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I speak with churches often who want to grow and they contact me wanting for suggestions.

It is very often a vision problem. The church actually has the clearest and best defined vision of anyone. We are to “Go and make disciples”.

Sometimes people have simply failed to do what we’ve been told to do – “Go and make disciples”. Either the church isn’t going. All the ministry is focused on programs inside the church. Or the church isn’t making genuine disciples. People are observers more than participants. They aren’t being trained to take their faith into their everyday life – sharing Christ with their neighbors, co-workers and friends.

Go and make disciples really is the plan for church growth.

But with the best visions there are often paradigms towards implementation that can either help or hinder accomplishment of that vision. I have observed if you want to have a culture susceptible and open to growth then there are some common paradigms necessary. You have to think certain ways in order to reach your desired vision. In most every situation, an absence of certain actions or mindsets on the part of leaders keeps the church from moving forward.

What are some of those paradigms? (At the end of each one I’ll ask a question or two to help you process.)

Here are 7 paradigms needed for church growth:

Lead with leaders

Of course you need followers too, but most people are looking for leadership, especially about things about which they don’t know. In any group you’ll have a few who are ready to move forward with the changes needed and a few who are opposed to any change you bring. The rest of the people are looking for leadership. Lead with those who are ready to move in a positive direction.

Do you have the “right people on the bus”? Are you leading with people who want the church to grow or just want things like they want things (or like things have always been)? Are there creative people who would want church growth sitting on the sidelines because they’ve never been asked to get involved? I realize you may not be able to change the church’s leadership, but part of your leadership may be leading through a maze of bad leadership and empowering people who want to move things forward. The best leaders (and “next season” leaders) often have to be recruited.

Prioritize your time

You can’t do everything or be everywhere. Let me say it again. You can’t do everything or be everywhere. This doesn’t ignore the expectation placed on you as a leader, but it does recognize your limitations. By the way, the quickest way to burnout and ineffectiveness is to ignore this one.

Are you spending your best energy on things which matter most in helping the church “go and make disciples”? Read Ephesians 5:16. (And protecting your family time may be one place you need to better prioritize so you are as healthy a leader as you can be.)

Never waste energy

This one is similar, but when something is working put fuel into it. Put all cylinders on go. Momentum feeds momentum. Yes, in keeping the previous one this means you’ll have to ignore a few things to do the very best things. You have to learn the value of saying no to things which simply waste energy and time. Usually the most energy needs to be in a few key places at a time. Never fail to capitalize on those important moments in time.

What is simply taking too much time and effort for too few results? There are often programs and activities that, while we like them, they do very little to get us closer to achieving our vision. As leaders we have to “lead” people to better realities than this.

Embrace change

You have to live in the tension of change if you want to experience growth. Change is never popular with everyone, but when you resist it, you are resisting the opportunity to grow. More of the same may be comfortable, but it seldom produces the excitement necessary for growth.

What is a change you know you need to lead people to make, but you’ve been afraid to walk by faith into it? (Read Nehemiah again – or Acts 10. Think about how scared Peter must have been to walk into new territory.)

Make hard decisions

Don’t be naive. Change may bring momentum – and hopefully growth, but as exciting as that can be not everyone will be excited about it. If you are going to achieve the vision you’ll have to be willing to stand the test of time. It won’t be easy. With some decisions you make you’ll be choosing who buys into the vision and who doesn’t – even who sits in the pews the next week. Be willing to make the hard decisions and you’ll keep the church open to idea of growth.

Leadership is about hard decisions. You’ve never been this way before and the people you are trying to lead haven’t been either. That’s scary. Do you have people in your life you can share the pain of leadership with to help you navigate the hard decisions?

Build healthy teams

You can’t do it alone. You can probably control a church, which is not growing. You can control people who don’t think for themselves. But if you want to grow, especially grow long-term, you’ll need to surround yourself with healthy people who build a healthy team environment – and let other people share leadership.

Have you truly empowered people around you to live out their individual passion and calling towards achieving the vision? Are you an empowering leader or a controlling one? Remember, Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. (With the Spirit of God, of course.)

Refuel often

I find the more we are growing and the more change is occurring, the more I have to get away and gain perspective. Renew. Recharge. Sometimes even re-engage. I can’t lead for growth if I’m drowning in the demands of the present.

How close are you running towards empty these days? Sometimes you have to step away even when it makes no sense to do so simply so you can take the next “mountain” in front of you. Protecting your soul is good stewardship in leadership and it’s a God-given (Sabbath) command.

By no means am I attempting to take God’s presence out of church growth. Ultimately church growth, as is every aspect of spiritual growth, is from the hand of God. But two things appear clear to me in the Bible. I believe God gives us a mind to be creative and use, but I also believe there are even Biblical principles at work here. God uses His people to do His work. And God wants His church to penetrate culture with the hope of the Gospel. I simply believe He uses both of those together.

In a day of increasing darkness, we need to be smarter church leaders. We need growing churches.

I don’t know believe this is an exclusive list, but I hope it’s is a good start. Perhaps the right way to process this post is to ask yourself a question – Which of these are we missing?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • One suggestion I would add is don't be intimidated by other leaders in your inner circle. Many times leaders feel they have to be in control of everything and everything has to go their way. It's good to have leaders on your team who aren't "YES" man and have good ideas to implement. The more you delegate, the more you can get done.

  • michaelsreid says:

    Refueling often cannot be emphasized enough. When you spend so much time pouring into others and casting vision, you simply must stop from time to time to be refreshed. Great post.

  • Greg Conley says:

    Great Post Ron! The one thing I've noticed as I grow in my walk with the Lord and as I continue growing in my professional walk… we have very few leaders, some followers, and many complainers. In order for the Church to grow; business to grow; community to grow; family to grow… it takes those willing to step up and become a "servant leader." One needs to learn how to follow before they can learn how to lead others. The perfect example is Christ… now that's a leader, a true servant leader! As always, love your posts. Take care brother!

  • Marc Buxton says:

    Refueling often is a great point, that I'm afraid most of us think about but seldom do. But, if you think about it – if you don't refuel and lead your self, where are you going to lead others? If the engine runs out of coal, the rest of the train isn't going very far and there will be a lot of unused track ahead.

    Good thoughts Ron.

  • kathryn manning says:

    ( in my notes from some conference somewhere) Real growth involves reaching full potential, not maximum size. It happens when old dominating ideas are challenged, and new ones displace them. Growth means progress, not excess; it is fueled by imagination, not expansion.

  • Prioritize your time, Never Wast Energy and Make the Hard Decisions could easily fall into the topic of focus. In ministry it can be very hard to say no. No is one of those hard decisions we have to make to make sure we stay focused in the right areas. Just because it is a good idea or our most faithful member came up with it, means we should do it.

  • @charlesstone

    Ron, great post. Lencioni has written some good stuff on teams. Loved the last one as well–pastors usually skip the refreshing part.

  • Greg Martin says:

    Great post, Ron. I needed to hear 'ignore a few things to do the very best things.' That is a very liberating (and important) concept. Too much time and talent is wasted on 'the minors.' Thanks for the Monday morning wake-up call!