Five years ago, Grace Hills Church was made up of about 35 of us. Last year, our final year meeting in a movie theater, we had an average worship attendance of about 240. And since moving into our current location in January of this year, that average has been 385 with over 400 in five out of the last seven weeks. In November, we’re adding a third morning worship service to accommodate the growth.
Here’s the disclaimer you knew was coming…numbers aren’t everything, as I’ll explain in a moment, but numbers can show us things. As Ed Stetzer likes to say, “Facts are our friends.” Outreach Magazine just released its annual list of the nation’s largest and fastest growing churches. Among the fastest growing, the highest rates of growth range from 48 percent to 187 percent. Grace Hills’ rate of growth in the last 12 months has been 60 percent. In that time, we’ve seen 35 people baptized while also launching a daughter church in a neighboring town (and we’re developing two more planters now who will be sent out next summer).
Even as we grow, I’m being cautious. We’re walking carefully through each next step. Here are five big words of wisdom, of caution and of encouragement to a growing church.
1. Rejoice and give God praise.
It is God’s Kingdom, not ours, that is expanding. We may work hard and dream big, but every single spiritual change we see in the lives of people is completely and entirely a work of God. The Spirit of God is powerful to transform lives through the truth of God’s Word, and we’re watching that happen. So praise Jesus!
2. Pray for protection from the enemy.
We know that Satan is hard at work, blinding the minds of those who don’t yet know the Gospel by experience. He’ll do anything to wreck and ruin a movement of God. So pray for the protection we need from his ferocity, for the families of our staff and leaders, for our integrity, our humility, and for our transparency.
Satan loves a good scandal, and he’d love to lead one of us to moral failure, to burn us out with busyness or to sow seeds of discord among his people. Pray for God’s protection so that we continue to walk with a growing character and Christlikeness.
3. Stay humble.
Pride always precedes a fall. Pride makes us get comfortable in yesterday’s success. Pride makes praise the prize. And pride deceives us into thinking that we actually have the ability within ourselves to achieve success.
But we need help. We need God. We can’t do this without him. We can’t do this without growing internally and personally, and that personal, spiritual growth only happens as we get low and humble ourselves before God’s throne, depending completely and entirely on his strength and power.
4. Stay relational.
It is always easier to shift from relational ministry to the mass distribution of the Gospel. But the good, good story of Jesus always travels best from one person to the next. Keep focusing on the next one who needs Jesus, the next one who needs to get connected with other believers, the next one who needs recovery or counseling, the next one who needs discipleship. Keep reaching out with an invitation to the next one who needs a ministry in the church and a mission in the world.
I believe a large part of our growth is merely the result of fighting to stay healthy and balanced as a purpose driven church. We have to keep the discipleship pathway clear and simple.
5. Keep going.
Focus forward. We often revel in all of our past successes in preparation for our own funerals. But life is just beginning for this movement. We need to keep our eyes on what is next as we pursue the heart of God. We have to keep taking risks, making waves and claiming new territory for the Kingdom’s sake. We have to maintain a strong work ethic, a creative vitality and an ever-deepening compassion for the least, the last and the lost all around us.
I’m so thankful for the church to which Angie and I get to belong. You are family to us, and our hearts ache to see all of us “growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT).