01 – Why Churches Grow (and many do not)

We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.  (Ps. 100:3)

Over the past 25 years that I have served with the Institute for Nouthetic Studies I have been in over 100 churches and have talked with over 1,000 pastors. Many of those churches were growing and exciting ministries but a number were discouraged and declining places. Because pastors don’t often call to tell me how great things are going, most of my phone conversations have been with pastors who were discouraged or seeking help with problem situations in their church. While there are unique dynamics at work in each church one can see obvious commonalities in the churches that are prospering as well as in those that are in decline.

The greatest change coming our way soon is the calling of a new pastor. The decision we make will be the single most important factor in how well our church prospers in the years to come. As we look forward to calling this man I want to use the next several blog posts to offer some suggestions about how to approach this decision.

First, however, I want to answer the title question—why do churches prosper? One of the most common pictures of Christ and His church is that of a Shepherd and his sheep. It is a powerful and instructive metaphor. Healthy sheep reproduce, sickly sheep do not. Sheep that are robust and well-fed cannot be kept from reproducing. They do so naturally, prolifically, and regularly. The shepherd does not have to cajole them into reproducing and lecture them about the need to grow. It is something healthy sheep take joy in doing.

Growing, prospering churches are characterized by people who are well-fed and nourished from the pulpit. They have moved on from consuming basic milk and easily digestible baby food to the solid meat of the Word. The Word is ministered in helpful and practical ways each Sunday and believers leave the services mindful that they have heard from God and have been helped in their daily walk. When they converse during the week conversations are as likely to focus on what they are learning through the ministry of the church as they are about their jobs, children, and hobbies.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.    (Heb. 5:12-14)

There is much we will need to know about the man who is presented to us as a candidate. But the single most important question we have to have answered is this—can this man handle the Word of God with skill in the pulpit? He will be responsible to feed Christ’s flock at Calvary. Is he up to that task?


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