People spend a lot of time in church world thinking about how to grow the church. They (we) do that because it’s what Jesus wanted us to do and because, according to the data, the church is shrinking. If the trend continues, approximately half of our American churches won’t add a single person through conversion this year. I read this in Jen Hatmaker’s book Interupted today: “In America, it takes the combined effort of 85 Christians working an entire year to produce one convert.” That’s bleak.
Lots of people have theories about how to grow the church, which worship elements to update, how to redesign your building, who to hire. Some of those discussions are helpful. Some not so much. What’s not helpful at all are the many, many people who’ve given up, who’ve looked at the problem and decided, “I can’t do anything about that.”
That’s not helpful because it’s wrong. There is something you can do. Churches can grow. Having watched growing churches in action and being a part of one myself, I’m certain there’s a solution.
It won’t result in everybody coming to church—that’s not really God’s expectation. It will result in churches living into their full potential. “Growing the church” (in other words “connecting people to Christ through community”) isn’t brain surgery. It’s actually pretty simple. Hard to do, sure. But not hard to figure out.
Over the 35 years I’ve been a Christian and 15 years I’ve been in ministry I have witnessed lots of people coming to faith or returning to faith. In almost every case they had one primary reason for “coming to church.” This:
They met someone, developed a relationship with that someone, and eventually that someone either studied the Bible with them or invited them to church.
That, friends, is the “magic formula.”
1. Live like Jesus.
2. Get out and meet people who don’t know Jesus.
3. When people ask about your weird but wonderful Jesus-y life, tell them about Jesus and bring them to His church.
Growing our churches will happen when our members take the Christian way of life seriously. When they lean in so far they begin to be transformed into the image of Christ. When they start making strange and lovely choices about what to do with their time and money. When they treat people with a glowing kindness and compassion. When they’re selfless and humble, full of joy and abundant life—so much that the people around them take note.
Growing our churches will happen when our members intentionally pursue relationships with people who don’t know God. When they make awkward breakroom conversation, hoping to connect with someone who needs to be connected with Christ. When they learn the names of the baristas at their local coffee shop and ask questions about their lives. When they meet and get to know their neighbors. When they stay in touch with relatives who’ve lost faith. Growing the church will happen when we love the people who aren’t in it.
Too, growing our churches will happen when we realize everyone we know loves Jesus and decide that’s not OK. Growing our churches will happen when Christians at big churches in over-churched places pick up and move, carrying light and love with them.
And growing our churches will happen when we’re not ashamed to invite the people who ask questions to our church. When we welcome outsiders into our midst. When we make a place for them and translate our church-speak for them and preach like they’re in the room. Growing our churches will happen when we welcome our friends into a community we know and love.
This isn’t easy to DO, as easy as it may be to say. For my family it takes constant realignment of priorities. Just this week I sat down and made a list of the people I know who need Jesus and another list of what I’m doing to make the introduction. I decided I didn’t have enough people on the first list or enough action on the second. So, I’m joining a meetup group for writers in my community to meet more people. And I’m amping up my mentoring efforts at a local high-needs school.
I want to be about the work of kingdom-growing.
As you know, God is the one who grows kingdoms, but He welcomes us into the work. He expects it of us, really. And that’s OK because it’s good, fulfilling, exciting, joy-bringing work.
To be clear, even if you are living in a super Jesus-y way, not everyone you meet will ask you about Jesus. And not everyone who asks you about Jesus will want to study or go to church with you. And not everyone who studies or comes to church will become a follower.
No one will become a follower if we don’t follow the magic formula:
Live like Jesus.
Get to know people who don’t know Jesus.
And make an introduction.
Today I’m praying for a church-wide renewal in our commitment to live like Christ. I’m praying for growing, meaningful relationships between people who love Jesus and people who don’t. And I’m praying for open church doors, members and leaders eager to welcome the new, curious and uninitiated.