Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Church Growth

For a month we've been talking about missions.  We've been asking for your support for George and the Flowers family .  People like you at 10, 15 or 25 dollars at a time have the power to keep them in the field and become their coworkers in truth without even leaving home (3 John).

We've heard from missionaries speaking and writing about their work.  But except for the giving we've not been as practical as we might have been. 
I'm guessing you're not a missionary living abroad.  Right? But listening along this month the Spirit has been whispering in your ear that you love people, you believe in Hell too, and you wish you knew how to reach out better...
That's the what those two books by Thom Ranier I mentioned are all about. The first one,  Breakout Churches: Discover how to make the Leap tells the story of some churches that experienced periods of decline but have started to really grow again without shifting their leadership (ie they didn't go get a new preacher or new elders). Surprising Insights from the Formerly Unchurched  tells of a survey of a wide group of people who were not Christians but found a church and stayed for 2 years or more.  They were asked lots of open-ended questions and the research team listened for consistent themes.  Both books were practical; in other words they fleshed out culturally relevant ways ways to live Jesus' command to go into all the world via our own neighborhood.  The second one had so many practical tips I thought you and I as single ladies or wives, moms  or grand moms could put to work right now.

Many of the formerly unchurched had a family member who was a member at the church they chose. Think John's story of Andrew and Peter. Some of the people most likely to make a decision to follow Christ are the husbands and parents of our members right now.  It's time to be more intentional. Could we try harder to reach out to the family with two teenagers that mom brings all by herself?  Have them over for a barbecue and invite the dad?  Could we reach out to unsaved family members of our own?  I was heartbroken by the story of a niece who asked her 75 year old Aunt to come to church.  The elderly woman said it was the first time she'd ever been invited. (How does one get to be 75 and never invited to church?!)

Another theme was that people often came to God in the midst of a big change in their lives. Jesus frequently found faith among the sick, the bereaved, the isolated and lost.  Got a friend in the middle of a divorce?  A coworker who just moved to town?  A cousin who just had a baby?  This might be the perfect time to remind them how much God loves them.

Something else that was painfully evident is that the churches who were growing, who were reaching into their communities, were churches of prayer.  Their leaders were praying and their members were praying too.  Melissa wrote recently about developing a heart for the lost.  It all started when she began to pray.  And I know that the Spirit has moved her to action in her own life over some people that she's always loved, but only recently began to hurt for.

Finally the book pointed out that churches that are demanding - expecting a lot from their own members in terms of Bible study, moral behavior, and good works - were churches that were appealing to outsiders.  Think that one over.  When we are wishy-washy, self-centered (individually or as a church), and sin-riddled, nobody wants to be like us.  When we are like Jesus, who knew his scriptures inside and out, who was blameless though often reproached, and who drew the crowds to him by his compassion as much as by his teaching, people are drawn to him through us. 

In my effort to readjust to my life in America, reading these two books was an extremely positive experience for me. They gave me an energy and an optimism I wasn't getting from other sources as I thought about how to be a good evangelist in my new home.  For example, they had all kinds of practical suggestions that a person or their church could implement today that might have eternal consequences.  Rather than being a quick fix they emphasized how the growing churches had worked for years at the steady practices of evangelism.  And with real numbers they showed that there WERE churches that were growing, and they might not be all that different from your  church or mine, especially if we had a renewed love for the lost! 


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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