Snellville pastor Richard Bumpers shares insight on how to grow a church from his experience launching a re-plant congregation.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why are they growing and I’m not? What makes me different? Why them and not me?”
These are questions I have asked myself repeatedly. Interestingly enough, I would compare similar questions to someone who is single desiring to be in a relationship. Doubt begins to kick in and one may begin to ask “Am I attractive enough? Why don’t they like me?” We then find ourselves changing, and subsequently begin to try to look and act like someone or something we are not.
God only requires us to be us. We should focus on being the best we can be, with what we have. We have to use the talents that He has given us.
This is a situation church planters know too well. In my current reality, I am a pastor of a multi-cultural, multi-generational church of 180 with a consistent Sunday morning worship attendance of 96. Do I desire for our church to be filled to capacity? Absolutely! But, I also know that God will not allow us to expand if we are not ready or have the capacity.
We can have all the components in place (greeters, hospitality center stocked with coffee and donuts, a scream team, perfect lighting, and aesthetics) but, if God is not ready to open the floodgates, we have to be patient and wait on the Lord. While we are waiting, we should be faithful in our serving and not with a motive of serving to grow.
According to the Bible, growth happens with community and fellowship with one another;
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47
This tells me that if we are faithful to prayer, building authentic relationships with one another, and praising and worshiping God, the Lord will give us favor through our intentionality with one another. Growth must first happen among the body of church planters before it can happen with the people you are trying to reach.
In an organization I previously worked for, ministry was driven by numbers. Our evaluation was based on our effectiveness to reach, grow, and attract. Somehow, I believe this has become the standard for healthy ministry. I haven’t read about this measure of evaluation anywhere in the Bible. Jesus did tell a parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:23:
Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’
We have missed the purpose of the parable for the push to fill the house. We have taken the word compel out of context and defined it in modern terms to mean bribe into relationships instead of building relationships.
We compel by our compassion, commitment, and authenticity, not by growth strategies and campaigns. Church planting is not about growing larger churches, but about reaching those who are lost, disenfranchised, and without hope.
Do not get me wrong, an attractive atmosphere for guests to have a great worship experience is good, however; it cannot be the focus. Church planting is not a business – it is a call. Our goal should not be to have a large church, but to have an effective church.
People are drawn to authentic and personal relationships, not strategies and gimmicks. Growth is not a formula, but a fulfillment to faithfully serve those who need to hear the greatest story ever told about Jesus.
When Jesus fed the 5,000 in Matthew 14:13-21, do you think that he set out to have that many follow him? Do you think Jesus intended to have a massive following at the start of his ministry? In fact, it was the total opposite, but the people followed him and because of his compassion and authentic desire to care for the people, they stayed.
Jesus was first concerned and moved by their emotional and physical needs, not by the number that was following. Too often, we focus on the growth strategy of the 5,000 to come instead of caring for the need of the multitude of those already around us.
I’ve found some key principles to help me stay focused on the growth strategy of people instead of remaining in the rat race of church numerical growth.
- God did not call us to grow, God called us to serve. (Matt. 20:26-28)
- Remember the strategy of Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing but through prayer and supplication making our requests known to God.”
- God did not call us to build larger churches (small c) but He has called us to build healthy Churches (Big C). (John 21:15-17)
- Our motives have to be genuine. We have to be honest and answer the “Why?”. Why do I really want to grow? Is it with the purpose in mind and desire that none should perish (2 Pt. 3:9), or is it personal? Is it for status? Is it for bragging rights to have a large church or is it really to further the kingdom of God? Does size really matter? Can I be as effective with 12, or do I need 112, or 1,200?
- We have to be careful not to lose focus of God for the focus of people. Our hearts have to be pure. (Matt. 15:7)
- Do you set out to plant a church to make it big or do you set out to plant a church to make it effective? (Matt. 16:18) Jesus said to Peter “… I will build my church,” the pressure is off.
- The key to a healthy growing church, it is not built by man’s hands but it is built on the principal and the promise of (John 12:32) “if I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto myself.”
- Do we enter expecting exponential growth? We have to be faithful to this principle, “be faithful over a few things and I will make you ruler over many.”(Matthew 25:23)
- Strategies are fine, but that cannot be our focus. Our hearts need to be for the growth of lost and disconnected people and not seeking to use the people for our desire of personal satisfaction of growth. The strategy is compassion. (Matthew 9:36 & 14:14, Mark 1:41
- We are called to feed and not fleece. (John 21:15) “Peter do you love me more than these, then feed my sheep.”
It is important to remember, God will use what He has given you to reach the ones He desires for you to reach. Just like there is someone for everyone; there is a person desiring the church that God has fitted you with for this time.
Everything is in God’s timing and for His purpose. When growth becomes your focus, and you are not driven by having the passion for the people, then you are a shepherd of hire instead of a shepherd of heart (John 10:12). We have to be careful that we do not become about the business of the church instead of being about our Father’s business.
The effectiveness of a successful and viable church planter is to remember that we have to allow the process to work in His timing, instead of us trying to work it in our timing. Churches who build on a solid foundation will experience exponential transformation that will lead to kingdom
Church growth. Proverbs 16:9 remind us “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” This will give you the Peace from breaking the number barrier.
Richard Bumpers is a Pastor at Park Place Baptist Church in Snellville, a church replant with the North American Mission Board. Bumpers is also an instructor and development director for Point University. Most importantly he is a husband and a father of two daughters. The Gwinnett County pastor has a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary.