Moving from a small mentality to a big, growing mentality

November 11th, 2014

This is a follow-up to last week’s article, “Can we stop making excuses for small churches?” My intention for writing that was not to suggest that churches of smaller size do not matter (they most certainly do) but to say that any church of any size that isn’t seeing growth is “small” when God wants us “big.” I don’t want to settle for anything less than a church that is flourishing. It is the Body of Christ, and I see it as a serious problem if that body is not growing – not only in deep ways (spiritually maturing) but also wide (numerically).

We count people because people count. I believe the church is God’s hope for the world, therefore, if it is not seeing an increase in size then it means people are dying without Jesus. This should be unacceptable to those of us called out of darkness and into God’s glorious light.

Why is it that in any other venue of life we would not tolerate stasis or, worse yet, regression? If the CEO of Apple showed zero numerical growth over the last several years (to say nothing of drastic decreases) but argued that his employees are all very happy, doing lots and lots of continuing education, therefore everyone is “healthy,” we would look at him like he’s got two heads. Yet this is precisely what we do all the time in our churches. While it is certainly true that the health of a church has much more to do with numbers it is not true that numbers do not matter.

Where would any of us be today if the 11 apostles who witnessed Christ’s ascension contented themselves with their small house church gathering and did not replicate themselves? Would Christianity exist today if the early church performed like the great majority of modern-day American churches? I don’t believe so. And this ought to unsettle us. It ought to upset us. It ought to convict us.

I don't believe God is pleased with our Sunday gatherings when they aren't generative in nature. If we appease ourselves and our lack of growth by telling each other that the most important thing is a “healthy church” full of “maturing disciples” than I have to ask: What is the measure of a maturing, healthy disciple? Would not such a measurement include, at the very least, obedience to Christ’s command to go into the world and make more disciples? Or is the Great Commission merely the Great Suggestion?

If the church I'm blessed to serve sees not a single profession of faith, nor a single baptism, nor a single life transformed then I will have to conclude that I have been ineffective in my mandate to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). And I cannot forget John Wesley’s mandate to his pastors: “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.”

Christian, let me ask you: How many souls have been saved because God saved you?

I am convinced of this: Our faithfulness will lead to fruitfulness. I want to be the sort of Christian who takes God at his word that if I am planting seed and watering seed, God will make it grow (1 Cor. 3:6-9). If I am not seeing growth in my service and or ministry than it is not God’s fault, it is mine. Perhaps I need to take a look inside my own heart and ask God to reveal what needs to change — how can I better plant and cultivate — so that God can do his part in bringing the increase. I need to ask: Is this a place God would send his lost sons and daughters? Would God trust his children into my care? Am I pursuing righteousness, falling more in love with God and my neighbor, so that I have something to offer those whom God is wooing when they show up on Sunday?

So allow me to share three things that I believe have helped both me and our congregation move from a small mentality to a big, growing mentality over the past year.

Develop a holy discontent. I believe God’s heart breaks over the lost. Like Jesus weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus, or crying out over Jerusalem with longing to gather them in like a mother hen gathers her chicks. God is the Hound of Heaven who does not sleep and will not rest till every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord.

We must develop a heart like God’s which breaks for the lost in our communities. Like the psalmist who cried, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136) we must weep. When was the last time you cried over the least, the last, the lost and the lonely in your neighborhood? Ask God to give you tears for them.

Pray. Two prayers (both I attribute to Jorge Acevedo, pastor at Grace Church in Florida) have changed my heart, and, as I have encouraged my church to pray them with me, have changed our focus. The first is to ask God to send us the people nobody wants or sees. That’s the prayer, but when I first introduced it to our church I confessed that there are times I don’t want the people nobody wants or sees! So I needed to first pray, “Lord, make me the kind of person who wants the people nobody else wants or sees.” Because let’s be honest. Many churches are not growing today because we have simply forgotten (or perhaps have yet to really know) the great mercy and grace God lavished upon us and over time we have grown callous and blind towards a hurting, broken world around us.

The second prayer is taken from Matthew 9:37-38, where Jesus describes the harvest as plentiful — there are plenty who need Jesus all around us! — therefore, he commands, pray earnestly — fervently — for laborers who will rise up and bring in the harvest. The word for “earnestly pray” which Jesus uses is δέομαι, which has with it the sense to “beseech, to feel a pressing need for due to lack, to make an urgent appeal.” This is related to developing a holy discontent over the state of things-as-they-are.

My church has been led to set the alarm clock on their phones to 9:38 (corresponding to the verse, Matt. 9:38) so that every day when that alarm goes off we are reminded to make urgent appeals to God for laborers to bring in the harvest. As long as there are people in our communities who do not know Jesus — as long as the harvest is still ripe for harvesting — how can we be content when our churches never or rarely see a new face in their midst?

Expect transformation to occur. When our hearts are breaking along with God’s for the lost in the world, when we are praying for God to change us into the kind of people who can love without limits or judgment and work tirelessly to bring in his harvest, expect God to fill his church! Expect God to answer!

About six months ago we began opening every worship service with this welcome: “If this is your first time with us today, welcome! Here at Mountain View we believe God is changing lives!” And the whole church erupts in a cheer. Every week. I have witnessed how this practice is cultivating an expectation among us that God is saving souls and setting captives free and healing marriages and restoring families and breaking the chains of addiction and giving hope to the hopeless. We expect new people to come through our doors every Sunday and we expect their lives to be impacted by the risen King Jesus.

Nothing worth doing happens overnight, nor without great cost. But may we be found faithful in desiring to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and may that kingdom know nothing of small but of that which is greater than any of us can think or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

To God be the glory. 

Chad Holtz blogs at UMC Holiness.

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