Practical principles for growing a congregation and being a transformational leader.
There is sometimes a real tension between biblical theology and some of the pragmatics promoted by proponents of Church growth. But there can also be a false dichotomy created between them, particularly by those who do not understand the difference between ministry and leadership.(1) To plant a new church successfully requires not only ministry by a godly and biblically-grounded person but also ministry by a leader with a certain set of gifts and abilities. It is also true that to renew and grow a small church in serious decline requires not only ministry by a godly and biblically-grounded person but also ministry by a transformational leader: someone who has acquired or will learn particular skills and is able to initiate a particular process.
If a leader wants their church to grow what do they do? Where do they start? Well there are no simple pre-packaged solutions but here is a set of principles to follow:
The leader has to accept responsibility and be accountable for growth or decline.
The ministry must be grounded in the Word of God and prayer. Preaching and teaching needs to be based in systematic teaching from the Bible that is life related.
The leader needs to set a plan of preaching that covers the key theological and ministry ideas that will underpin the new values and directions in which they want the congregation to head. Prior teaching should underpin all significant changes.
The leader must have a passion for and conviction about mission and evangelism and it must be a top priority.
If the leader has inherited a culture of decline, complacency, inwardness and lack of spiritual depth then they will need to initiate change. To grow requires change and change requires intervention. The leader will have to take initiative to change the culture, the shape and the practice of ministry in the congregation.
The leader needs to develop a vision and a practical and realistic plan of how to achieve the goals.
The leader must follow a constructive change process and carry the majority of people with them. This will take time. (2)
As well as understanding the culture and dynamics of the congregation the leader must recognize that every context is unique and so they will need to study and understand the culture of the region in which the congregation is set.
Work out who your target group/s will be. Unless you shape your style and approach to the target group's culture you will not connect with new people.
If the congregation is small and inward looking the leader will be the one who at first links and adds most new people to the congregation.
The leader must be focused on assimilating and incorporating visitors and new people. This will be among their highest priorities in the first few years of congregational renewal; they will expend a lot of relational energy on this task.
If the committed core of the congregation is very small, elderly, spiritually immature or Biblically illiterate an early goal for the leader will be intentionally building a new core of lay leaders.
Build small groups or home groups. If there are no small groups the leader will have to start and run the first group. They will then train an apprentice leader to take over the first group while they start up another group. The leader will repeat this pattern for some time till a significant number of groups have been established.
If the congregation wants to attract and hold young families the leader will need to quickly develop children's and junior high youth ministry. This may be the area for the first part time paid or unpaid staff person they appoint.
In declining congregations the quality of the Sunday service will usually need to improve. The music, the teaching / preaching and the general preparation will need to go up several levels. The leader needs to ask themselves "what are the cringe factors here for new people and how can I eliminate them?" Post service welcoming will also need to become well organized.
The leader will need to create new bridge or interface groups between the church and non churched people like Play Groups, 12 Step programs, Alpha or Introducing God courses, etc..
Work on gradually building a ministry team. At first this may be mostly if not all volunteers.
Create events and programs that build a sense of community.
(1) See "The Empowered Church" by Ian Jagelman (Open Book)
(2) See " Change and the Church" by Peter Corney (Aquila press)
Peter Corney is retired but still active in ministry as a church consultant and in leadership training.