How to make your church grow

How to make your church grow: David Pendleton interviews Pastor Wayne Cordeiro

An interview with Pastor Wayne Cordeiro

David A. Pendleton, LLD, is a Seventh-day Adventist minister, and a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives.

David Pendleton: Dr. Cordeiro, your church is the fastest growing church in Hawaii, and one of the fastest growing church es in the United States; from a handful of members about eight years ago to over 10,000 attendees each weekend. What is the primary reason for such unprecedented growth?

Wayne Cordeiro: Honestly, there is not really a single key; there are several. The first is that we are completely devoted to welcoming the hand of the Lord on our ministry. Without His hand, without His pleasure, we are dead in the water. We must do everything in such a way that we delight the heart of God.

The second is that it is my heart's desire to speak the gospel in the language of the people, in a way they can understand. I do so without compromising the gospel. A lot of times, churches answer questions that nobody is asking. I try to find out where people are hurting and speak to the hurts using the gospel.

Look at Jesus. He always met people's needs. Whether it was the woman caught in adultery or the woman putting a couple of pennies in the offering plate, He spoke to people where they were. Everything He said was connected to everyday life. So we at New Hope try to connect the gospel with everyday life.

The third is doing church as a team, where we involve everyone. It is not a "come and see church." It's an "equip and send church." We tell people to come and be involved. The more people involved, the stronger the church.

Pendleton: You give great emphasis to personal devotions daily Bible study and daily journaling. How much do these disciplines have to do with the success of your ministry, and what sort of program would you recommend to other pastors?

Cordeiro: Daily devotions are very, very important. It is the heartbeat of our church. I once saw something in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It stated that the health of the twenty-first-century person will be determined not by what people can get doctors to do for them but by what doctors can get people to do for themselves! How true.

As a pastor and teacher, I want people to develop a self-feeding program. I want people to be mentored by the Holy Spirit, because one day, I as a pastor will be gone. Programs will be gone, and services will be over. But if I can get everyone in our church to have a vibrant, daily, ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ, where they feed on the Scriptures, the Lord can take me home and things will keep right on going.

To me, the personal devotions part is absolutely critical. And we hammer on that all the time. Journaling comes out of Deuteronomy chapter 17, where God required the kings to write and read the Word daily "write for himself a copy of this law in a book" the Bible says in order that they might not sin against the Lord. Not just read but write. When you write what the Holy Spirit is telling you, you are saying that you intend to apply to your life what you are read ing, what the Lord is speaking to your heart.

I encourage people to take notes in a journal. It helps them to summarize what the Holy Spirit is saying. For example, if we are in a physics class, some student will be taking notes, and others will not. You can opt out of taking notes. However, when the tests come (and they will), guess who will fare better?

Much of the time Christians rise and fall based not on what they heard but on the tests they have faced. Taking notes prepares you for the tests in life. You weave into your life scriptural principles. A lot of us don't fare well on the tests. We are fair-weather Christians. We are not prepared for storms. But by taking notes and weaving Scripture into the fabric of who you are, you will fare much better in the storms.

Pendleton: In your writings and in your speaking to other pastors, you use the word "leadership" a lot. What key leadership principles were behind the rapid growth of New Hope?

Cordeiro: Leadership alone is not enough to take our churches into what God has for us. It must be linked with the word "spiritual." I am not firstly a leader who happens to shepherd people. I am first a shepherd who happens to lead people.

But I also use the word with those who are serving in our church. And for that, the definition of a leader is simply this: a servant who takes initiative to serve. We are all servants, but we must take the initiative to "go first" when serving is needed. For example, if there was a piece of paper on the ground, out of ten people who pass by, perhaps eight will walk right by the need to pick it up. A leader takes the initiative to pick it up. A leader goes first and does something. You see chairs, for example, that need to be stacked. You take the initiative to do the task.

In heaven's account you are a leader, even though you may not have a prestigious office or impressive name tag. Leadership is servanthood in action. Servant leadership is emphasized very much at New Hope. We define it biblically, not in terms of the surrounding corporate culture.

Pendleton: You have written about "fractals." What do you mean by that?

Cordeiro: A fractal is a simple pat tern that can be repeated and reiterated again and again. It's actual ly a mathematical term. For our usage, it's a group of ten. It comes from Exodus 18, where Jethro said to Moses, "If you don't stop trying to do everything yourself, you will wear both yourself out as well as the people." Jethro instructed him to appoint leaders over 1,000s, 100s, 50s, and 10s. David used similar groupings. The smallest of 10 is what we call the basic building block of a fractal system. It is one person overseeing a group of four. Now you might think, "Hey, that's five, not ten!" Right, but what I do is put an invisible "X" next to each of the people that signifies their spouse, and now there is a total of ten. You see, fractals is not just about a team, but a team consisting of healthy interpersonal relationships.

The concept is that I serve these four and their relationships so they are better able to do well. When they do, then the ministry does excellent ly. My goal is to live for their success. Each of those four will have their own fractal, another group of ten.

Ephesians 4 reminds pastors to attend to the equipping of the saints. Often a pastor tries to do it all, to have as many as possible help him do ministry. With fractals, a pastor helps others do the work of ministry. Each of these individuals have their own fractals and on down the line.

Pendleton: What advice do you have for pastors regarding time management and prioritizing. And how do you balance family and a demanding ministry?

Cordeiro: Balance in life is not static. Balance and static are not necessarily synonymous. You have to be led by the Holy Spirit. If you have a balance beam, you balance it by holding it directly in the middle and not moving. But in life there is always going to be movement.

