Growing churches face challenges of scale, reproducibility, and health. What got you where you are won’t get you where you want to go (to an extent). You start to rethink how you are doing church in hopes of doing things in a way that will yield not only different but greater results/impact.
But not all churches are growing. Not all cities or businesses are growing either.
You are probably like me and believe that it is appropriate to balance church growth with a hefty dose of church health. You’ve likely heard many people say, “Healthy churches grow.” But you have probably heard others say, “Growing churches are healthy.”
There is likely a healthy critique in some ways of both statements as neither is entirely sufficient. If you are like me, you probably see a connection between the two but want to hold both in check. After all, you wouldn’t want to claim your church is healthy and never see guests on a Sunday. You also wouldn’t want to focus so much on growing the numbers of people that you forget about your responsibility to disciple them.
While watching the video below, I thought about the many similarities between city revitalization and church revitalization. How could more churches think like cities, states, and countries do as they plan for how to maximize their impact? Since God created everyone in our world, what can we learn from them as we think about we attempt to grow churches and ministries.
As you might expect, much of what I learned wasn’t necessarily novel or unique to me. But it did demonstrate in another context how churches and church leaders could potentially change their approach to ministry.
5 Common Traits Between Cities and Churches That Are Growing
How are you intentionally planning to make your church healthier and increase its impact? Are you being intentional about focusing on what your church does well in its specific context? Be. Intentionally. Clear.
2) Bridging the Racial and Ethnic Divide
Many of these cities have struggled with institutional and individual racism over the years. But what people are seeing is that as these societies address the racism of the past and present, racial and multi-ethnic collaboration, new ideas, partnerships, and possibilities emerge.
One clear example is the ministry of Pastor Derwin Gray, previous NFL football player, LifeWay and Christianity Today Blogger (Just Marinating), lead paster of Transformation Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and author of two books: Limitless Life, Crazy Grace and The High Definition Leader. He and the team at Transformation Church have intentionally bridged the racial/ethnic divide through their staffing, team formation, planning, and I’m sure every other areas as well. As they have done so, God has used their growing ministry to be agents of transformation in thousands of lives throughout South Carolina. (In case you are curious, you may also remember Pastor Derwin from the Evangelism Linebacker videos from a while back.)
3) Collaboration Between Government, Business, and Non-Profits
Do you cringe when you read this one? Some people do. I have before. However, caution about aligning government and church shouldn’t cause you to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” What they saw in these cities was the willingness of various groups to collaborate and increase their impact by addressing problems they had in common.
In fact, one megachurch located in Greenville, SC, has done quite a bit to not only collaborate with other groups but also governmental agencies. Pastor Ron Carpenter of Redemption Church has boldly led his church towards not only exponential growth but also exponential impact in and around Greenville, SC (location of their main campus) and the communities of all their campuses around the Carolinas.
You don’t have to be huge to collaborate or learn from local government leaders. Take on the posture of a learner first as you seek to get a better handle for what needs your community has and how you can better serve others and work with other groups already doing what you are passionate about.
4) Investment in Children
Kids are the future. You know that. There is nothing new about that. But the level of investment you make in them will always have a major impact on your future. How is your church prioritizing the spiritual formation of children and students? What about the parents and volunteer leaders who are discipling them?
5) Attention to Results
As the Fallows traveled the country looking at various communities, they saw people coming up with innovative solutions to real world problems. I’m sure they saw their fair share of people doing lots of “stuff” but accomplishing little. But as you can see in the video, they describe real changes, real partnerships, and a sense of movement towards the vision people have in each city/town.
One of the most powerful things about a clear vision is that it starts to focus everyone on a common goal that they will achieve. People begin to see what it will look like. It becomes so real (especially as progress is made) that behaviors change in order to achieve the vision. Be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of any of these church vision deficiencies that I outlined in a recent post on the Malphurs Group’s website.
As you watch this video at The Atlantic about James and Deborah Fallows who traveled the country looking at cities like Greenville, SC, Fresno, CA, Columbus, MS, think about what you see in these communities that you’d like to see in yours. What would it take to make it happen? How would you collaborate with others to realize similar results? How could you learn from cities as you innovate in your local church context?
Here’s the original documentary: