The Paradox of Church Growth

“We’re not trying to grow a church here.” That’s not exactly what you expect to hear right before the pastor says that we must expand to three services because of our rapid growth. It’s not normal, but that’s what Rod Van Solkema told us this Sunday at Crossroads Bible Church outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

So it begs the question: if Crossroads isn’t focused on growth, why is it growing? (Especially when so many churches are extremely focused on growth, but are actually shrinking.)

It’s because the vast majority of the people at every gathering are serious — they’re desperate, focused followers of Christ. That kind of intensity can’t help but reveal itself and newcomers are either drawn to it or repelled by it.  Obviously, the majority who walk into Crossroads are finding fellow travelers who have the same longing and thirst… and now we’re up to three services.

I know how to market products and services, and I’m good at it.  I have done my fair share of marketing churches and building brands for local congregations, but there’s a paradox in marketing which spills over into the area of church growth. The strongest brand loyalty is built on the strength of early adopters who discover the product before any hype begins.  Those are the true believers and their experience becomes the most potent form of marketing communications.  In our case, it’s the cry of a desperate follower of Christ telling another where to find truth and freedom.

It’s the way they did it in the book of Acts.  Peter and Paul – marketing gurus.

Posted on September 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

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Response (1)

  1. Emilio Espinosa
    September 18, 2008 at 1:18 am ·

    A church that is “trying to grow” is also “trying” to be a church. A church that does grow is really being church.

    We have been given the charge to share the story of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We have been enlisted to teach others what we have learned as we have allowed that story to affect our lives. We have been instructed to instruct all those who come to share our faith to do the same thing – share the story with others so that more might come to trust in it. This creates the unending cycle by which the story of Jesus spreads, believers teaching and preparing others to teach and prepare others ad nauseum.

    Nowhere is there a set goal or a margin by which to measure success. Success is determined simply by doing our part in the cycle: teaching and preparing others to teach and prepare others, etc. etc. We are just supposed to share the message. The change in a person’s heart is done by God, and even then not everyone who hears the story and is moved by God’s Spirit is going to let that change happen to them. Even fewer will be changed when the church is more focused on good music, fancy lighting, cutting-edge video, and a self-help book disguised as a sermon.

    A church that needs to have growth as it’s mandate hasn’t figured out what it’s really supposed to be about. This kind of church spends it’s time and effort attracting people but never gives them the substance they need for true success. It takes very little time for people with real needs and a real desire to have a relationship with God to become dissatisfied with the shallowness of this kind of church. A few people may stay, but most leave and the church mostly fails to grow. The ultimate tragedy of this cycle is that many who leave never return to any church, having equated God with their poor experience and determining Him to be as pointless as these churches.

    Every seat full is not necessarily success, and a meager turnout is not necessarily failure. The true successes and failures of our efforts will only be known when God reveals them to us in the afterlife. Until then, we need to focus on whatever number of listeners we have around us and do all that we can to teach and prepare them to teach and prepare more who will teach and prepare still more. That’s what I believe that Crossroads is saying.

    Crossroads has discovered that it’s mission is not to fill seats. It’s mission is to teach and prepare. If they do this correctly, then those who are taught and prepared will naturally teach and prepare more. As they continue down this path, the seats become filled and the church grows. This is being a proper church properly. While other churches are concerned with seeming to have success, Crossroads and other churches like it are indeed succeeding.

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