Pastor’s Progress

In 1996 John Louis started on a unique and exciting work. He wanted to survey the leadership of the Christian Church on the subject of evangelism, outreach and congregational renewal. Over a two year period more than 100 church leaders were surveyed for their response to the following scenario:

The Scenario
Imagine a young pastor just starting out. He has just accepted a position as pastor in the town of Milton. The town of Milton is a suburb or a large metropolitan city with a growing population of 26,000. This church agrees fully with (his) your denominational standing.

The church building is not in the best of shape. The outside needs painting. The furnace is not working too well and two of the windows in the sanctuary are broken. The sanctuary is small, maximum capacity is 150. The basement is a total wreck in need of major repair, before it can be put to any use. The fellowship area is larger, there are four good sized class rooms and a nursery on the wing.

The average weekly attendance is 70. The congregation is mostly older, with only a few couples below the age of 40. The deacons and trustees are constantly bickering and fighting. The one thing they seem to agree on is that they see no real need for change. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones, the church organist is not very good. She has, however, been playing at the church for thirty years and it would kill her if she was replaced.

The pastor is committed to seeing this church grow and evangelize. How would you approach this situation? What strategies would you advise to turn this church around? What ideas could you give to the pastor that would help him develop this church? How could he overcome the obstacles present?

The Respondents
More than 100 well known church leaders from many major denominations and parachurch organizations contributed to the work.
Click here for a list of respondents.

Milton is indeed typical of thousands of churches in America. Yet, what is required is not an ideal program, but a person who will be the pastor this church needs. The answer to the question, "What would you do?" must begin with a self assessment by the potential pastor. Listed below are some significant steps the new pastor might follow:

BILL SULLIVAN - Director of Missions and Evangelism for Church of the Nazarene.
Step one for the new pastor is to examine himself/herself.

  1. Do I believe this is where God has called me to serve?
  2. Am I willing to be a servant - in the menial sense of the term?
  3. Am I willing to pastor these people the way they are?

Step two is for the new pastor to accept reality.

  1. This is a small church.
  2. Every resource is probably in very short supply.
  3. The pastor must have good people skills.
  4. The pastor will have to deliver most of the growth for the first year or two.
  5. Developing new leaders will be "job one."

Step three is to bring a new attitude and spirit to the entire church life.

  1. Begin with expressing and demonstrating a great faith in God. A positive attitude and an enthusiastic spirit are absolutely essential - yes, absolutely!
  2. Lead the people in increased prayer.
  3. Give a spiritual tone all of the services and activities of the church.
  4. Make winning people to Christ the number one priority of the church by building every program and service toward the goal of identifying, contacting, incorporating, winning and assimilating new people into the life of the church.

Step four is to begin initiating change immediately - a new pastor has a brief window of opportunity.

  1. Cleaning and painting the church building will be a dramatic change that most of the people will accept - and paint doesn't cost that much money. Also, paint shows up better than furnace repair - take on that project when the weather gets cold.
  2. Contacting every member and adherent of the church regularly will, in all probability, also be a dramatic change.

Step five is to get the momentum going.

  1. Pray and work until God saves someone new - that always creates excitement.
  2. Build excellence into everything that the church does - including the pastor's sermon.
  3. Develop a pastoral care program that is "second to none."

Step six is to develop a plan that will be adequate for a church of 350 in attendance.

  1. Adopt and begin building some type of infrastructure that will contain 500 to 600 people (including children). This may be Sunday School or some other type of active small group ministry.
  2. Calculate how to have a total weekly attendance of 350 in a sanctuary that only seats 150. It isn't impossible. When sufficient children workers have been won and trained nearly half of the total attendance can be served outside the sanctuary in nursery, children's and teen churches. That would take care of nearly 250 each Sunday. At that point a second service is a real possibility. All of this must be planned to occur in three years or less (one rule of breaking the 200 barrier is to grow through it quickly!). Don't be naive about the 200 barrier - nine out of ten churches never break it!
  3. Plan how to provide the personnel and facilities to house a church of 350 in attendance.
  4. Plan a comprehensive program for a church of 350 in attendance.

Step seven is to pursue the goal with persistence and determination.

  1. Never give up.
  2. Don't abandon your plan. Avoid the latest fad in how to grow a church.
  3. Never give up.
  4. Keep developing personnel. Prioritize this in your personal schedule.
  5. Never give up.
  6. Keep expanding the infrastructure. This the key to growth - when other things are in satisfactory condition.
  7. Never give up.
  8. Celebrate every victory.
  9. Never give up.


TIM LAHAYE - President of the Family Life Seminars.
I have not been a pastor for fifteen years, however, before that I spent thirty-three years as a pastor and loved it. Except for a two year country church while in college, I pastored in a Minneapolis suburb, much like the one in your fictitious model for six years. The church grew from 70 to around 400 with two morning services. When I went to a San Diego church it ran about 225 on Sunday morning. When we left after twenty-five years it was running three morning services with an average attendance of over 2500.

During those years we started two churches, a Christian school system consisting of ten schools, a Christian college, and several other things, including my present ministry of Family Life Seminars. Twice during those years we won Elmer Town's "fastest growing Sunday school" award for California. During the past fifteen years I have preached in at least forty churches a year, including some of the largest preaching centers in the country, from Prestonwood Baptist and the First Baptist in Dallas, to Second Baptist in Houston, to Belvue Baptist in Memphis, First Baptist in Orlando, and many others.

I realize this is a day when lots of energy is spent encouraging young ministers to launch seeker friendly services, that bend over backwards in an effort to avoid being controversial. Consequently, they don't take a positive stand on anything! Many modern style churches insult your intelligence by giving the minister of music more time for "worship" than the pastor has for preaching (20-29 minutes, if he is that fortunate). The worship typically omits the Christ honoring doctrinal teaching hymns of the church. Instead the people sing mindless ditties flashed on the wall with one good line repeated continually. Believe me, I've been there! Recently one church I spoke in gave me less time to preach than three young people had for a skit, the message of which I never did figure out.

Personally, as a churchman all my life and one who has given his life to the Lord and His church, I don't think there is only one way to build a church. Churches have personalities, often similar to the pastor. With all the emphasis on what I consider claptrap and shallow evangelism methods, I still believe that Bible teaching should take center stage. It is still possible to build a great church and be true to the faith once delivered to the saints.

I'm not convinced that you must have two different services today: traditional and claptrap. There is a balance that some churches I have preached in have found where they project on the wall meaningful choruses, praise songs, and old hymns of the faith. My wife and I attend a booming church (when we are in town) where the music in the two Saturday night services must cause Paul and Silas to roll in their graves. Sometimes they even bring some of those "wild" groups into the three Sunday morning services, at other times their fabulous choir or soloists sing. Always, however, the pastor picks the service up wherever it is and gives us a dynamic Bible based message with a practical application to life and ends up with an appeal to lost souls (40-50 minutes).

I am confident it can be done. One thing all growing churches have in common is an interesting speaker in the pulpit. If I were called to the neighborhood church of Milton today, I would first and foremost prepare the best Bible messages that I could deliver in the power of the Holy Spirit. I would deliver messages that have both a practical application to the daily problems of life and soul winning challenge. I would streamline the service so that the music contributed to the message and lead the people into true worship, the type that touches the mind as well as the feelings.

I would try to memorize the names of the people and be personally friendly and encourage the congregation to do the same. I would get the trustees or whoever was responsible for the physical property of the church and the finances to organize a few work days to clean up, repair, and paint the building. This should include a group of women to spruce up the nursery. You will never get young couples to attend a church in large numbers unless you offer a clean, well organized nursery.

One of the things I would do early is ask God to lay on my heart a number of men whose heart he is touching and invite them (and most of the men in the church) to a Bible study class and prayer meeting on Tuesday morning at 6:30 ( or Saturday as best fits the local schedule). There I would challenge them to incredible spiritual growth. The sessions go from September for thirteen weeks and another group from the second week in January for nineteen weeks. It consists of: 1) Daily Bible reading and keeping a journal, 2) Memorizing three Scriptures a week, 3) Daily Bible study, 4) Daily prayer. The meetings last one and a half hours. This discipling of men was one of the most effective ministries I had in both churches.

