A twelve-step program for your church (part II)


This commentary is a second installment in a three-part series on growing an effective church. I am submitting twelve factors that are essential to the establishment of a strong, viable church. These are elements or components I observed and/or employed during my 41 years as a pastor. 

In the previous commentary I listed the first four components: every church should have a vision from above, a high standard of holiness, an emphasis on prayer, and an intense loving spirit.

Now, on to three more components.

5. Every church should have a celebrative worship experience. 

I really believe that the goal of redemption is true worship. People are saved to worship God. We are not saved just to miss hell, remove guilt, or experience a blessing, but to worship the living God who has created us, sustains us, and redeemed us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If a man builds a better house, preaches a better sermon, builds a better mousetrap, though he build his house in the midst of the forest, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” I do not subscribe to the theory that “if you build it, they will come.” However, I do believe that a living church engaged in celebrative worship will cause the world to take notice that there is an irrefutable truth in the words we speak, an imperturbable peace in the peace we possess, an unconquerable optimism in our way of thinking, and a new dimension of life in the life we live.

Allow the Spirit to lead, but be willing to change the format for worship from time to time. In my last pastorate we had a lady from another congregation who visited our church frequently. She said, “We always sing the Gloria Patria at the beginning of our service, sing three hymns, take up the offering, listen to the choir’s anthem, hear a 20 minute sermon, and end the service with the Doxology, but when I come to your church I never know what is going to happen."

Sometimes I think you need to change the order of worship just for the sake of change. Don’t ever let the people think that a form is equal to doctrine. Worship services can become a kind of structural pope. There is a need to be flexible in order to give the Holy Spirit freedom to move.

Jesus said, “You have substituted the traditions of men for the commandments of God” (Matthew 15:9). People do not need to be tied down to such a firm, defined routine of worship that the routine becomes mechanical. We do not want to invite chaos and confusion into the worship experience, but where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty and the services need to be inspiring, challenging, and heart-warming.

6. Every church needs to establish effective goals and objectives.

You certainly heard about the man who jumped on his horse and rode off madly in all directions. One pastor said, “The reason we think we are doing so well is that we don’t have any idea what we are doing.” In one of the churches I pastored we established the goal: “Our goal is souls.”

After a year or so everyone knew what our goal was, and in our budget planning, worship services, Sunday School, discipleship training, music program, athletic programs, recreational activities, and everything else “Our goal was souls."

In another church our goal was “To know Him and make Him known.” We based everything we did on making disciples to make disciples.

The exciting thing about the ministry is you can start out with an empty desk and empty slate and create whatever you want for the glory of God. It is the most exciting thing in the world to be a pastor. You have a whole community as your field. Go for it! Dream! Envision! Get your key people together and let God lead you. You can think up all kinds of exciting things with the energy of the Holy Spirit.

7. Challenge the people to live by faith.

We preach the message of faith, but so often fail to lead our people to live by faith. Surely, we don’t want to give the world the impression that we just walk by sight.

The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6) and “according to your faith so shall it be unto you” (Matthew 9:29). We need to be asking ourselves the question: “What am I believing God for that only He can do, so that when He does it, He gets all the credit?”

We love to quote Ephesians 3:20: “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.”

But do we really believe it?

The pastor must pray to find out how God wants his people to exercise faith and then be willing to say, “I believe God is in this, and we are going to do it and believe God to go before us and supply our needs and empower us to accomplish what He wants us to do.” Christianity should be an exciting adventure of faith.

8. Develop a congregation where everyone is active in some facet of ministry.

A church should never perceive itself as lay spectators financing a professional clergy to do the work of the ministry. Pastors are to perfect the saints to do the work of the ministry according to Ephesians 4:11-12.

In most churches about 25 percent of the people do 90 percent of the work. It is like a football game at the University of Georgia where 90,000 spectators in need of exercise watch 22 people on the field in need of rest.

Occasionally, I will preach in a church where the Sunday bulletin lists the church staff, but at the top of the list says, “Every member a minister.” I like that. However, I visited a church in Canada and on their bulletin at the top of the list of staff members it said, “Every member a missionary.”

I liked that even better.

I wonder what would happen if every church member would become a minister or missionary and serve through the church in some meaningful, redemptive way. We could impact our world in a way we have never dreamed of being able to do.

The third and final installment in this series will be posted soon.

church growth, discipleship, evangelism, membership, revitalization, students