church growth

The #1 Key to Spiritual Growth

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This is the fourth post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


I remember the first megachurch I ever experienced. I was at a church conference in Texas and was speechless at the size of the church building as we approached it. It seemed as if multiple shopping malls joined together and somebody added “Christian” to the name!

Each night of the conference we had a church service that was open to the public. Thousands upon thousands of people flooded into this facility to sing songs and listen to people preach. At times it felt like I was in the midst of a rock concert with bright lights, smoke on the stage, and an incredible sound system.

Many people would write this church off as “worldly” due to its methodology. Truthfully, this is the same temptation that I fall into. I enjoy knowing the names, stories, and families of those around me in worship which is nearly impossible at a megachurch.

Does that mean they are wrong?

No.

Churches should strive for health, not size. There ARE unhealthy megachurches… but there’s also unhealthy small churches!

There is a movement within the church that began in the 1980s called the “Church Growth Movement.” This movement (usually) encourages churches to study their communities in order to ascertain who the “customers” are. Then each church should formulate non-threatening programs that meet a felt-need. The assumption behind this approach is the more programs & classes that a seeker is involved in, the more that person will grow spiritually.

Willow Creek Community Church, led by a pastor I highly admire (Bill Hybels), realized this assumption was deeply flawed. They decided to test the results of their programs through the REVEAL study.

With deep integrity, Willow Creek released the results of this study with an introduction by Bill Hybels honestly wrestling with the results:
You can imagine my reaction when three people whose counsel I value told me that the local church I’ve been the pastor of for more than three decades was not doing as well as we thought when it came to spiritual growth. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they said this wasn’t just their opinion. It was based on scientific research. Ouch.

Jarred Wilson, another pastor who was deeply influenced by the church growth movement, explains the results of the study, “Willow revealed what they discovered to be the number one catalyst for spiritual growth – Bible study.

Sometimes simple conclusions are the most challenging. Studying the Bible has taken secondary importance while brand management, building campaigns, and creative programs demand the attention of church leaders (in small and big churches!)

We can no longer neglect the Scriptures. One of the greatest ways we neglect the Bible is through the methods we use to preach. In my next post, I will share specifically what this looks like.


What are some ways our churches can prioritize the Bible over other demands? I’d love to hear from you – let me know by leaving a comment!

The Idol of “Success.”

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This is the third post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


I had the honor of helping launch the Garretson Campus of The Rescue Church in October of 2014. I immediately had dreams of outgrowing our building in a week and breaking ground on a new facility. I assumed that people would come to our services, give their lives to Jesus, and become powerful missionaries in the community and abroad.

In our opening service we had 75 people join us. This may not seem like a lot depending on your context but we were planting this campus in a town of 1,200 people. On our first Sunday, we ran out of room due to the high attendance! My dream of becoming an influential and successful minister was finally coming to fruition.

A few months later we moved from Sunday night services to Sunday morning services. Our goal is that we would see how many people were going to stay with us as a “real” church and how many others were simply visiting from other churches.

We decreased in attendance to an average of 14 people.

I remember one Sunday morning when the only people that came to the service were those that were scheduled to serve in different areas. I stood outside to greet all the people that were flocking to my “successful” ministry and I welcomed no one.

I was crushed.

Jared Wilson, in his book The Pastor’s Justification has this to say, “Whatever God gives you in your ministry, accept as his wise allotment to you, not as unjust or unbecoming your awesomeness. Will you accept good from God and not trouble?

Without realizing it I had elevated worldly forms of success and tied them to God’s view of my ministry. I forgot that God measured success not through attendance numbers, increased giving, or larger buildings. Rather, He demands faithfulness and obedience; we are called to leave the results in His hands. He is the one who gives the growth!

I’d love to say I no longer struggle with this… the truth is I do. Some days we have 80+ people in our service and I begin to stroke my ego; assuming that people are coming due to my awesomeness. Other Sundays we have 40 people and a horrible offering – it is extremely easy to find my identity in the roller-coaster of attendance numbers!

Friends, I say all of this to encourage you. Our evil nature longs for us to find our identity in something or someone other than Jesus. When our circumstances have the power to crush our joy, we are worshiping a false god.

Allow this passage to encourage you in your day of despair:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3

Fix your eyes on Jesus.