August the 5th 2005 my family and I held our first church service in our living room in Montgomery Texas. Our focus on church growth literally became our lives. It seemed that everything we did revolved around getting people in the community to visit our church. For us, “church growth” was growing from nobody in service to at least 1. I can remember feeling victory when we had 5 in attendance. For a church planter, the mode of operation is simply getting people through the door and filling a pew. It becomes so much a part of the culture and focus that we define our success in numbers. Numbers in attendance, numbers getting baptized, how many received the Holy Ghost, how many youth at the sectional youth rally and so on.
I think I have read every “church growth” book on the market. Most of which, I can honestly confess, only made me frustrated and feel defeated. Popular church growth books are written by pastors who have churches with thousands in attendance. They talk about “church growth barriers” of 500 or 1000. Meanwhile, we struggle to get over 50 in attendance.
I am pleased to report that we finally have reached past the church growth barrier of 70 in attendance. We have even crested over the 100 mark several times this year. The real truth of the matter is that the struggle and frustration to reach greater numbers has taken its toll on this Pastor. At times we would reach 80, only to slip back down to 60. Working diligently for another 2 years just to find out that we have only maintained a number rather than grew. We work frantically to get anyone and everyone to visit the church and then we do anything and everything just to get them to stay. Only to have them slip through the holes in the net. It is not because we are lacking in great growth initiatives either. We have adopted and developed, what I believe are the best practices known to man. We have a comprehensive plan to get the first time guest to pulpit ministry. Our Guests Services are second to none. New Convert care and discipleship training? You simply won’t find a better team. Our Home Bible study department, music team, Sunday school team are all geared toward excellence in performance. I get it, the leadership gets it, and the whole church gets it, but as far as church growth? We measured in inches rather than miles.
But something happened to me about 1 year ago that redefined “CHURCH GROWTH” for me as a Pastor. We took a vacation to visit my family that live in Pennsylvania. As we were planning our trip I inquired about the UPCI Church that was in the town that we were going to be staying. We had attended this church the last time we visited our family and I was excited to see how they had progressed in recent years. To my surprise and utter disappointment, I was informed that the church we had visited was closed down. How did this happen? What could have caused such a tragedy? I found out that the reason this church closed down was because the Pastor retired. It was not because they dwindled down to nothing and couldn’t pay the note, there was no church split mentioned, no issues of moral failure in the leadership. The reason given was the pastor got to the age where he had to step down and there was no man ready to take over the church. I could not understand this because the last time we visited the church, the pastor was not “old”. If I recalled, the pastor was most likely only in his early 60’s, and that was just a few short years ago. And then I realized, what seemed to me like a “few short years ago” was actually about 18 years ago. So if the man was in his 60’s then, he is now in his 80’s. WOW! 18 years slipped by like a flash. I began to consider where I might be in 20 or 30 years. I asked myself questions like; who will take my church? Who will have the same passion for this City? Who will have the same vision…or greater vision? Who will have a burden and who will be called?
Church growth began to feel much different to me. I know we still need to focus on the lost, I understand that. But what if I have to redefine “church growth” in order to ensure that our church will still be alive in the next generation? What if church growth is NOT entirely about numbers gathered but can be measured in numbers sent? What if we began to change our focus from gathering to equipping those whom we have gathered? What would it take to train, equip and prepare my successor for 20-30 years from now? At this point, I looked at the men in my church who I might train for this and realized that the men that would be 30 years old when I might be ready to retire are not “men” at all, but are literally in diapers.
Since that moment, I began a Minister in Training (MIT) program for all of the boys 10 and under. I meet them every Sunday Morning for 10 min just before Sunday School and talk to them about a calling. I speak to them about how to become great leaders, soul winners and church planters. I ask them frequently to consider, who will be the one to take over this church? Who will be the next church planter? We have also ramped-up our adult MIT as well. We now have nearly 15 men, women, boys and girls in a comprehensive program to train up an army of soldiers who will not only keep the Apostolic church alive in Montgomery, but advance it to other cities around the world. Church growth for me has taken on a new meaning. I no longer measure church growth by height but by depth. Not by the height of a building by the depth of ministry being established within our walls. It’s not about how many we are running but by how many we are sending.
Every Sunday, all of our little MIT guys (10 and under) gather around and join hands. We pray our weekly prayer for the lost people of Montgomery. It is the same prayer every time. I want this prayer to ingrained into their minds and in their hearts. Our prayer goes like this:
“Lord you see the hundreds and thousands of people who are lost in this city, living without hope and without You in their lives. Lord I pray for these lost souls right now and ask that you send me into the city streets to reach the them. I pray that you give me a burden for them and that you grant me boldness to speak your name to all that I see. I ask you Lord….to call me into ministry…In Jesus Name. Amen”