How to double a denomination
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
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
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
- 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
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
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.