Some years ago, a church in California experienced a tremendous revival and reformation. The church grew from 200 members to 630 in five years. Almost 200 new believers were added through baptism. So, the bulk of the growth was not simply membership transfers. Tithe giving increased five times—the church could support 10 pastors at the time although it had only one—and offerings increased 10-fold. The budget for church ministries went up 15-fold. And 78 percent of the church members were involved in some type of ministry! Most churches experience maybe 10 or 15 percent lay ministry involvement, and that from active members, which is typically only 30–40 percent of the total book membership.1
The pastor had focused on three nonnegotiable activities: (1) the study of God’s Word, (2) prayer—a lot of prayer, and (3) evangelistic outreach. But the changes in the church were so remarkable that it seemed hard to explain. Imagine how surprised the pastor was when he saw the activities his church was engaged in were reflected in Testimonies for the Church, volume 712 So here’s the 10-point-foundation for his church’s success:
1 More attention to the lost. Nine-tenths of our efforts should be on behalf of the lost, not the members. “God has withheld His blessings”3 because we have ignored this priority. If work for nonmembers were to become the main focus, we could expect great progress.
2 Less time with the church. As soon as a new church is organized and the members set at work, “then the minister is to pass on to other equally important fields.”4 Members should befriend their neighbors, spend time with them in their homes meeting their needs, and, in quiet humility, point them to Christ.
3 More need for short sermons.Sabbath sermons are fitting as long as they do not weary the saints and are full of life and the love of God.
4 Less need for many sermons. A sermon is not needed every Sabbath; one can have testimonies of personal outreach. Members should share “of blessings received because of blessings imparted”5 to those not yet converted.
5 More need for teaching than preaching. The greatest help for members would be teaching them how to work for God instead of depending on the pastor. “Let the minister devote more of his time to educating than to preaching. Let him [or her] teach the people how to give to others the knowledge they have received.”6
6 Less attention to the conflicts. Constantly focusing on conflict resolution makes for weak churches. Many pastors and churches make the mistake of giving too much attention to resolving conflicts between members. That is a strategy by Satan to keep the church distracted because as soon as a church is “set right,” the process has to begin all over again.
7More patience in work. We need to work with Christlike patience, seeking to encourage others and loving those who are outside the church.
8 Less internal focus. Missional small groups should be formed for outreach as well as membership care. A fundamental mistake is to establish small groups that have no intention to reach out.
9 More persistence in prayer. Earnest prayer should be made for unbelievers. Two or three members should gather together “and plead with God for the salvation of some special one.”7
10 Less members, more disciples. New converts can become powerful soul winners right away. New converts should not be held back from the work of ministry. If they are filled with the power of God, they will do good work for the church.
The church in California had fervent and frequent sessions of prayer. They had active small groups; there were testimonies of God’s goodness every Sabbath; the focus of the church was toward the lost, not the saints; there was a real openness for ministry training; and the church began planting a second church. The closer pastors and churches follow these counsels, the more success they can expect in their local church.
1 A version of this column was first published in the Church Ministry Newsletter of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division, March 2019.
2 See Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 18–22.
3 White, Testimonies, vol. 7, 18.
4 White, Testimonies, vol. 7, 18.
5 White, Testimonies, vol. 7, 18.
6 White, Testimonies, vol. 7, 20.
7 White, Testimonies, vol. 7, 21.