It occurred to me several years ago that we know how to grow a church. If you don’t know how, I could recommend a dozen or so books. Read them, and you will know how to grow a church. It is a well-documented, well-researched body of knowledge. We know how to grow a church.
What we need to know more about is how to grow a group of churches–how to grow an Association, how to grow a State Convention, and how to grow a denomination.
The sad reality is that many growing churches are growing while all the other churches in their area are declining, so that the area is not becoming any more Christian. I have a vague memory that I read a George Barna statistic that said there is not one single county in the United States where the percentage of the population that is church-going Christians is increasing. Not one. That is a problem. We know how to grow a church. What we desperately need to figure out is how to reach a people.
Most growing churches are growing because their area is exploding. Often, they are, in fact, lagging way behind the population growth of the region. But they are growing and growing rapidly. We need to learn how to grow churches in stable and declining areas. We need to learn how to grow a region of churches.
Hit the Bulls-eye, by Paul Borden
I am not sure this is the final answer, and I am not sure that I agree with all the strategies, but I am completely sure Paul Borden is asking the right questions. And, as far as I know, he has had more progress in moving the ball down the field than anyone I know.
Here is what Leith Anderson says about Paul’s work:
Centered in the earthquake zone of northern California, the American Baptist Churches of the West have demonstrated that a plateaued and declining region of mainline congregations can become a model of healthy and growing congregations. They have overcome the usual excuses that “our churches are too small,” “we have too many older people and congregations,” and “property here is too expensive.” They followed a powerful formula of biblical strategies, courageous leadership, and much hard work. What is most amazing is that they turnaround took less than five years.
What does a turn around look like?
Here is a summary of what the American Baptist Churches of the West were able to do:
- They went from having 16% of their churches growing (pretty close to the national average) to 72% of their congregations growing by 5% or more per year.
- The typical congregation had been 100 in attendance. Five years later it has grown to 188. This is average across a region and over 200 churches.
- 11,000 more people attended church every weekend.
- Somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million additional mission dollars had been raised.
- Giving to the region was up by 47%
- Where there had been 800 baptisms a year, there were 6000 baptisms between 1999 and 2001.
All of this in an area where every statistical indicator had been pointing downward.
How did they do it?
I would summarize Borden’s strategy using four words that spell out the word TRACK. TRACK is a fitting acrostic for how they turned the region around.
Everything rises and falls on leadership. They found the pastors in their area knew the Bible and loved God and loved people, but they did not know a whole lot about leadership. Leaders have followers. The region freed up two million dollars to spend on training and recruitment. They sent pastors to training events. They brought trainers in. They built up an enormous library of resources to help train leadership to lead.
“Training, is over-rated,” I like to say. “Recruitment is under-rated.” Recruit the right Sunday School teachers and your Sunday School will grow. Recruit the right pastors and your region will grow. The American Baptist Churches of the West developed and extensive strategy for recruiting pastors to their area.
No accountability; no change. Anyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. The key is not the good ideas, the good models, the good strategies. The key is implementation. The key is follow-through. The key is accountability. The American Baptist Churches of the West developed a ridged system of holding pastors accountable.
The heart and soul of the turn-around centered around a consulting relationship set up by the region. A core of consultants were trained who consulted with churches, started with the most promising churches. Then, these consultants recruited other consultants who would recruit still more consultants. It was these consultants who held leadership accountable for implementing the ideas they were learning in their training.
OK, this one is a little forced. This is really just a re-stating of the first point–training. But, it needs to be restated. The kind of thinking that got us here will not be the same thinking that will get us to the next level. We must change our thinking if we want different results. A massive infusion of knowledge will be necessary to pull this off. Paul Borden and friends spent a massive amount of money on tools that would get knowledge to church leaders.
I am not sure that Hit the Bulls Eye has all the answers, but I am pretty sure he is asking the right questions. I’d recommend you buy the book and begin thinking about, praying about and talking about how to reach your area for Christ.