extra stop I figure that’s money that can be used somewhere else. 

So I flew from Halifax to Philadelphia and then to Chicago and then to Grand Rapids and then I rented a mule and wagon to get to Holland.  Just kidding about the mule and wagon it was actually a Ford, they wouldn’t upgrade me to the mule. 

When I landed in Philadelphia my boarding pass for my next flight didn’t have a gate number on it, so I went over to the Airline counter presented my ticket and asked what gate my flight was leaving from.  The lady punched some keys on her computer and without looking up handed me back my boarding pass and said “A3”.  “A3”? 

I didn’t have a clue, I looked up and I was at B something, people are going every which way.  “Excuse me” I replied “Where is A3?”  She looked at me as if I had just asked what colour blue was and said “It’s down to the end of the corridor and turn left”, as if everybody would know where A3 was and really in her world everybody did know where A3 was.  The problem was I wan’t from her world.   

When someone arrives at Cornerstone the first time, they don’t know where to take their kids, where to grab a coffee or where the bathroom is and they might not be comfortable asking, I wouldn’t be.

That’s why we have big signs that say nursery and washrooms and children.  But if someone is looking lost, take a minute and ask if you can help.  In a lot of cases it’s super helpful if you say let me take you over to where you sign your kids in or I’ll introduce you to someone in the nursery. 

You might not want to offer to walk them to the washroom but you know what I mean. 

And if you are on greeting or in one of the children’s ministry areas it is always helpful to be there and to be on time.  It’s just awkward to take a guest somewhere and the person who is supposed to be there isn’t.

Some folks don’t necessarily need to be talked to when they come to a church the first time, personally I’m good with a smile and a nod.  But others are looking to connect, and you can usually tell.  If you see someone standing looking lost, then introducing yourself is always a good place to start and mentioning that there is coffee available is a good icebreaker.

And it might be outside of your comfort zone, if I was going to do what I am most comfortable with my office would be right off the platform and I would stay in my office and just magically show up on the platform when the service started and then when the service was over I would disappear into my office again.

Instead I come down early and try to find folks I don’t know that I can talk to and following the service I greet people at the door.

When I plan the service and write  my message I need to remind myself all the time to be clear in my preaching, that not everybody who comes to Cornerstone was brought up in Sunday School or learning bible stories at their mother’s knee.

So let’s go back to the question from last week, Why? Why Should we grow?  One of the people I did know at the conference was Chad McCallum, Chad is director of Mobilization for Global Partners and recently his 10 year old son Miles asked him “Dad if telling people about Jesus and them saying yes means that they would got to heaven then why wouldn’t everybody want to tell people about Jesus?”

Miles had a good question, and why wouldn’t everybody want their church to grow if that meant reaching more people so they could go to heaven?

Let’s finish today with the words of Coach Jimmy Duggan “It's supposed to be hard, if it wasn't hard everyone would do it”, and God’s promise from Joshua 1:9  This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

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