The San Diego church was hopelessly divided over loyalty to conventions. The pastor before me resigned after six years with bleeding ulcers. The man before him died after seventeen years. I was selected because I was young (30). Business and organization meetings were not always friendly. Four years later, three fourths of the men on all the boards had attended my discipleship training and were for the most part Godly men with hearts for God and His work. They were men who lived the Spirit filled life at home and, incidentally, loved and worked well with their pastor. The tone of deacons, trustees, advisory, and church meetings was one of love and harmony that lasted twenty-five years. The annual budget, without high pressure campaigns went from $45,000 to $10 million (schools etc. included). You see why I believe enthusiastic practical Bible teaching is the real key to lasting church growth.

The next thing I would do is teach the people soul winning and challenge them to earmark Monday night to follow-up the unsaved and new people from the day before. The pastor should take a man he believes could be adept at soul winning with him. He can show him two or three interviews each night for two or three months. This way he can then train him in how to win people to Christ in the home. Then the pastor can match the trainee with someone else to train while the pastor trains another. Gradually, he will build a soul winning team. With only 26,000 people, or approximately 12,000 homes, the church can plan a "fill the city" with their message program. They can hand deliver on Saturday and Sunday for several weeks, personal invitations to the services, brochures about the church and copies of the Gospel of John. Starting in their "Jerusalem," they can then move out to their "Judea" and eventually cover the entire city.

Next, I would try to have at least four "specials" or conferences each year. Bring in a specialist in evangelism, youth, child raising, family, marriage etc. This provides the church with a good reason to cover the entire area they consider their legitimate "field" and send or deliver brochures about the specialist for that quarter. Every time people get the new circular at the door or in the mailbox, they are reminded that the Milton Neighborhood Church is interested in them and has a program for their entire family.

A youth program is essential for a growing church. If you can't afford another staff member, and if there is no one who could really minister to the youth (and there probably isn't one or they would be doing it), try local Christian colleges or seminaries. Pray like mad that God sends a youth worker. I have even done it myself for a short time but I was young and energetic then. Sunday School can often be done with local leadership and training, but youth work takes real commitment and a special calling from God in most cases. In praying for personal and full-time or part-time staff members, I always prayed from the standpoint that finding the right people was God's responsibility not mine. After all, the church is His, not mine. He was more interested in sending me the right people than I was. The first one I ever had was a single woman who was studying in a local Bible school. She may have been one of the best I ever had. It was a great experience for both of us.

Space does not permit some of the other things I would launch to build the Milton church. There is one thing I would do today if it were located in an area where there were lots of underprivileged or poor people. Public education, in many communities is so weak today many children can't even read, do math, or know history. I would prayerfully ask God to send someone (perhaps some retired and gifted or apt teachers) willing to serve their Lord by teaching neighborhood children. Make up a brochure and invite parents to bring their children for FREE remedial reading classes, math classes, two days a week from 3:30-5:00. Send out or distribute circulars and convince the people in the neighborhood that the Milton church cares for their children and wants to help them reach their potential. Naturally, we would select the text books and reading material. Since it is free, that is our privilege. It would not be long before parents whose children learn how to read, write, and study soon will bring them to the church that has helped them. This program in itself will not build a great church; but as one of the effective programs of a church, it can be a vital means of reaching whole families.

Many years ago my wife and I accepted a call to a church much like the Milton church. God gave us a slogan we used in growing that congregation, "A friendly church with a message for the whole family." If we were starting out all over again, we would still use that same motto.

The Findings
To understand the findings presented in this book we need to understand that many of the existing works on church growth take one of two approaches. The first is "What can we learn from studying successful churches?" This might be described as a "programming approach." If a church does A, B, C, it will result in growth. It is true large churches and successful pastors can provide excellent information. Churches are constantly moving in new directions, adding and subtracting from their existing structure. We can be thankful that when a new program or direction is desired God has raised up a world class expert on the topic.

