Some Christians prefer a large church, some prefer a small church, but all Christians prefer a growing church. The question is: how do we grow a church? Specifically, how can you help grow your church?
Our timelines are filled with conferences, books and coaches that will answer the question for four easy payments of $19.99. Some will tell you the key is to design your church for young families, others will tell you the answer is crafting everything you do with hip singles in mind. Some groups claim the key to church growth is in preaching for the Christians in the audience and others say the proper aim is the non-Christian. On the same day you can be told that only faithfully preaching the gospel will grow your church (without respect to felt needs) and that preaching to the felt needs of your community (above any particular theological emphasis) is the essential ingredient.
In other words, the experts don't agree on how you can grow your church.
But it doesn't matter.
Because the fact is, God has already answered the question for us in Ephesians 4:11-13.
"And he [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..."
According to this passage, the key to church growth is that both church leaders and church members play the position God put them in. If we do this, we are assured spiritual growth, which is the cause of healthy and lasting numerical growth.
Church leaders: you are called to play the position God placed you in by equipping the members of the church to do the works of ministry both inside and outside the church. Let's be honest and acknowledge this is very different from what American church culture teaches us to expect from our leaders. We want our leaders to play the role of friend, psychologist, dynamic preacher, business manager, advice-dispenser, and marketing director while being always available and, in the midst of fulfilling all these responsibilities, somehow endlessly taking the initiative to pursue us.
American church culture has trained us to expect everything from our leaders except the one thing that God expects from our leaders: that they train us to do the ministry. Unfortunately, the more time leaders spend on trying to meet member expectations, the less time leaders have to fulfill God's expectations. Likewise, members must know that if a pastor chooses to play the position God has drafted him to play, he will no longer be able to play the position the average member demands. Much like a Major League pitcher suffers at the plate precisely because he invests his every waking moment at excelling as a pitcher, a pastor can either excel at the role God calls him to or at that which the members expect of him. It is impossible to do both. Just as a baseball team can only grow to its potential when its pitchers are willing to sacrifice their hitting ability to focus on what the team most needs from them, the church grows to its full potential when its leaders choose to sacrifice their ability to meet the demands of American church culture, in order to do what will best serve the church: play the role God gave them to play.
Likewise, the members of the church have been appointed by God to play their position as well. Members: you are called by God to do the works of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). This is very different from how we think about ministry. We call the pastors our "ministers." And when we have issues requiring attention, counsel, prayer, mediation, bible knowledge, etc., we call on the pastor to take care of them. But God says that's not the pastor's position to play. The pastor is to equip for ministry, the church members are to do the ministry. In this regard, the pastor is similar to a personal trainer. He does not do the work for you, he gives you the tools and encouragement to do the work yourself. Just as you won't grow stronger if your personal trainer lifts the weights for you, the church won't grow stronger as long as the leaders lift the weight of ministry for the members. Yet you ought not hear this as a burden, but as a blessing. God put you in this position precisely because you can play it (by his grace and power) and produce the growth you desire to see.
You have never seen a 300 pound center trying to run a wide receiver's routes, nor a 180 pound quarterback trying to block a 300 pound tackle. This is because the players on a football team (in my humble opinion, God's least favorite sport) know the position they have been put in the game to play. They also know their team can only win when each player plays the position they were drafted to play. Unfortunately, in the church, we are in the habit of doing exactly what football players refuse to do. We reverse positions and have pastors doing the work of ministry and members equipping them by providing money, requests and unsolicited advice.
If we want our churches to grow, this has to stop. Both leaders and members alike must reject the traditional roles our American church culture has assigned and embrace the positions God has called them to play. Though this is difficult, the good news is that we are promised that "when each part is working properly" Jesus -- not us -- will "make the body grow." But don't take my word for it:
"[Jesus] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16, ESV).
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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook.