Moving Your Church Through Growth Barriers (1)
You probably heard it said, “Starting the job is half done.” Some might take issue with this maxim arguing that it takes a whole lot more that simply starting something to get it done. That might be true. But there is much truth in this saying. I am writing this article whilst in one of the largest aircrafts in the world, an Airbus A380-800. Engineers will tell you that it takes a lot more energy to get this huge jet up in the air than to keep it flying at high altitude. The thrust required from those massive four engines to lift this flying mammoth with its cargo of 600 passengers and their luggage is immense. Once up to a cruising altitude of 13 km, provided there is little headwinds, a much reduced thrust is required. This large bird of a machine can glide on the air currents flowing above and below its massive wings.
The same is true with the typical vehicle. It takes a lot of petrol to get it moving, but once it is moving, it rolls along quite nicely with a far less fuel consumption. I have found this to be true in church ministry as well. From writing a sermon, doing a pastoral visit with a family, or giving a talk at a youth group meeting – once you start, the rest seems to flow quite easily. You just got to get moving.
In church life, the thinking, planning, detailing, and yes, praying, all have an important place. But the task never gets done until someone begins to do act. I do a lot of survey work with churches to gauge church health. When the survey results come in, the key for me is to get the church to do something – in fact, anything. “Take some initiative,” I tell them. “But,” they say to me. “How do we know we are doing the right thing? Should we not do some more research? Do some more planning?” My advice to them is simply to start doing something. Even if it turns out to be the wrong thing, or the initiative that produces little or no positive outcomes. At least they know what they should not be doing. It is easier to steer in a new direction something that is moving than get something moving from a standstill.
It’s always easier to do nothing, to not take on a new task, or a new initiative. Action produces some level of change and that creates discomfort – even pain. Action causes a reaction. There is friction to contend with. So rather than starting something new, churches default to following another maxim: “Don’t rock the boat.” Let the church keep sailing on as it always has done.
But we face choice points when we read and listen to what the Bible teaches, what Jesus commanded. For example, we read the missional imperative: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20) Or we read the missional indicative Jesus talked about just prior to his ascension into heaven: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Reading these words, among other parallel passages, we face a choice point. Will we do what Jesus commands? Will we be what Jesus describes us to be? Will there be action or inertia?
We read the Bible talk about reaching out with the gospel, of becoming all things to all people so that by all possible means we might be able to save some. We hear sermons on evangelism and the importance of penetrating our secular culture with the life transforming Word of God. We hear about opportunities to reach people experiencing real need, both locally and globally. We hear the call to actively support the effort to grow and plant churches. As a Christian Reformed denomination in Australia (CRCA) we have been telling people that we are to be “a church reforming to reach the lost for Christ.” Christians agree but they seldom take action. They take the easy road of inertia. Doing nothing.
How long would it take to win the whole world to Christ if every Christian won just one person to Christ each year? How many people would visit the church if every member invited just one person to a Sunday worship service each month? How many disciples would be multiplied if every Christ follower would invest in one other person who is exploring or beginning to mature in their faith? How many needs would be met if every Christian helped just one person a year? These questions have profound possibilities! But they requires action – and not just action by a few but by the many!
Action should more than just activity! This needs to be said. Many times we hear people talk about being so busy. But busy with what? Is their busyness producing spiritual fruit? Or is just being busy. Action needs to be growth-producing activity. What actions will bring people to church, to a living relationship with Christ, to spiritual maturity? Churches need to wrestle with this! There might be lots of activities in the church, but are these activities bearing fruit?
Too many churches never move through growth barriers simply because there is lack of growth-producing action. They are very few conversions. Very few baptisms. Very few new disciples. Little or no numerical growth. Why? It is because there is a lack of action. Inertia is the cause. The solution is simply this: do something! Anything! Measure the fruit. Is it producing gospel fruit? Then keep doing it. If it isn’t, try something else. Churches just need to get moving! Moving with growth-producing action!
Now it is true that even all our best intentions and most faithful activities and inventive initiatives might still not produce many converts, or bring about transformation among those to whom we are witnessing. There are enough accounts of faithful missionaries who have tirelessly worked for years, if not lifetimes, and saw little gospel bearing fruit. But this was not a result of inactivity. This was a result of extremely hard soil that only many years later saw the gospel take root. Some plant the seed. Others water. But it is God who gives the growth. But the seed was being liberally scattered and others were busy pouring on buckets of water. Hardly inertia.
Perhaps you have read the Bible and you have an awareness that something needs to change in your church to get it to engage in missional momentum. As church leaders and congregation you hear the call of the gospel to make disciples of all nations. And when you don’t see conversion growth and transformed communities – you know that something needs to change in your church to get it moving. But momentum will not really occur until you have the belief that God can and will transform your church. What you really need is an increase of faith. Like the disciples of Jesus you need to ask God for more faith. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6) Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “Oh you should not be asking for this.” He didn’t scold them for making this request. This is what we should be praying. We need to ask Jesus for mountain moving faith – faith that God is able to use us for the glory of his name and the expansion of the gospel.
In addition to asking for an increase of faith, read the stories about faith that is found through the Bible. For example, the apostle Paul testifies how “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6) Words like that should inspire us into action. Read about faith in faith-inspiring books. Read the stories of great churches or missionaries that were used by God to reach many. I remember as a young boy, not yet a teenager, reading about William Grenville and how he reached the people in Labrador, Canada with the gospel – and all he had was a dog-sled. And I know in those early days my faith was being inspired and altered the direction of my life. Look for examples of mountain moving faith. Listen to people of great faith.
And then demonstrate your faith by works. As James reminds us, “Faith without deeds is useless.” (James 2:20) Move out in the confidence that God will transform your church and the world – no matter what challenges might lie ahead. For crises will come from the changes that happen. But you are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the lost for Christ. Faith inspires you to action. And you take your first steps and the missional journey has begun. Seeds are scattered, and watered, and by God’s grace and power they spring to life! And growth results!
 See 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
 See 1 Corinthians 3:6
 Read Jesus’ parable of the growing seed in Mark 4:26-29 and hear Jesus remind us that whilst we prepare the soil and plant the gospel seed, there are other forces beyond us that cause the seed to grow “all by itself.”