There will be times that the Holy Spirit may put His finger on your family. He will "weight" your home life to alert you to a battlefront that is forming. But with the weight on one end of the balance beam, you are "out of balance." So what do we do to get it back in balance?

You move the fulcrum, or the center balance point, toward the side that is weighted. Let's use the fulcrum to depict your heart and attention.When the Holy Spirit puts His finger on an area that needs your attention, you simply follow His lead by moving your time and heart toward it. You simply follow His leading and attend to what He is asking you to attend to.

When you do this consistently, you maintain a Spirit-led, balanced life.

Pendleton: You preach nearly every weekend. If you aren't preaching at New Hope, you are preaching elsewhere. And when you preach at New Hope, it is five times every week end. What sermon preparation and sermon delivery advice would you share with pastors?

Cordeiro: My daily devotions con tribute a lot to my sermons. Ninety-five percent of what I preach comes from my journals, where I have mined the Scriptures on a regular daily basis. That way the Scriptures are always "fresh bread" for me. The best timemanagement program for pastors is to do their devotions daily and to journal daily. You can find more about journaling at <>

Another thing I do is to take a twoor three-day retreat every seven weeks. There I plan out my sermon schedule for another six months into the future. I will ask of the Lord, "What do You want to speak to Your church about?" I then do my best to put that into themes or series. I stay on a theme for about six weeks.

Pendleton: When you relocated to Honolulu from Hilo, you gave up a very large and established church, which you had grown until it was ready to plant a new one from practically nothing here on this island. Now you have over 10,000 attendees on any given Sunday. Pioneering a new church is fundamentally different from accepting a call to an already established church. What advice would you give to someone contemplating planting a new church?

Cordeiro: Both are valid. You need the ongoing ministry of saints being equipped to save the lost, and you also need to expand the ongoing min istry of saints being equipped to save the lost. I think each requires a bit of a different gifting.

A pioneering pastor needs to be more entrepreneurial, more innovative, and more imaginative. Taking over a church requires more administrative, shepherding gifts. And quite often the gifts needed to start a new ministry are not the same gifts need ed to sustain a ministry. You need different kinds of gifts for different kinds of situations.

So a pioneer pastor needs to be able to shift gears. Some cannot make that shift. For some it is better to start their own church. For others it is to pastor an already established church. Both are equally valid and needed.

Pendleton: Encouraging other pastors is a major ministry of yours. You have the Hawaii Leadership Practicum. You have the Doing Church presented at Team conferences. You write books and speak extensively at pastoral conferences and consult with churches. What are the pitfalls that need to be carefully avoided by pastors as they proceed through a lifetime of ministry, and what do you see as the biggest challenges holding pastors back from reaching their full ministry potential?

Cordeiro: A pitfall that needs to be avoided, but is religiously accept able, is maintaining what you have. You can get satisfied with doing only what is simply expected of you. You can minister for a whole lifetime like that. Many do. However, if you are going to make a real impact in your lifetime, you have to do more than "maintaining."

The Lord says to occupy until He comes. That word is a military term. Some pastors feel that if people are still coming to church every week end, things are OK. I say, we have to look to the fruit. How many new people are coming? How many marriages are being saved? How many outreaches have you had into the community this year? What percent age of the church is actually feeding themselves on the Word of God? You have to keep count of how many are being baptized.

Sometimes pastors, for fear of looking bad in the eyes of their church peers, are satisfied to hold on to what they have. They are maintaining but are not increasing their impact in the community. There is fear of failing or being rejected, so they end up doing nothing that poses a risk.

We need to be willing to take risks. C. T. Studd once said, "The gamblers for gold are many, but the gamblers for God are so few. Where are the gamblers for God?" When I read that, I remember writing on the margin of the page, "Lord, I will be a gambler for You."

People take risks on the stock market and in business start-ups. But it seems that when it comes to God, pas tors are often the most conservative of all. Yet the Lord says, "If you risk everything on Me, I will reward you 30, 60, even 100 fold!" I don't know of any other investment where you can receive that sort of return. And when God says it, you know it's true.

The other thing pastors need to avoid is envy and pride. They want to learn, but denominational pride may keep them from learning from another pastor. We need to be willing to learn from one another, even across denominational lines. Heaven rejoices when we do so.

Pendleton: Who have been your most outstanding mentors? Aside from Jesus Christ, who have been those who have most influenced and shaped your ministry?

Cordeiro: I have many mentors. I have what you would call contemporary mentors. These are people who are alive today who I can call or email or sit with. Some of them you may know. I will sit with Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Jack Hayford, or John Maxwell. They have helped me in my writing or thinking through various issues.

I also have what I call literary mentors. They are those I may never meet, except through their books. For example, I may read Max Lucado or Philip Yancey, or some other great thinker. I will mentor under them through their writings.

The third category of mentors is historical mentors Mother Teresa or other great saints of yesteryear: Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, George Mueller, and Jim Elliot. I have read their books. They are no longer alive, but they still mentor me from the past through their books.

But the greatest of these are biblical mentors. Men and women speak to me from the past through inspired Scripture I can sit with David and learn about leadership. I sit often with Solomon, who has taught me so much about how to develop wisdom. I have sat with Paul, who constantly encourages me in the areas of being creative in reaching the lost. When you do your devotions, you can benefit from the wisdom of the ages. You can have wisdom beyond your years as you minister in the twenty-first century!

The people of God are surpassingly precious. They deserve to be led well, and I am so glad the Lord has not left us to do the task alone. He told me that He'd be with me every step of the way... and you know something? He has done exactly that.

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David A. Pendleton, LLD, is a Seventh-day Adventist minister, and a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives.

January 2005

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