Tag Archives: church growth

Church Growth from a Sociological Perspective

Rodney Stark (of Baylor University) in The Rise of Christianity studies the growth of Christianity from a sociological perspective.  Some things that he highlights which are worthy of consideration:

  1. For many centuries, the vast majority of church growth happened in the larger cities.  In fact, there were so few Christians in rural areas that the “term paganus or ‘countryman’ came to refer to non-Christians (pagans).” (p. 10)
  2. He points out that the mathematical probability based on data collected from various sources, the probable rate of growth of the church was 3.42 percent per year or 40 percent per decade.

a. By 100 AD, the church was only .0023 percent of the total Roman Empire’s population; and by 250 AD, it was 1.9 percent or only 1,171,356 million.  Even in the large city of Rome, by 200 AD there were only 7,000 Christians or 1 percent of the total population.

b. Something remarkable occurred between 250 and 300 AD – the population of professing Christians in the Roman Empire increased to 10.5 percent, and then to 56.5 percent by 350 AD!

c. Most of the growth happened in cities of the Eastern portion of the Empire, such as Asia Minor (Turkey), Egypt and North Africa.

d. The growth in Egypt is also intriguing.  By 239 AD the percentage of Christians was immeasurable (no records or evidence available). By 274 AD the church was 2.4% of the population.  By 315 AD, it was 18 percent of Egypt’s population (concentrated mainly in the large cities).

3.  Stark’s studies reveal several things:

a. That the growth of the church in the first four centuries was very slow and small, but steady. That flies in the face of the typical claims that we should be like the early church and grow large and fast.

b. The Church grows at various rates in certain populations and during particular times. In other words, there is a mysterious ebb and flow, or as Stark calls it “bumps and lumps in the growth curve.” The early church grew more rapidly during the first generation in Jerusalem and Antioch, but then in Rome thereafter, and not very quickly elsewhere.  As the statistic show, the tiny church in Egypt was insignificant for four generations. Imagine the level of frustration over the lack of growth we would have experienced had we lived in Egypt at that time and compared the church growth in our home country as compared to other places, such as Antioch or Rome!

c. Stark has also compiled historical and archaeological facts regarding the Church since its inception. In general, the Church grows within a culture to a “saturation point,” after which it typically reaches a numerical ceiling. In most cases, the growth of the church in a particular place at a particular time will level off and remain relatively unchanged for a generation or two. At that point the church may experience a burst of growth for about ten years, but then level off again; or it may begin to decline.

d. It should also be noted that over the centuries the birth, growth and then decline of the church has repeated itself over and over again. It started in Jerusalem, spread west to Turkey, then Rome, down to Egypt, then up to Europe. Some progress was made into Russia and northern India. Afterward, it spread to the north American continent. From there it has spread to Korea and China. At the same time, and pretty much for the first time, the Church is rapidly growing in Africa and South America. For the past hundred years Church population levels have remained low and are deteriorating in what was once the region of the Roman Empire, and Europe.

 

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Pastoral Discouragement

The Eighth Deadly Sin: Discouragement
by James L. Wilson
How will I respond when my failures seem to outnumber my successes?

______________________

I don’t know if it was passing the big 4-0 mark or knowing that my public ministry was half over. Whichever it was, I found myself wading into retrospection. Am I making a difference? How am I doing at reaching my goals and fulfilling my dreams?

I pushed the keyboard aside, propped my feet on the desk, and began taking inventory. I made a mental checklist, noting accomplishments on one side and failures on the other side. Does God really care about this stuff? Rebuking myself, I sat upright and got back to work.

Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the questions, so I decided to turn to my “brain trust” for counsel. Once a month, three retired ministers who are now members of my congregation meet with me to discuss ministry in general and our church in particular. I call them “the brain trust” because all three have earned doctorates.

I put two questions on the agenda: What are your greatest accomplishments? and What are your biggest regrets in ministry?

When the two older ministers spoke, I could tell they’d made peace with both sides of their ledgers long ago. Not so with Fenton, who is freshly retired.

Fenton sold insurance until age 37, then he stopped, went to seminary, and launched Tarzana Baptist Chapel three years later with five people.

“I expected it to grow to a church of 300 or 400 in a couple of years,” Fenton said. He planned to use his church to build a network of satellite churches throughout the Los Angeles Basin.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Tarzana Baptist Chapel constituted as a church five years later with 135 members. It never grew any larger; today is has fewer than 25 members.