Large churches, parachurch organizations cannot, however, tell small churches how God wants them to proceed or if their program is applicable. For instance let us say that I were an expert on small group development. I might be able tell a church how to develop a small group. I might be able to state the benefits of the small group ministry. I might even be able to give some guidance as to whether a small group model is right for a given church. What I cannot ever tell a church is whether God wants that church to develop a small group ministry.

The second approach is an open ended seeking a greater spiritual walk strategy. This "Let go and let God, quietly listen for the Spirit's voice" approach assumes a deeper level of spirituality will result in church growth. It is true that if a church is facing issues of open carnality or unconfessed sin then the issue needs to a swift resolution. That said a church needs to go beyond a "desire" to do God's will, to actual obedience to the Spirit's direction. Seeking God's heart, through prayer and reading his word is sound advice, but in many cases still leaves many churches at the starting block. God always has a specific set of actions that needs to be revealed. This translates into a moving from step A to step B, knowing the direction God wants you to go.

This book takes an approach to evangelism and church development that is very different from other approaches listed above. It attempts to create a Bible based paradigm that merges the best elements of the "programing model" and the "let go and let God model."

The findings of this book follow a simple pattern. God always starts with the individual leader. God begins with our innermost being and works outward. God moves us from the simplest to the next most complex step. A systematic Spirit driven strategy that will have a broad based appeal for any Christian who is the least bit interested in seeing others won to Christ.

Biblical Application
This pattern was reflected in the story of Mosesâ initial encounter with God as described in Exodus 3:3 - 4: 16. God started with one person Moses. God first looked to makes sure Moses was willing to listen, by commanding him to take off his shoes (Exodus 3:5-6). God gives Moses a general description or vision without revealing too much of the details that were to come later (Exodus 3:7-10). God assures Moses that He is the one that will be taking charge in the matter (Exodus 3:12) God tells Moses to do the simplest thing Moses can do. This is to reveal to the elders of Israel that God will deliver them (Exodus 3:16-18). Then God reveals to Moses the resources he needs, 1) a staff that God will work a miracle with and 2) Telling him to enlist Aaron, who has the necessary communication skills (Exodus 4:1-17).

God provided all the Moses needed to begin the undertaking, but it was Moses who had to be willing to take the first step. I sometimes believe that if Moses had a "program mentality" has described above, he would indicated that he was going to hire a "Get-your-people-out-of-bondage" church development consultant. If Moses were of the "Let go and let God" mindset he would have never gotten up from the burning bush!

This work starts with the simplest thing a church leader can do. Each chapter describes the respondentsâ comments on the topic. The chapters move from the individual's deepest relationship with God to the person's outward actions and then the person's relationship with others. The chapters move the leader from the most simplest to the most complex. This approach has several advantages:

  1. This approach lets the reader know the starting point. If a church leader is throwing up his/her hands wondering where to begin and where to go from there, this approach provides strategic guidelines.

  2. This model balances a need for structure without choking the spontaneity of the Spirit. This method avoids "program" mentality while still providing more focus than an open-ended approach that can be quite ambiguous.

  3. The paradigm provides an accountability check list. If an individual is serious about his/her Christian walk this method provides a way of measuring one's efforts with what is likely to bring success.

  4. It is a resource when dealing with critics. Church leaders routinely deal with critics resistant to change within the church. How they handle these critics will often define the success of any change strategy. The logical step by step approach provides a consistent Biblically based counter balance to the resistance that will almost inevitably occur.

  5. This new model helps balance various ideas and criticisms. Having read dozens of books on the topic and interviewing the 100 respondents, I can restate Murphy's law as, "Anything that can be said about the church growth and evangelism process has been said." So many varying perspectives lead to what I call the law of positive contradictions. That is to say that individuals will disagree and contradict each other. When we work within a systematic structure using sound Biblical theology, a little applied research, and principles of logic, we will find that these contradictions are not contradictions at all. Rather they are varying perspectives that complement each other.

Would You Like More Information?
If the preceding information interests you, please contact John Louis. He will be happy to share more of the findings, and is interested in your ideas and opinions. John Louis is also available for seminars and revivals on the topic of outreach, evangelism and congregational renewal.

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