What if “Real Church Growth” Became the New Normal in the North American Church?

If we’re honest, it’s pretty easy to see the functional Great Commission in North America: Go into all the world and make more worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of small groups, and teaching them to volunteer a few times a month.

For all kinds of reasons, the words “church” and “growth” have become embarrassing when put side by side. Yet just because the lingo of the Church Growth Movement has departed from our lips doesn’t mean that the model isn’t still firmly rooted in our hearts and minds. Though the facade of church growth has been stripped off our institutions, the bones of the house are right where they’ve always been.

More than we’d like to admit, our default strategy for seeing people come to faith in Jesus begins and ends with pumping people through our priority programs. It’s the classic attractional mindset.

And by the way, you can find it in every church—including those that wouldn’t be caught dead being associated with those “sell-out” attractional churches and also in those that simply aren’t attracting people very well.

Desperate for a measure that matters

Ask yourself this question: Why do people come to your church (or any church)? Most likely, it’s for:

  • Place: the beauty, convenience, or sentimental attachments of the place
  • Personality: affection for a leader
  • Program: what they (or more likely, their kids) receive from a certain program
  • People: friendships within that community

Not one of these “P’s” are bad. In fact, all of them are good. Like the lower story of a house, no one gets inside without going through them as the entry level.

But are these all the church is for? When any of us responded to God’s call to devote our lives to serve the church, was it because we were so in love with these things? I doubt it. They weren’t enough to draw us to the bride of Christ, and they aren’t enough to keep us in love with her either.

When we toil away at the work of the Lord—desperate for some sign that we’re getting somewhere and that our work is not in vain—it’s the most natural thing in the world to hunt for some proxy indicator that we’re not wasting our time.

Enter programs.

When we can count the flow of bodies through the pipelines of our program plumbing—well, we must doing something right. Right?

Don’t throw out the baby

The dirty little secret among so many pastors is that we are really good at faking disciples rather than making disciples. The quantity and quality of our programs—and our sheer busyness keeping it all going—distract us from the truth.

Some pastors do recognize it, and they are so fed up with the superficiality of program jockeying that they’re ready to reject church growth altogether with all the attendance-, program-, and purpose-drivenness that comes with it.

That is a mistake. While we throw out the “church growth movement” bathwater, let’s not throw out the baby as well. There truly is a line that connects the dots of growth and disciple-making.

In short, if there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s that the best way to grow your church is by growing your people. I’m on the warpath for this principle, which I call “real church growth.”

Real church growth

Why should we give up on church growth? Why shouldn’t it be something we’re looking after, praying after, knocking on the doors of heaven for? Why wouldn’t we want to disciple people in such a way that they are empowered and emboldened to lead people to Christ? We shouldn’t give up on growing the church as people come to faith in Jesus. Jesus says we should expect fruit (and fruit that lasts!).

But there’s a certain way he’s set everything up. “Real church growth” takes seriously the idea that if your church grows past 120 people, you have to ask the question, “What does organized disciple-making look like in this context?”

At the end of the day, it’s about this:

Real Church Growth = Organized Disciple-Making

And, “Organized Disciple-Making” does not equate to the programs you’re running—or, for that matter, to the programs the “bigger and better” church down the street or the one across the country is running.

See, if you’re not doing organized disciple-making, my guess is that you’re doing programmatic education in the name of Jesus. But chances are, it’s “untransformational Christian education.” It may be well-executed and it might look good on Facebook or Instagram, but it’s probably not growing your church, nor is it really growing your people.

When I talk to pastors, I’m not interested in a church’s programs to mass-manufacture the raised-religious. I want to hear about their organized disciple-making process. I’m talking about how a church sets up a simple system that helps disciples of Jesus make brand-new disciples, who in turn make still more.

Real church growth. What if that became the new normal in the North American church?

> Read more from Will.


 

>> Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn more getting a visionary plan for real church growth.

 

Download PDF

Tags: , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Vision >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

How to Measure Real Church Growth Using Your Ministry Outputs

These days I’m trumpeting a battle-cry to bring back church growth. We shouldn’t blush at it; we should be bold for it.

But I also assert that the assumptions of church growth as we know it lead down a dead end. Instead, we need real church growth.

In our era of cultural wildfires, technology tsunamis, and attendance landslides, I’m comforted that this is not a new problem. All the way back in the first century believers got confused about what church growth really is.

What God Measures

When church leaders think about church growth, our default setting is to measure growth in program attendance, especially weekend worship. If we’re a little more advanced, we might measure baptisms.

The church at Corinth measured the same things. Look at how we’ve all been baptized, Paul, they said with confidence. Look how we’re showing up to take the Lord’s Supper (in other words, weekly worship attendance).

Paul’s reply? Big deal. The ancient Israelites “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” he replied. “They all ate the same spiritual food [manna] and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them” (1 Cor. 10:2-4 CSB).

But how much good did their baptism and attendance do them? Not a lot. “God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness” (v. 5).

Ouch.

Paul said that the saga of the ancient Israelites “took place as examples for us” (v. 6). We have to learn the lesson that God measures his people by their production, not their participation. I’m talking about fruitfulness. I mean the faithful character exhibited by holy people, the kingdom-service they perform, and the disciples they make.

Let me ask you a critical question. Is it possible for someone to go to your church for ten years, participate in everything the church has to offer, and NOT grow with Jesus?

You see how important this is? Real church growth demands that we go beyond measuring participation to measuring production—beyond measuring ministry inputs to measuring ministry outputs.

The Ministry Machine

Think of all your church’s activities put together as your “ministry model.” It’s your disciple-making engine.

Measuring inputs means measuring what you dump into the intake funnel of your ministry machine—namely, people. This is almost all that leaders commonly measure, the biggest reason being that attenders are pretty easy to count.

For most leaders today, charting attendance is less fun than ever. Not only are fewer people nationwide attending church, but more people are attending less frequently.

So alarmed voices are proposing we stop caring about attendance and start caring about “engagement.” But what do we really mean by “engagement”?

Unfortunately, for many leaders “engagement” simply means counting how many attenders also go to a small group, how many serve as a volunteer, or how many give money to the church. In other words, we’re just going from measuring ministry inputs to measuring throughputs: how far people make it through the bowels of the ministry machine.

But what’s coming out the back end of the machine? How are the people poured into the hopper on the front end of your programs being changed by them?

Is your ministry model built to change anyone at all?

You won’t know the answer until you start measuring ministry outputs. That’s at the heart of what I mean by “real church growth.”

How to Measure Ministry Output

Let me give you an example of what I mean by ministry outputs.

We can all agree that genuine biblical community is something God wants to see in his people. So how will you measure that?

You could ask people, “Are you in a small group?” That’s an input or throughput question.

But instead, you could ask, “How many ‘2 AM friends’ do you have?” That’s an output question. It’s a result that we want a mechanism like small groups to produce.

See? The question you ask makes all the difference to the answer you get.

“2 AM friends” is an example of real “engagement”—not just people’s engagement with the church program apparatus, but engagement with each other in the most sensitive spaces of life.

Organized disciple-making generates results like this. And that is what I mean by “real church growth.”

A Shift of Focus

Your results mainly stem from from your ministry model, not from your preaching. We can urge the importance of biblical community week in and week out without it ever really growing. Meanwhile, we justify our activity to ourselves by pointing to the number of people attending small groups. As I wrote in my book Innovating Discipleship, “We allow generic output language to validate our intent while we use input data to validate our success.”

But imagine if we shifted our focus to discipleship outputs. Imagine if we measured not just the number of people engaged in our weekend services but the number of people engaged with the Bible every day. Imagine if we measured not just the number of baptisms but the number of believers who influence people who end up getting baptized.

When we focus on outputs, we focus on the value we pour into people. And when the church provides value, attendance tends to take care of itself.

I realize that this raises all kinds of questions about how to measure outputs. One of the most important things we do at Auxano is to help churches define their disciple-making outcomes. Then we teach them how to capture the wealth of data of this kind sitting in their churches right now. Finally, we help them do something with what they learn.

Real Church Growth

Do you know why I gave my consulting organization the unusual name “Auxano”? The name is Greek for “I grow (it).”

Paul told the Corinthians that there’s really only person who can say auxano: it’s “God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). So what does God want his harvest in your church to look like?

Download PDF

Tags: , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Vision >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Esther Mahgoube — 01/21/20 5:21 pm

I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.