“I once complained that we’d done all the church growth stuff, but the church wasn’t as big as it ought to be,” Fenton said. “God reminded me that he never promised me a big church.”

But Fenton had promised himself one.

With a doctorate in church growth, Fenton knew the principles, and he applied them. But the church wasn’t growing. Why?

He’d always thought that if a guy couldn’t grow a church he was “either incompetent or carnal.” Fenton didn’t want to consider himself either.

The work was tough. Tarzana Church seemed unable to close the back door. Fenton felt he had to reach three new members to net an increase of one.

Some, like John, left to attend one of the large churches in the area. Fenton had poured hours into John, an aspiring movie director from Australia, and brought him to faith in Christ. Just when Fenton was seeing fruit in John’s life, the director left Tarzana to go to a church with a drama program and a theater.

The cycle repeated itself, Fenton said. “I’d do all the hard work of cultivating, witnessing, and baptizing the converts only to lose them to the great choirs, youth groups, and drama programs of larger churches.

“It was frustrating.” Fenton had a faraway look as he told the story.

Looking for success in all the wrong places
If Fenton didn’t lose converts to a church down the road, the transient nature of Los Angeles claimed them. One year 51 of the church’s 110 members moved away.

That year, Fenton crashed.

“It was almost like a death,” Fenton said. “The church was never the same again.” As hard as that year was, he hadn’t hit bottom yet.

The elder pastor told how Judy, a nurse, was addicted to prescription drugs, cocaine, and heroin. Then she came to Christ, and God delivered Judy from her addictions almost the instant he saved her. Fenton baptized Judy, and she was doing well.

Then it happened.

Fenton lost track of her. She simply disappeared. His efforts to contact her were futile. “I still don’t know whether she’s dead or alive,” Fenton said.

Judy’s memory still haunts him. “I should have spotted this,” he said. “I should have been more cautious and warned her about the danger of a relapse. I should have paid more attention to her.”

Fenton was a gifted evangelist, but a struggling shepherd. Because of these apparent failures, he began losing sight of the value of his life and his work. Fenton despaired that his church would ever grow. He grew depressed. Eventually, he resigned.

“For Tarzana to grow it needs a new vision,” he told the congregation. “I’ve pleaded with God and prayed, and that’s all I’ve heard from him. Someone else will have to lead you to the place you should go.”

Fenton left the church he founded to become a full-time missionary to the Jewish population of the area. He had a heart to win Jews to Christ. His plan was to focus on personal evangelism and to awaken churches to the needs of the Jews. However, he had a hard time motivating pastors to follow up on the Jews he introduced to the Messiah, and his speaking engagements at churches were too few to make a lasting impact.

The night of my meeting with the brain trust, Fenton stopped short of saying he regretted going into the ministry, but he gave the strong impression that he had mixed emotions about whether he had fulfilled his calling. We didn’t talk about it again for months, and I continued to ponder the questions that drove Fenton from the pastorate: Am I fulfilling my calling? How can I know I’m making a difference when the evidence is scant?

And if I don’t find answers to these questions—answers I can live with—will I surrender to despair? Or more accurately, despond?

Despond is that sense of uselessness that says, “I’m not accomplishing what I was called to.” Despond questions one’s purpose when confirmation is in short supply. Despond looks at the clock, and wonders if the time allotted for this portion of the test has run out, and deep down hopes it has, because a passing grade seems so unlikely. Despond despairs, grows cynical, sighs, resigns.

Footsteps worth following
We were returning home from a church growth conference. Fenton was driving. Chaplain Scott Sterling, one of Fenton’s converts who went into the ministry, rode shotgun, and I relaxed in the back seat, eavesdropping. For thirty minutes or so, they discussed the “good old days” at Tarzana and some of the people who surrendered their lives to the ministry—nearly a dozen.

I couldn’t believe it.

I interrupted their conversation. “Fenton, do you remember our brain trust meeting a couple of months ago where you talked about your regrets in ministry?”

“Sure,” Fenton said, “what about it?”

“Let me get this right. You pastored a church for ten years that produced a dozen ministers like Scott here, and you question your effectiveness as a pastor?”

It got quiet.

“In my opinion,” I continued, “you’ve had a wonderful, world-changing ministry. As your pastor, I want to bless you for the work you’ve done and release you from the guilt you carry because you never built a large church.”

