The growth curve in weekend worship at Christ Church since 1997 has truly been remarkable. We have moved from just over 200 per weekend to over 2,200 and in doing so, have grown steadily each year. We have never had a 25% jump in attendance (so much for making the 100 Fastest Growing Churches list) but we tick up and to the right each year. Almost every church in the world desires to see their congregation engaged in the kind of twenty year cycle we have enjoyed but what makes one church grow when many others are in decline? Obviously location doesn’t hurt, but there are plenty of dying churches in excellent locations all over the country. I am all for good theology but lots of dying churches believe the right stuff. A great pastoral leadership team is helpful but I know many gifted pastors struggling mightily in their local contexts. Visionary lay leadership is essential but I encounter a lot of gifted but frustrated laity.
Here is how we have kept it growing:
1. A Clear Mission. At Christ Church we exist to “connect people with Jesus Christ.” This mission informs everything we do and gives us a shared language to talk about change. The mission must be a higher core value than both the personal preferences of the congregation and the job security of the staff.
2. Strong Leadership Team. Growing churches have pastors, staff and lay leaders who are visionary, committed, limber and serious about doing what it takes to accomplish the mission of the church. You can get to natural growth plateaus with strong preaching, great music and relevant programming but it takes leadership to keep growing when you run out of seating, parking, space or clever ideas.
3. Radical Commitment. We expect people to support with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. No church can seriously move toward its mission without a congregation living into these vows. The accomplishment of great things for God requires great sacrifices from great people. You will not get radical commitment if you do not model it on one hand and ask for it on the other.
4. Growing People. Put simply, growing churches consist of growing people and dying churches consist of stagnated people. When we keep our staff and leaders growing, our church grows with them. When we get comfortable, we become the lid.
5. An Evangelistic Culture People are natural evangelists! If a person discovers a new restaurant or sees a great movie, they will tell everyone they know, by every means they can. Growing churches consist of people who are excited about their church and are enthusiastically inviting others.
Mutual Funds are quick to point out that past performance does not guarantee future returns. Fund managers must pay attention to national trends, world developments and earn the trust of their customers every day. What they accomplished yesterday will establish their reputation but what they do today and tomorrow will determine their future success. Churches are no different. I often wonder what the future holds for this and other growing congregations. To find a collective answer, we will each have to answer the call of Christ individually.
Rev. Shane L. Bishop. A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church has been the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.