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10 Things You Have to Know About Growing Churches

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10.  Growth is like human growth – in spurts.  You can account for it, plan for it, prepare for it, but you can’t ever quite predict it.  You know a healthy human child will grow, but you don’t know EXACTLY when.

9.  Growth means change.  You don’t like change – no one does.  We like our security and safety.  BUt things must change – things you can do in a church with 15 people (interrupt the sermon, share a Scripture, celebrate your birthday, stop the service and pray for you, be informal about management of money or children, as examples) simply cannot be done with a church of 200.  

8.  Remember the change isn’t for you!  You might like your church and not want to share it with 200 other people but God wants to share the life in the church with as many people as possible.

7.  One of the hardest barriers for a church to cross is around 140-160 people.  It’s when you simply cannot know everyone in the church just by going on a Sunday.  On a subconscious level people find that difficult to deal with.  The best thing to do is to join a smaller group – a Living Church, the choir, the working party, the set up team, whatever.  By being in a smaller group within the group, you still get the benefits of being in a group where you know everyone and you also get the benefits of being in a larger group.  If you are a pastor to break this barrier you simply must provide the smaller groups for people – if you don’t they’ll form themselves and become cliques.

6. Growing churches will always become more formal.  It used to be that you knew the people looking after the children, you knew everyone so processes were informal.  That cannot stay the case if the church grows.  Sometimes we mistake formalization for depersonalization.  No – it’s just ensuring the processes are robust enough to see more people come.  Formalization is the only way to ensure the church becomes more personal and more welcoming.  By taking the pressure of structure off the people and onto the structures and processes, the people are now free to relate to one another and enjoy church.

5. In growing churches, paid staff often do what volunteers used to do.  Volunteers have to get used to having a line manager who is not the senior pastor and main preacher.  Volunteers have to get used to having certain responsibilities taken off them and let it happen graciously.  

4. In a small church the drawing factor is community.  People are part of the small community and that’s why they keep coming back again and again.  The problem is that this community is exactly what is unwelcoming to newcomers.  Every slot is filled – you can only have so many friends.  Occasionally someone leaves the church and someone joins and fits in their place, but it will not grow.  In a growing church the drawing factor is life impact.  It is how someone’s life is being changed.  Therefore the service has to not pander to the community but embrace everyone and provide powerful ways to improve life impact.

3. In a small church certain things are tolerated because of good relationships.  Someone can ramble on in a sermon for an hour and everyone knows “That’s just Bill…”, the worship leader can sing out of key and out of rhythm and everyone giggles because it’s how Jimmy plays.  The low quality is almost an in-joke that sustains the community.  As soon as a church breaks 100 this cannot happen anymore because there will be people who are not in on the joke and have a higher expectation.   Everything must be done professionally, from the first opening song through to the notices, the offering and so on.

2. A growing church needs multiplicity and redundancy of communication.  I knew this intellectually but didn’t really believe it until recently when Tree of Life Dagenham started hitting 110-120 per Sunday.  People would call me and say “why didn’t you tell me about THIS EVENT?”, “why didn’t you let me know THIS SPEAKER was coming?”, “how come I didn’t know about the BAPTISMS?” when these things were clearly in the church newsletter and announced from the front for several weeks.  Because the church is no longer one community – things need repeated.  We now try and say a notice in six different ways: we email everyone personally, we text everyone, we put it on Facebook, we put it on the church website, we put it on Google calendar and we put it in the church newsletter.  No one listens to the notice, so we stopped doing them on a Sunday.   If you are reading this and thinking I am into overkill, you are where I was this time last year.  Let me know what happens when your church reaches 120+.

1. A Growing Church is the most exciting place on earth.  In the age where church attendance is seen as an optional extra for supersaints (or worse – and even more absurdly, institutional legalism for people who don’t get the grace message), being in a healthy, growing church is so much fun.  Marriages are getting restored, Muslims are becoming Christians, children are getting saved, people are getting healed, people are learning how to dream, how to walk in their dreams,community is being built.  Lives are being changed.  I wouldn’t change what I do for the world.  It’s not always easy, but it is always an adventure.

Planning Your Preaching!

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One of the things that I often get asked is “how can I preach better?” or “how can I preach with a better response or better results?”  The fact is that preaching the gospel is the power of God – that’s how people get saved, get healed, get transformed.  Preaching is one of the single most effective uses of your time as a pastor and leader.  It’s that simple.  There is a move in some churches today to denigrate preaching and to minimise it’s power – some people are maxing their preach time to 8 minutes.  Wow!  If you want to be soaked in the Word I believe you should take at least 45 minutes.  I preach over an hour nearly every single week because I know it’s the Word of God that lifts and transforms and builds people up.

A lot of people spend a lot of energy and effort into planning the sermon, and absolutely that is correct, but planning a single sermon is great if you are a travelling evangelist, but for pastors you need to be planning more than one week in advance.

Firstly, as the lead pastor of a church, realise that you will always be and always should be in charge of the preaching in your church.  I have been to churches (and even pastored one) where the eldership or the deaconate were in charge of the preaching calendar, the rota of speakers.  One church I know pastored a council worker to come and “preach” about how awful his wife was for divorcing him.  No!   The lead pastor of the church is in charge of the preaching.  Absolutely, ridiculously in charge of the preaching.  No one gets to preach in the pulpit unless you give the say so.  It’s that simple.  The lead pastor is the shepherd of the flock and is the guardian of the sheep.

I take that approach in Tree of Life Church.  If I ask someone to preach, I am more than happy to ask them to preach on whatever I want, I am happy to ask for their notes before they preach.  Obviously with guest speakers like Arthur Meintjes who I have heard again and again and trust to bring a complete work message, I give a lot more latitude but to a new preacher within the church, I am ridiculously careful.  Why?  Because I am accountable before God regarding what is spoken at the church.

All preaching must be brought into the bigger picture of the church.  At Tree of Life Church our bigger picture is to “inspire people to dream, to challenge people to live the dream”, so I (Benjamin Conway) have to look at my preaching every week and ask myself – am I inspiring people to dream?  Am I challenging people to live the dream?  If not, chuck it in the bin as it is not helping the Tree fulfil God’s will.

So, preparation has a massive role to play: not just preparing the message, but preparing it to fit in with the bigger picture.  Then there is the theme for the season: what are we doing as a church right now?  So at the moment (May 2013) at Tree of Life Church we are hammering home the truth that there is a lot of deception in a lot of the church and that a great deal of this deception is basically obscuring the cross of Christ.  So, every sermon preached in May will be about deception and every sermon preaching in June will be about the complete work.

You need a preaching calendar.  You need to include important dates (not just Christmas and Easter, but Valentine’s Day, New Years’ Eve and September.  When the schools return after summer, lots of people come back to church and you need a powerful series to get them energised for church).  You must have a preaching calendar.  You must not just get in the pulpit and “allow the Spirit to lead you” – it will lead to the same message week after week and your church will have no direction.

I have already penned our preaching calendar for 2014.  Our theme is “Identity” and we have 12 months in which we are going to learn about our identity as reborn human beings.  Our summer conference for 2014 is sub-titled “We are Jesus on the earth!” and will be about our identity as the image of God on earth.  In August our worship leaders are going to find songs that fit in with our identity.  Our leadership conference will be grounded in identity.

Identity inspires people to dream, so the theme of the year fits perfectly with the overall dream of the church.  This planning is so important because to fail to plan is to plan to fail: so many charismatics just give us a piece of their mind when preaching – sort of a stream of consciousness from the pulpit.  It doesn’t help.

Then when planning the month around the monthly theme, I consider what the Bible says about the monthly theme and then consider what I want the people to know.  Good teaching should give information that people don’t have and press people to make a decision they haven’t made before.  So, for example, next Sunday morning, I am preaching on how it is deception to believe that you can have a harvest without a seed.  The information I am going to give people is show them all the different ways Christians try and get a harvest without a seed, and the decision I want people to make is to sow a seed into the kingdom (not necessarily money, but an action of faith and love).  Now I know that, putting the sermon together is much easier.

Not only that there is continuity from week to week.  If another person in the church preaches, they get to know the calendar and have to fit in with it.

Any questions about preaching or sermon preparation?  Please ask them below, I will answer all of them as best I could.

(Benjamin Conway preaches 3 times nearly every weekend, in Watford, Guildford and Dagenham.  Every month over 2000 people download or stream one f his sermons online from their church website, www.treeoflifedagenham.com.  These messages are free of charge because God’s Word is free of charge.)

Life Lessons From Road Runner #3: Keep on Running

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One of the more common scenes in a Road Runner cartoon is when Wile E Coyote decides to trick the Road Runner into running into a boulder by painting a picture of a tunnel on the boulder.

The plan is that Road Runner will run into the boulder and knock himself out.

However, Road Runner – defying every single law of physics and nature – runs right into the picture of the tunnel and off into the distance. When Wile E Coyote then decides to chase Road Runner he splats himself into the boulder.

The application for our lives is simple: the devil often tries to trap us by painting a scenario that we want for our lives.

He may promote the idea of a promotion or a healing of our body. He may paint the picture of us moving forward in our destiny.

But then he puts this picture on a boulder. Something that stops us dead. He paints a picture of your healing but then the doctor says that you will die in 6 months. He paints a picture of your prosperity as the mortgage is another month in arrears. He paints a picture of you walking in love and holiness as you commit the same sin you vowed to be free from again.

The devil’s motive in this is to bring us to despair. For us to have deferred our hope in God’s plan which according to Proverbs will make the heart sick. Do this several times and the devil will knock hope and love out of our thinking and pick us off as if we had just run into a big boulder.

However, the solution is not to try and swerve or change course. The solution is to keep running. Keep working towards your vision, keep your faith, keep your love, keep running the race of Christianity.

There is nothing that can stop you: not even the laws of physics and nature. Just as surely as Jesus walked through walls to reach His disciples, you can walk through sickness into complete health, you can walk through poverty into complete wealth, you can walk through depression into joy and love, you can walk through the sin that binds you and walk into a holy and pure life of peace and love.

Beep! Beep!

Keep on running!

Blessings,
Ben

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