Growing a healthy church, part 2

Four basic dimensions for effective church growth.

John Grys is director of Advent House and editor of the forthcoming Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, Knoxville, Tennessee
Greg Schaller, D.Min., is pastor of the Kent Seventh-day Adventist Church, Covington, Washington, United States.

Life and ministry have something in common. There is the frustration at times that what I am doing doesn't seem to make a difference. I seem to cast seeds only to watch them die. In the state of anxiety that this causes, it is easy for me to listen to the sweet whispers of another church hawker, promising the holy grail of church growth programs. An amazing array of "models" are out there for me to choose from a smorgasbord of holy pro grams that can lead me on in my conquest. But can I measure the spirituality of an individual? Of a congregation of individuals? What can I be certain of in a ministry that has much uncertainty?

This brings me to Christian Schwarz's findings in the Natural Church Development retooling. His findings eight characteristics that cause churches to grow are quality-driven. These characteristics are remarkably biblical, relevant, and comprehensive.

While a weather vane can tell me the wind's direction and an anemometer can tell me the speed of the wind, neither can produce the wind. They are merely instruments informing me of the movement of a wind that already exists. Schwarz's eight characteristics as a unit are an instrument detecting the winds of the Spirit's work in the life of the congregation. These eight provide a greater understanding of the "atmospheric" conditions of the congregation I serve. They provide direction for my prayer, teaching, reflecting, serving, and shepherding life as a pastor and leader. They give my ministry and that of the congregation a framework by which God builds up His kingdom.

As a follow-up to the explanatory first article in this series ("Growing a healthy church, Part I," Ministry, January 2001), this article will cover the first four of Christian Schwarz's "essential eight" congregational growth characteristics. A final article (appearing in Ministry in May) will cover the last four. The first growth characteristic is that of empowering local leadership.

1. Empowering leadership

When our church received and evaluated our "snapshot" survey (see the January article for an explanation of this survey), we discovered God was prompting us to address the quality of our leadership. God uses a certain kind of leadership in healthy congregations, a leadership best described by the word "empower." Empowering leadership was our minimum factor, that is, our weakest link. Our church had largely sensed this. In fact, in Schwarz's findings, many of the healthiest churches with a high quality index discover that empowering leadership is their lowest quality. As churches grow rapidly, which ours had, expectations and needs for leadership escalate. Healthy churches grow leaders who grow leaders. Investment in people through discipleship, delegation, and multiplication of leaders are some of the factors that empower overall leadership quality. Our leadership (both paid and lay) had to move toward a more empowering style of leadership.

The greatest barrier to empowering leader ship is myself as a pastor-leader. Am I willing to trust God through His people? Am I willing to hand the ball off or do I want to keep it and run on alone? The greatest growth barrier to my congregation is my own growth. This is why Jesus spent so much time doing what is today called self-leadership. He spent time with the Father, seeking to constantly align His heart to the heart of His Father. Like ours, His society was one of turmoil, change, and uncertainty. To thrive in that kind of ministry environment required a heart continually aligned with His Father's heart. Empowering leadership requires my heart to be continually and fully aligned with Christ, the head of the church. This alignment is demonstrated in my desire to serve the mission of the congregation. This deep need for personal anchoring in the midst of such turnover and transition has led at least one writer to conclude that a leader must spend at least fifty percent of his or her time in the area of self-leadership.1

The proven reality of this principle has led me to make significant changes over the course of my ministry. While it is impossible for me to personally minister to each individual in a congregation of 400,I can invest my time and energies in those who lead ministries in the congregation. I have had to shift from being only a doer of ministry to being primarily a personal coach to the ministers in the congregation. This transition has not been easy. It has raised to the surface my insecurities as pastor, my own motivations and my own values. It has challenged my relationship with Christ in a way no other ministry factor has challenged it. My desire to help everyone finally led me to a place where I was helping no one, especially my family. I found a great desire to turn over several personal ministry barriers (PMBs) identified in the Natural Church Development material, to the wisest and greatest leader ever to walk the earth.

I find these PMBs demonstrated in my life outside and inside the church. They are: (1) complacency with status quo; (2) lack of vision for the lost; (3) fear and timidity in giving leadership; (4) lack of certainty in calling; (5) poor delegation and management skills; (6) ministerial mercenary perspective; and (7) poor change skills.2

2. Gift-oriented ministry

Related closely to empowering leadership is gift-oriented ministry. This second essential, Schwarz found, influences the contentedness of Christians more than any other factor. Believers pursuing God's call through gift utilization are generally more satisfied in their lives. "None of the eight quality characteristics showed nearly as much influence on both personal and church life as 'gift-oriented ministry.'"3

This echoes the findings of another church health student, the Apostle Paul when he wrote, "Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant" (1 Cor. 12:1, NIV). Gift-oriented ministry aligns the mission of the church to the gifts of the church. It is the means by which the Spirit of God is released to do the work of God, not just in the hearts and lives of His people but also in the wider community.

This ministry of the Spirit provides a greater sense of meaning and contribution to the individuals in the body. I have seen people in the church, led by the Spirit, come alive as they have aligned not just their "ministerial" lives but their vocation al lives to their gift mix. When a believer's passion, gifts, temperament, and personal style are activated by the Holy Spirit and brought out in a meaningful contribution to the body of Christ, there is an inner energy that ignites.

I know one individual who, upon discovering and utilizing his spiritual gift, awakened to a whole new awareness of what God was doing in his life. Once on the periphery of body-life, he found himself joyfully using his Spirit-given gifts to build up the body. It was a joy to see him grow not only in gift utilization but in grace. As Paul makes clear in Ephesians, gifts and grace are irreversibly linked. Embrace grace, empower the gift. Exercise the gift, enlarge grace. I believe our churches would experience more of grace and the Spirit of grace if we spent more time releasing the gifts. Many of us pray for the latter rain out pouring of the Spirit, never realizing that the former rain came largely in the form of particular God-given gifts which were released by the Holy Spirit in the lives of disciples passionate about their Savior.

3. Local church structures

A corollary to gift-oriented ministry is local church structures. Schwarz uses the phrase "functional structures." If you ever sat on a church board, Schwarz says, you'll find this characteristic to be the most controversial of all the characteristics. The human body has structure. Practically every organism has structure. Structure is necessary for directed movement. Yet Schwarz's question is simple: "Are our structures functional?"

Implied in this question is the issue of mission clarity and vision strength. A church with 200 attending cannot do everything. The question is, "What can you do?" The challenge of functional structures can be described by a continuum. On one side of the continuum is the fixed structure of the local congregation the things that are non-negotiable. On the other side is the flexible those things that can be tweaked, revised, or rejected. What do you find most in your congregation?

One exciting thing we discovered about our congregation is that we have very few on the fixed side of the continuum. The question can then be asked, "Are we structuring for growth?" Releasing gifts mobilizes a vast army, energetic and ready to move. However, do the structures in your church prevent the deployment of those gifts, or are they enhancing gift-deployment? In one church I pastored, we had a standing personnel committee whose responsibility was to search and deploy these areas of giftedness as people in the congregation were asked to become a part of certain ministries in the congregation. We are in the process of putting that into place in my present church.

Schwarz also discovered that the alternative to functional structures can be devastating to a church: "Our research confirmed for the first time an extremely negative relationship between traditionalism and both growth and quality within the church."4

A core to this quality is the ability of the church to develop structures that promote an ongoing multiplication of the ministry. What this has meant for our situation is that new ministries do not begin until there is both a leader and an apprentice. Leaders over our various ministry areas are beginning to understand one of their major responsibilities is to work themselves out of a job. Our cur rent children's ministry leader has caught this vision and at every level she has sought to bring someone in to lead with her. We have had several changes within her department over the course of the year, and the disruption from those changes has been minimized by her enthusiasm and vision for leader multiplication. As the sphere of ministry grows in our church, the structures of our church have to anticipate that growth and provide leadership for it.

Football teams have a defense known as the flex defense. The idea is to bend but not break. This captures the essence of functional structures. Structures must be flexible to allow the necessary growth that comes in a healthy body while still being fixed enough to move the body toward mission and vision. This is the challenge of any church of any size.

4. Inspiring worship

Of course, the issue of functional structures probably encounters no greater heat-intensive ground than at the altar of worship. The recent history of worship wars has led many to wonder about the significance of worship. Schwarz discovered the issue of worship did not concern a specific style but whether it was "inspiring" to the participant. Thus, he termed this quality, inspiring worship.

This question of what is inspiring suggests that we are not limited to one type or style of worship. Eighty percent of those in high-quality, growing churches acknowledged that "attending our worship service is an inspiring experience for me."5 People coming to worship with a sense of anticipation, contributes significantly to the sense of having inspiring worship. People come to worship not only for social reasons, but to meet God. Members who come from and with a sense of duty rather than a sense of excitement may indicate a lack of God's presence in the body. Imagine Israel coming to the tent seeing and feeling the presence of God! When they came, they came with an inspiring sense of anticipation. They were going to meet God!

This issue, probably more than any other, is where many have gotten confused on the difference between a principle and practice. What is appropriate for one context may not be appropriate for another. What is appropriate for Hong Kong may not be appropriate for Hialeah. The question may be asked, "What inspires those cultures? Do people in each place find their worship a joy, or is it a sullen duty?" A deeper question for myself has been: "Is my own internal need for something exciting a demand I place upon the congregation?" Because I like a certain style or presentation in the worship service, it may be easy for me to project and demand that of a congregation which is not where I am culturally. By attempting to force my worship world into those of my congregation, my internal demand can be a flash point for a worship war.

Further, when worship is under stood in the broader context, as a way of life rather than just an hour, inspiring takes on a deeper dimension.  Worship as a way of life automatically brings a sense of enthusiasm and excitement to the weekend. The God who walks with me during the week, I honor and declare in our corporate time together. Through the message being presented, the prayers prayed, the music sung, the Word expressed the God who goes through his week with me is now placed upon the throne of the convened community. The worship hour then becomes a triumphant procession ignited by the divine reality that He has carried us through the week.

Precisely because of God's magnificence in our individual lives during the week, we can magnify Him on the weekend. Worship is a time to recount the blessings of God and to "praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." It is by worshiping Him alone during the week, it is by doing life in Jesus' name during the week, it is by serving His redemptive community and thus the fallen community throughout the week that our corporate time together finds such power and enthusiasm. This is what makes it so inspiring!

Is there not a church that desires better leaders, a greater presence of the Holy Spirit, structures that serve mission and worship that takes people closer to their Savior? Whether in Bangkok, Boston, or Beirut, these essential four and the remaining four that make up the essential eight which will be discussed in Ministry's May issue, transcend time and space, culture and competency to capture the heart of God's people for Him and the heart of God for His people. They encapsulate all that He desires in a way that is measurable but not mortifying, flexible and not fixed.

1 Dee Hock, "The Art of Chaordic Leadership," Leader to Leader, No. IS, Winter 2000.

2 Adapted from Releasing Your Church's Potential, ChurchSmart Resources.

3 Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eiglit Essential Qiialities of Healthy Churches (Barcelona, Spain: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), 24.

4 Ibid., 28.

5 Ibid., 31.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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John Grys is director of Advent House and editor of the forthcoming Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, Knoxville, Tennessee
Greg Schaller, D.Min., is pastor of the Kent Seventh-day Adventist Church, Covington, Washington, United States.

March 2001

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