Despond had blinded Fenton to his ultimate value as a servant in the hands God, used not to build large churches, but to build a missionary force of purposeful believers.

That night, I decided that I would fight the temptation to worry about my goals, accomplishments, failures and shortcomings. I left that conversation encouraged that my successes may not look like I expected. The lasting accomplishments may not match the criteria I’ve been looking at. If God called me, He will use me to do things he planned that I did not. Whether I fulfill my dreams or not, I can only pray that I will be faithful.

Like Fenton was.

James L. Wilson is the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Seaside, California and the online editor at http://www.FreshMinistry.org.

2001 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Spring 2001, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Page 45

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Book: Lead On

Excerpts from Lead On (Why Churches Stall and How Leaders Get Them Going)

by Wayne Schmidt

            Would one class, event, or prayer list create a church that has a heart for the lost and prioritize its ministries of outreach?  No.  It would take repeated seminars, events, and prayer times—as well as modeling by the leaders, testimonies of life change, and messages from the pulpit—to cause an evangelistic heart to beat within the church’s culture.  It would take repeated emphasis over a period of time.      P. 27

 

One of the greatest challenges of spiritual leadership is the stewardship of power.  We usually think of stewardship as managing hard assets—measurable things like money and time.  But leaders must manage soft assets as well—things like credibility, spiritual gifts, influence, and yes, power.  We become better stewards of power as we recognize that all of it belongs to God and that He can exercise it through the life of any devoted person.  He sovereignly chooses to do His work through us, and we are blessed simply to be present when His power is manifested.   P. 45

 

Kevin Myers, a close friend and pastor of a thriving church in Atlanta, Georgia, teaches the “God’s calling is where God’s power and God’s purpose come together in your life.”  God gives His power only for His purpose—He doesn’t give us His power to pursue our own dreams.  And God’s purpose can only be accomplished with His power—if we try to fulfill God’s mission in our own strength, we’ll burn out long before we finish.  The intersection of God’s power and God’s purpose causes His kingdom to come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.    P. 61

 

Personally providing necessary pastoral care and counseling for a large percentage of the congregation.  The goal is to be an equipper of caregivers rather than a doer of care ministry, with a few exceptions.    P. 64

 

As Peter Drucker says, “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”  So, in order to answer this question, we must assess the present-day validity of our activities.  It may be that a “not to do” list is more important than a “to do” list.   P. 123

 

Leaders who have defined their unique contribution and delegated the authority and responsibility for results are free to spend their time and energy developing the resources that are needed to fulfill the mission.  The greatest of those resources is people.      P. 129

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Superpreacher – We want you!

Dear Superpreacher,

Superpreacher, You're my hero!

I am writing to you to ask you to consider becoming our pastor. We are a small church in a small city that was established over forty years ago. I am one of several who either started this church or grew up in this church.

We’ve always been small; but I know that if you came here we would grow into a great and large church.

We’ve had plenty of others preachers over the years. I think ten? But none of them was really any good at preaching.

The longest we’ve ever had a pastor was six years, even though we encouraged him to find another church after he had been with us for two years.

Our current pastor came a few years ago.  He’s okay, but nothing like you.  He’s a likeable man, but he’s not what we want.  Yes, he studies hard, visits people when they are sick, oversees the worship, teaches Bible study, prays for members in the church, meets with our men, visits our visitors, counsels, witnesses, is training new deacons, is constantly having lunch or supper with people and other things like that.  It’s all well and good, but he’s not bringing new people in or making our church grow. We want more than 120!

We need someone like you.  If our pastor had a voice like you do, and could dress as cool as you, or preach on the stage the way you do, then things might not be so bad.  He’s also older than 40, which turns off young people.  He needs charisma and energy. That’s what you have. He also needs to wow the audience and say things that will get people’s attention, and tell lots of great stories like you.  We want someone exhilarating and well-known.

It would be so exciting to have you be our preacher.  We would still let you do conferences and write books.  By the way, when I can find the time I plan on reading one of your books!  You can get rid of the pulpit, but we would like it if you did not change too much else around.  Contemporary songs are fine once in a while too. I’m sure those things don’t really matter much to you because all you really need to do is what you do best:  preach the socks off people.

Even though we are a small church, we have people who have investments and good resources, which they could put toward paying your large salary for a few years.  Our core group has been waiting for just the right person to come along to make wise use of this money; and we know you would be that right man!

Please let me know if you will accept this offer.  We are already talking about ways to help this pastor move on.  It should not be a problem since we’ve helped previous preachers find other calls.

In the name of Jesus;

Chris N. Dom

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Biblical Evangelism

What the Bible says about evangelism (declaring and sharing the good news about the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus Christ whose life, work and death was to save us from our guilt, sin and hell and to make us right with a holy God).

This study is from Bill Vermeulen’s Great Truths of the Bible syllabus.

Evangelism is testifying to the mercy and grace of God as experienced in one’s personal life, and especially as declared in the Scriptures. It is “gospeling” the good news.  Evangelism is God’s task, but he has graciously made you a participant in the task. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.

In the various accounts of evangelism in the Bible, we see that it is a fourfold task. It is (1) relational, (2) intentional, (3) presentational, and (4) invitational.

1. Evangelism was instituted by the Lord Jesus

a. John 20:21 – it was a commission

b. Mark 16:15 – there are recipients

c. Matthew 28:19-20 – he gave a basic strategy

d. Luke 24:46-48   – the content is repentance and forgiveness of sins based on the death and resurrection of Jesus

e. Acts 1:8 – geographically, it started in Jerusalem and continues to the ends of the world.

2. Evangelism is telling others about the saving work of God in our lives (Mark 5:19,20; John 9:26-33; Acts 2:5-11; John 4:29, 39; Acts 16:15, 40; 1 Peter 3:15; Philemon 6)

3. Evangelism is the spreading of the “Good News” message (Psalm 96:1; Matthew 24:14; Acts 8:5; 11:19-21; Revelation 14:6)

4. Evangelism is defending the faith of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27; 4:3; Acts 1:28).

5. Evangelism is to be done by the ordained (Ephesians 4:11; Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5)

6. Evangelism is to be done by the unordained (Luke 8:39; 9:60/ Acts 5:32; 8:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; James 5:19,20; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 22:17).

7. Evangelism involves prayer (Matthew 9:38; John 17:20).

8. Evangelism involves finding, telling and harvesting (Luke 19:10; Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 8:35-38; Matthew 9:38).

9. Evangelism involves modeling and equipping others for effectiveness (Acts 13:2; 14:1; Ephesians 4:11, 12).

10. Evangelism is done through friendship and hospitality (John 1:41, 45; Acts 10:24-27, 44)

11. Evangelism is done through diaconal ministries (Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 9:35; 10:7; Acts 2:45, 47)

12. Evangelism is done through visiting homes (Matthew 10:11-14; Luke 19:9, 10; 10:5-7).

13. Evangelism is done in large gatherings (Acts 2:1-41; 17:22-34).

14. Evangelism is done in small groups (Acts 10:24-27; 16:15, 31-32; 18L7, 8, 26; 28:7-10).

15. Evangelism is done with individuals (John 1:41, 45; 4:7-29; Acts 8:34, 35; James 5:20)

16. Evangelism involves (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5):

a. A message about Jesus Christ

b. A messenger

c. A listener

d. The Holy Spirit

e. Prayer

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Stages to Church Growth and Steps to Decline

Taken from To Dream Again by Robert Dale (TN: Broadman Press, 1981)

Stages of church growth:

1. Visionaries and church planter(s) see a vision for a church.

2. Gifted people who understand the church’s purpose come alongside and develop a plan.

3. Leaders rise to lead in accomplishing stated goals.

4. Organizers fill in the basic structures for the church.

5. Activists take an active role in using their gifts and talents to do the work of ministry.

 

Steps to Decline:

1. People become locked in to the life of the church. Traditionalists maintain the old ways out of nostalgia for the “good old days.”

2. A few people (often newcomers) question the old ways and seek to change or revitalize the church. Sometimes these folks become inquisitionists and develop a sense of hostility toward others whom they perceive as standing in the way.

3. People take sides on various issues, and the fighters polarize the membership in the church.

4. A sense of hopelessness develops, people leave, drop out or become apathetic.

5. The church stagnates or dies.

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Characteristics in People of Biblically Healthy Churches

by Bill Vermeulen

1. A sincere love for fellow believers in Christ.

2. A genuine love for those who are lost without Christ.

3. A sense of significant purpose.

4. A high level of expectant faith.

5. A positive spirit rooted in God’s promises.

6. A strong outward-focus and desire for an abundantly spiritual harvest.

7. A deep concern for the glory of God.

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