In my last book, You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less, I emphasized all the things necessary to get a crowd. Things like:
☞ Invite every member and every visitor to every fellowship every month.
☞ Give Friday nights to Jesus. Host an informal hospitality time in your home where you gather some good friends as well as some prospects for your group—perhaps recent visitors to you church.
☞ Get a team of people to help you.
What a difference good teaching makes!
These things are important, but none as important as “teaching a half-way decent lesson each and every week, nothing less will do.” I have seen teachers who did very little outreach but grew a class marvelously on the sheer power of their spoken word. On the other hand, as a man in Oklahoma put it, “Good visitation cannot overcome bad teaching.” People come to where the food is. Word of mouth can grow a class if the teacher does well enough.
Don’t hear this as a recanting of the things I said in Double Your Class. It is not. I still believe we can take America for God through groups that are doubling (reproducing) every two years or less. I still believe that this is both an attainable and worthy goal. I still believe that most people who are opposed to the gospel are not opposed to ice cream. I still believe if we will love them they will come to love our Lord.
However, I have an increasing conviction of the vital role that the teacher plays in the task of teaching. Teachers who teach well never lack for an audience. Teachers who teach well change lives. Teachers who teach well make disciples.
I have never been to Willowcreek or attended their Church Growth Conference. But I have listened to more of Bill Hybels’ sermons than anyone except Lynn Hybels. I understand the philosophy of ministry pretty well. They have worked out the whole seeker driven paradigm, the seven step strategy, networking, promised land, drama, singles ministry, small groups . . . on and on. You hear all that and think, “If we could get all that in place in our church we could grow like Willow has.” Then I listen to Bill Hybels preach his average weekend seeker message or mid-week New Community message. I think to myself, “His strategy could be dead wrong, 180̊ wrong and he would still fill the place.” It is not about the seven step formula or Networking, or all the rest—even though those are fine tools. It is about the fact that Bill Hybels puts it together on the stage. When he talks, people listen. I have heard dozens if not hundreds of Hybels’ messages and with rare exceptions he knocks them out of the park. It makes me smile just to hear that mid-western accent because I know it will nearly always be a great message.
Rick Warren. . . same thing. He has clearly articulated ideas about the purpose driven church.1 He can give you careful distinctions between his approach and Hybels’ approach (to the casual observer they sound rather similar). He will wax eloquent on exactly why we must do things the way they do them in the Saddleback Valley. He will make careful distinctions between form and function, what can be applied directly and what must be adapted. Then I hear one of his barn burners and think, “What a difference good teaching makes. People would come to hear him if he had no strategy at all.”
I have come to this conviction: the number one variable in predicting the growth or non-growth of a church is not the program or philosophy of ministry. It is not the pastor’s theology or the church’s location. The biggest factor has to do with the pastor himself. The biggest factor about that pastor is the answer to the question, “How well does he preach?” If he preaches well, growth is easy, almost assured. If he does not teach well, no amount of drama, contemporary music, busses, or anything else is really going to help. By the way, the second most important factor of the pastor is his ability to get along with people, but that is another book.