What are the common characteristics of growing churches?

A recent report on church growth and decline could prove to be a treasure trove for leaders seeking both facts and ideas.

Kirk Hadaway, chief statistician and researcher with the Episcopal Church, compiles dozens of contributing factors in the piece, and Victoria Heard, head of church planting and congregational development for the Diocese of Dallas, has
done an excellent job crystallizing his work down to what she considers the essentials. Heard assumes first a “robust proclamation” of the Nicene Creed,  and then presents a six-pack of fundamentals. 

1. A kingdom road map

2. The children go up front

3. Sunday school still works

4. A culture of learning for adults

5. Hospitality that counts

6. Add a service, stir up the sound

You can link to her excellent and challenging full article here.

No shortcuts or quick-fixes, but still: JOY in the journey

Who of us in today’s society doesn't hope for that quick-fix—the seminar, the experience, the program—to instantly solve problems, relieve stress and strain?

God’s ways, as usual, prove different and well, more stable. As obsessed as we are with speed, God knows that deep-rootedness, strength and stability can only happen gradually and with care. Real maturity can never result from a single experience, no matter how powerful or moving. By tests and trials we grow and learn.

Jesus took 30 years to reach the maturity required to enter ministry and ultimately fulfill his reason for being born. Even his overt ministry of several years of teaching and healing, while full of joy and strength, also entailed battles and struggles on a cosmic scale.

Accepting his life into ours, believing the truth of his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, understanding that he now “is at the right hand of God ... interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34)—that forms our initial and often instantaneous catapulting into Kingdom life.

From then on, though, each of us is on an individually-tailored growth program to best enable us to fulfill our own purposes for being born ... which will involve not only our own development, but, as we learn how best to fit into His plans, betterment in our entire spheres of influence.

To quote from Rick Warren’s best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life:

"The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by His purpose and for His purpose.” 

So while seminars and seminal experiences of God’s sovereignty often do help promote our moving closer to God’s purposes for our lives, the journey brightens and strengthens best when we keep our focus on Him and His purposes alone. This section from Hebrews in Eugene Peterson’s The Message puts it so well:

"God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn't punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.” Heb. 12:9-11)

While Christlikeness is our eventual destination, the journey lasts a lifetime. “And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” (2 Cor. 3:18, The Message)

Further, deeper and perhaps most wondrous, we're to find JOY in the journey!

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)

Painting courtesy of  Ineke Hopgood ,  a prophetic artist based in Bryon Bay, Australia;   inspired by message "The God of Comfort" by Phil Mason

Painting courtesy of Ineke Hopgood,  a prophetic artist based in Bryon Bay, Australia;   inspired by message "The God of Comfort" by Phil Mason

Revival: Is simple desperation enough?

So many of us pray for, talk about and hope for revival … but what does the concept mean to you, or for you or your community?

We hear stories from history of the great Welsh revival with Evan Roberts, or the Great Awakening with Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards. Modern-day missionaries tell of amazing moves of God in otherwise miserable places such as, for example, Mozambique.

Obviously a key ingredient is to have a felt need to be revived. If we’re comfortable where we are, who or what needs reviving?

The first time this idea whacked me was while listening to the stories of a friend working with Open Doors with Brother Andrew. In visiting difficult areas of the world, he had been struck by the fact of capital-L Christian Life thriving in areas where Christians live (and often die) under severe persecution.

Kevin Turner has me agonizing again over my—our—comfortable little worlds with a powerful article in this month's Charisma Magazine (see below for link*). An evangelist ministering primarily in regions of the globe where the gospel is restricted, Turner reminds us with first-person authority and passion of the too-prevalent sad fact of lack of Life in the Christian comfort zone.

While he addresses the American Church in particular, his points and questions obviously apply for most western churches.

"How is it that God can visit a mud hut in the middle of Africa yet bypass the comfortable sanctuaries we created for Him in our country? ...  Why are other nations experiencing revival and we aren't? Could it be that calamity clarifies while comfort confuses? Calamity is an excellent teacher. It shows us in an instant what is truly important. Our materialism leaves us content without God.”

Turner sees real life and growth in the churches of devastated areas of the world, and like my friend and many others, identifies desperation as the key to revival.

Certainly it is of critical importance, but who among us would invite calamity even with the promise of a magnificent move of God? We can feel desperate for many reasons, and any one of them can be enough to have us begging God for relief. For the affluent westerner it may well be an anguished cry of: “Is that all there is?”

Still, turning to God in desperation, alone, isn’t enough for genuine growth (a by-product of revival, after all) to happen. After Jesus tells us that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, he says, in what we’ve come to call The Great Commission:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 18-20)

They not only help identify felt needs and so ‘catch the fish’, but help clean them up, train them, and release them—revived—into their own spheres of influence to do the same. Neither comfortable Christians nor simple converts can create or even enable revival, but desperate disciples can and do. So to my mind, the 'equation' might become:
Desperation + Discipleship = Revival

* Why Isn't the American Church Experiencing Revival? by Kevin Turner, in Charisma