Part 2 of 2
Not all growth is healthy growth. In Part 1, we defined healthy, organic growth as building and sending disciples out into the community to demonstrate and share the love of Jesus Christ with those hopeless and hurting. Healthy, exponential expansion comes from Spirit-filled disciples who’ve experienced genuine life change. Growth attributable to attracting people from other churches by catering better to them and expecting less of them is not healthy.
Intensive discipleship gives members the courage to seek the lost, the compassion to serve them, and the knowledge to speak words that bring them life. It transforms your church into a fully trained and equipped army of ministers. When the pastor asks the proverbial trick question “Raise your hand if you’re a minister”, for the first time all hands can go up with confidence. Disciples know that their responsibilities as a critical part of the “body” don’t stop with simply inviting people to come to church.
However, the growth that comes from challenging members to become and make disciples, given the amount of effort that entails, also comes with ups and downs. Healthy growth is a roller coaster. You may “preach it down” at first, but you’re in good company – that’s what Jesus did. You’ll lose some due to “sticker shock” at the price they’ll have to pay to BE the church. But those remaining will create a foundation for growth and breathe life into your church’s culture.
Who you’ll lose…
It takes faith to boldly preach the whole truth of the gospel – including sin, repentance and the costs of discipleship. On the surface, it would seem few want to hear that entire sermon. Many in the congregation may not come back for a second dose of that medicine. It also takes courage to ask churchgoers to muster the level of compassion and sacrifice demanded in the Bible from those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. Many will find another church more careful to “cater” to them. Others won’t step back into another church again and risk being confronted with such unreasonable expectations.
But let’s look more closely at who is most likely to leave your church when you begin to challenge them to become disciples:
- long-time complacent members and attenders who aren’t ready for changes or challenges
- consumers who complain when some aspect of church is no longer to their liking
- those in it for “cheap grace”, belief without confession, surrender, discipleship or material life change
- those more comfortable with sermons about relationships, parenting and a better life
- luke-warm fence-sitters undecided for years whether to dip all of their toes in the water
- people intent on being continually “fed” and served, unwilling to serve
- when they do serve, they may feel better about themselves than those they’re serving
Do you want a church full of those? Jesus and His disciples didn’t try to appease them either. They confronted sin and never tempered or qualified the gospel message regardless of whether listeners were ready to accept it or not. Forgive the analogy, but if someone is looking to get in better shape, that typically means dropping a few pounds. Maybe to become healthy, churches have to lose some weight too. Many could stand a little less “fat” (e.g. those unwilling to be challenged despite ample time to take a stand for Christ) and a lot more muscle (i.e. “disciples” in this possibly inappropriate euphemism).
Of course, keep in mind that Jesus and His disciples had already “primed the pump” by performing awe-inspiring miracles and jaw-dropping acts of kindness prior to sharing the gospel – a model most churches rarely imitate today. Maybe that’s why churches have had to resort to softer, more palatable messages to attract and retain – because ears are not as ready to hear nor hearts to accept words not preceded by action. (2 Timothy 4)
What you’ll gain…
Taking the risk that your attendance will shrink if leaders challenge members to BE the church and pursue the real “customer” is not optional – it’s Biblical. Pastors should have the faith to follow the Lord’s leading, whatever the outcome. However, while there’s risk, there’s also tremendous upside. The congregants who do stick around will be those who are:
- hungry for truth
- eager to grow deeper in their relationship with the Lord
- possibly poor in material wealth but rich in faith
- disciples, or willing to become one
- ready to make an impact
- committed to growing the Kingdom
- inspired and excited
- all in!
Imagine what a church could do with a couple pews full of those folks! Twelve disciples changed the course of history. But you’ll never really find out who those people are or how much they’re willing to do to impact the community for Christ unless your church challenges everyone. And you haven’t rooted out those at your church who would leave if you truly challenged them – because they’re still there. The only way to weed out the “who you’ll lose” and leave behind the “who you’ll gain” is to spell out what it REALLY means to live out the Great Commission.
Ultimately what you’ll gain in the longer term is a high capacity, rapidly growing, impactful church that’s a beacon of light in your otherwise darkening city. Without trimming the excess and training the remaining “insiders” to be unabashed Christ followers bent on pursuing your “customers”, your church will never morph into that lighthouse on the hill.
What about visitors, infrequent attenders and non-believers?
I believe if a seeker wanders into a church, they are looking for truth. They’re open to hearing the realities of the gospel and the expectations of Christ followers. In fact they’re hopeful and expectant of getting answers to their questions and doubts about the meaning and purpose of their lives. They may even be ready to repent if they clearly see the path to forgiveness and grace. Yet instead in seeker-friendly churches they get relationship and parenting advice. They hear promises of a better life and hope in the midst of difficult situations, the theme of most Christian songs today. But they didn’t come to church for thinly veiled counseling or a pep talk and wonder if that’s all there is. So they go elsewhere to find answers to their deeper questions.
Preaching tough messages worked for the early Church when almost no one was a Christian. Why wouldn’t it work now? We can never doubt the power of the gospel to change hearts and minds, even of those who are cold to the idea of God, Church and Christians.
It’s your turn…
Excuse my audacity, but there’s a lingering question that’s worth considering. Would pastors most likely challenge their congregations more directly and preach the gospel more boldly if NONE of their funding came from members/attenders or if everyone HAD to come back the next weekend? If so, we have a real problem!