by Jason Moon
The late Ira North was perhaps the greatest “church growth expert” of the 20th century. In his book, You Can March for the Master, he stated, “There is a success formula to produce a growing congregation. It is not a formula of magic words. It is not composed of tricks. It is not easy. But it is sure. You spell this success formula with four letters – W O R K.”
I am happy to report that we live in a time when the church can still grow! There seems to be a defeatist attitude with some today that believes the church can’t grow anymore. The good news is there are congregations among us who growing while remaining true to the unchangeable truth of God’s word.
It has been my experience that one of the most opportune times for a local church to grow is when it goes through change. There are many things that may bring change to a congregation. A beloved minister may suddenly die, some elders may be appointed or step down, a church building may be destroyed by a natural event, or a building may become unserviceable in its physical conditions or unfavorable in its location.
Obviously, such events do not automatically translate into growth. However, when handled properly, the challenges that are brought about by changes can turn into opportunities for growth. Remember Job? He lost it all only to gain back even more (Job 42:10). James teaches us that “trials” can result in personal growth (Jas. 1:2-3). Remember the Jerusalem church? The Christians responded to the persecution led by Saul and the result was the spread of the word and the growth of the kingdom (Acts 8:1-40).
It is reassuring to know that growth can occur during times of change. So what are some things a church must do to take advantage of the opportunity to grow amid change?
First, PLAN! Change will occur whether we want it or not so it is better to develop a plan for it. Growing churches have visionary people who are looking ahead to the future. Don’t just talk about it, but map out a plan. Where do you see your local congregation five, ten, or twenty years from now? Is anything being done to plan ahead? Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Churches that are making a difference today started planning years ago!
Second, PERSEVERE! Remember that in the midst of change, there are some things that cannot change. Excel in worshiping God! Preach the Bible! Shepherd the erring! Teach the lost! A church can’t grow during a time a change without doing the basic things that are fundamental to growth. Remember that every good work of the church that sows the seed will not return empty (Isa. 55:11). Also, remember that persevering in the work of the Lord may not instantly yield results (1 Cor. 3:6-7). A few years ago when I was a novice preacher, I followed a preacher who had preached in that local congregation for 20 years. The transition, partly because of my inexperience, was tough. After growing discouraged, I sought the advice of one of my preaching mentors. His simple advice was, “Keep preaching the Gospel.” Three years later, the attendance had increased from the low 200s to over 350.
Third, PRAY! Dealing with change is not easy. Sometimes we choose change, and sometimes change chooses us. Either way, it is rarely without its challenges. Navigate those days with prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). Pray for God’s guidance to see the way (Jas. 1:5). Pray for God grace to deal with difficulty (2 Cor. 12:9). Pray for his providence and know it will “work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Prayer helps us have the clarity to understand the things we need to do and the serenity to know that some things have to be left up to God.
Fourth, PRIORITIZE! When a church goes through change, it can be a great time to prioritize. Recently, I was blessed to be involved in a relocation project. We determined that we should make certain things a priority. We recommitted ourselves to outreach. We made the decision to commit ourselves to basic, first-principle preaching during the first few months in the new location. We decided we would “practice what we preach” and “preach what we practice” so our newcomers and visitors would gain a quick understanding of things we believed were important. In our first year, the attendance increased by 100.
Last, have PASSION! God seems to have programmed us to love new beginnings (Lam. 3:23). The human spirit seems to recognize that the best thing to do when you are given lemons is to make lemonade. Some will always see the negative and desire to return to the way it used to be (even if it didn’t produce results). However, the leaders must challenge the congregation to passionately embrace the new opportunity.
How a congregation handles change is really a choice. In almost every case, to sit back and do nothing is a recipe for disaster. Let’s rise to the task of building up the church! Let’s roll up our spiritual sleeves and go to WORK!
Jason Moon preaches for the Roebuck Parkway Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.