There’s something amazing and terrifying about planting a church. I remember having trouble sleeping the night before Velocity began- terrified that no one would show up the next morning. I was pleased to find that people did and the church slowly grew. But, as the years wore on and the church became self-sufficient, I remember lead pastor Scott and I revisiting some of the principles that helped the church grow in the beginning. We would say things like, “Remember how desperate and hungry we were in the beginning”? These discussions were used to spur on areas of growth for the church. I believe these same principles can help anyone looking to grow their church. So, I’d like to share 3 things I learned about what it takes to grow a church, from helping plant a church.
1. Be Desperate
It’s easy to feel desperate when your house is hanging off a cliff. When you’re back is up against the wall and you’re fighting for survival, you’ll do anything to survive. Before Velocity began Scott and I had no idea if this church would make it or if people would attend our first Sunday. So, we served our brains out before the church began. If there was a city-wide event, we were there painting faces. We shoveled people’s driveways during the winter, were at every event in the spring, and out serving during the summer. We were desperate! We liked to say that people didn’t come to the church on accident, we bit, scratched, fought hard for every single person who came through our doors- through our presence in the city.
But, as a church grows, it’s easy to feel more comfortable. When your church, instead of hanging off a cliff, is sitting a comfortable ways from the cliff, suddenly you’re enjoying the view instead of fighting for your life. But, if you are really looking for your church to grow- it will take some desperation and fight. You have to go after it with all your heart. Growth doesn’t happen on accident, it builds from a passionate pursuit.
2. Growth Will Cost You
Before Velocity began, Scott made it perfectly clear to our core team that our church was built for people far from God. We will love God as mature believers by having the same heart of Jesus in caring for and serving those who feel far from Him. When our church began, it cost our volunteers. Some served in the kids almost every Sunday. Some greeted or served communion every single Sunday. Also, instead of talking to our friends on a Sunday morning, or sitting where we’re more comfortable sitting, we had to do things that were uncomfortable- starting conversations with people we didn’t know and sitting somewhere slightly uncomfortable.
As a church grows, it’s easy to forget that growth costs us. We may be enjoying the fruits of other people’s labor, but easily forget the cost. We may want our church to grow, but we don’t want it to cost us anything. We want to talk with our friends on a Sunday morning. We only want to serve when it’s convenient to us- which is sometimes never. We don’t want church growth to upset the ebb and flow of the church we’re enjoying.
If you are serious about your church growing, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. It’s hard, it takes time and sacrifice and blood and sweat and tears. It’s not healthy to push people like this forever, but if your church is considering a time of growth, then prepare people for the sacrifice it takes.
3. Ownership Matters
Church growth is everyone’s concern, not just “the church’s” or the lead pastor’s. When our church plant began, Scott told our first few small groups and launch team that they had to invite people to church. This wasn’t a fun exercise, or joke, this was birthed out of two things. First, a deep passion for people who are far from God to get connected to their heavenly father, but also out of desperate for the church to grow for survival. Evangelism is why our church began, it was the heart beat of what we were trying to do. But, also on a practical level, we made sure that everyone knew that this wasn’t just the lead pastor’s thing, it was everyone’s thing. Everyone had a responsibility to bring someone. There was a shared responsibility in bringing people far from God and growing the church.
As a church grows, this is easy to forget. The bigger a church gets, it can trust more on slick marketing and a good name, than a personal invite. So, if a church is going to grow, every individual in the church needs to know it’s their personal responsibility, not “the church’s”. They personally need to get involved in praying for their neighbors and inviting them to church. There’s really no other way around it- if a church wants to grow, then every individual in the church needs to take responsibility to care about people far from God and invite them to church.
Growth doesn’t happen on accident. A church looking to grow should count the cost and be willing to make the sacrifice before determining that they want to grow. Also, a church should be honest with themselves. If you are not trying to grow, then don’t say that you are. People will not attend church today because your church merely exists. The only way they’ll come is if you go to them and invite them. It takes time, love, and sacrifice. So, like Jesus told the church at Ephesus in Revelations, “Do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).