by Steve Baggett
Brother Ira North once said, “I have come to the conclusion that there is a key word in church growth if it is solid, stable, and lasting. That key word is balance.” Brother North was right on target. Nowhere is his statement more applicable than when one is striving to help established congregations grow. A preacher for an established congregation must strive for balance in every aspect of his relationship with the congregation.
He must cultivate a deep appreciation for the congregation’s heritage.
Just like our physical families, congregations have commonly accepted and often unspoken rules for how things are operated. These rules, which have served the congregation well for years, are not inherently right or wrong. They are simply part of the congregation’s heritage. The preachers who have served the congregation in the past, the former elders and deacons, and all who have been part of the congregation’s past have made valuable contributions to determining who the congregation is today. To help the congregation grow, a preacher must embrace, appreciate, and build upon that heritage.
He must deeply love the congregation.
In Matt. 16:18 Jesus used the personal pronoun “my” referring to the church. Thus the church, and more specifically local congregations of the church, belong to Jesus. The effective preacher will make the commitment to deeply love every member of the congregation. His love for the church will be evident in his preaching, his service, and his personal relationships; and it will be the motivating force behind every part of his work.
He must have a faithful commitment to the congregation’s leadership.
It was God’s plan that elders “be appointed in every place” (Titus 1:5). While the preacher will, by the very nature of his work, be a leader in the congregation, he is not and should not strive to function as the leader. He should constantly exhibit by his words and actions his deep appreciation, respect, and love for the elders. He should support, encourage, and facilitate them in every way possible.
He should strive to create and maintain the family relationship of the church.
The fact that Christians are referred to as “brethren” indicates that the church is God’s family. Thus, when the church comes together for worship, in addition to reverential awe of the Almighty, there should be a friendly, inviting, and loving atmosphere. This type of atmosphere will attract people to the assemblies and create a desire to return.
He should develop planned, heartfelt, enthusiastic worship assemblies.
The Sunday morning worship experience is one of the most critical elements impacting the growth of the church. His goal should be to make the worship experience a positive one for the visitor. The sermons should be Biblical and easily applicable; they should be delivered out of love not only for the Lord but also for the congregation. The worship experience may be enhanced by comfortable and attractive surroundings, an acoustically helpful worship center, visually appealing screen presentations, and thematically planned assemblies.
He should encourage well-planned and relevant Bible Classes.
Brother North often said, “As the Bible School goes, so goes the congregation.” While Bible classes always need to be relevant, it must never be forgotten that they are “Bible” classes. What a wonderful setting for a textual study led by a well-prepared capable teacher!
He should help develop and maintain a well-structured process for integrating new members into the work of the congregation.
Successful businesses understand that their employees will be more effective if they are given ownership of their individual responsibilities. This is also true regarding the Lord’s work. When new members are plugged into ministries in which their interests and talents lie, the opportunities for spiritual growth increase significantly.
He should work closely with the elders to help “keep the saved saved.”
Church growth is not just limited to the addition of souls through conversion; it also requires helping individual members remain involved. While elders ordained by God bear the responsibility of shepherding the flock, the local preacher can be of great assistance in this area because of relationships he has with the congregation.
He should work hard to help establish an “outreach” mindset in the congregation.
Every activity of the congregation should be planned and facilitated with the goal of reaching out to the community with the love of Jesus. Whether an activity is a worship assembly, a Bible class, a fellowship meal, a weekend retreat, a youth devotional, or a family gathering, it should be designed with the purposeful intent of including others from the community; thus there is a clear pursuit of the inseparable goals of harvesting souls and, at the same time, sustaining and enhancing the growth of an already vital, living congregation.
Steve Baggett preaches for the Walnut St. Church of Christ in Dickson, Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.