Can any church grow or not?
We all love an underdog story. A group of rebels fighting an evil empire. The story of a losing football team and a coach desperate to save his job. A group of inner-city students looking for a way out of poverty by learning calculus. These are powerful stories, but do we believe that a church can face a hopeless situation and still grow? Is church growth still possible?
This week on ministrymatters.com, Susan Nienaber describes her journey about “What I believe is true about congregations.” As a District Superintendent for the Big Waters District within the Minnesota Annual Conference, she consults with a number of struggling congregations and she shared she had the following belief:
For many years, I subscribed to the belief that as a congregation is declining, it will eventually reach a “threshold of change.” If the congregation slips beneath this threshold of change, it will not be capable of revitalizing because it has lost most, if not all, of its internal resources. In fact, efforts to try and get the congregation to revitalize will be futile and will be cruel. Similar to telling a hospice patient to get out of their bed and walk.
A story of a little church that could.
She then went along to explain her experience with Ogilvie United Methodist Church in Ogilvie, Minnesota which is situated about 75 miles north of Minneapolis. In this small town of 361 souls, the church was about to turn around a near hopeless decline when they were down to 12 in average worship attendance and $35 in the checking account and double this worship attendance in 16 months and get back on a firm financial footing.
Their pastor, Pastor Rob Pesola, attributes three major factors:
- These folks have an unshakable faith. Instead of running in fear, they decided to embrace God’s purpose for their community by examining 4 realistic options and began to pray for God’s guidance in how to move forward in faith.
- These folks have an unconquerable will. Faith builds a “never give up mentality” in their hearts and decided that “closing was not an option.” This decision kept the church focused on their mission, believing God would bless their work.
- These folks have a teachable spirit. They were willing to listen to new ideas from others as well as look at new ways to do things. If something did not work, they were willing to adapt and change instead of declaring it a failure.
I would also one more factor. It requires competent leadership. Leadership must be humble enough to listen, intelligent enough to effective manage the resources they have and the leadership skills to keep the church focused on God’s plan and not their own.
Was this an exception to the rule?
Throughout both the Bible and in history, it is chocked full of stories when a small group of people focused on their faith in God and how to best serve him. The 12 Disciples starting the next phase on Jesus’ ministry in Acts 2. Paul launching new ministries in Asia to the Greeks when he had no right to succeed. The early Christian church against the persecution of Nero and Rome. Martin Luther leading the Protestant Reformation. John Wesley feeling his heart strangely warmed and starting a new denomination. A small urban church growing from 35 to 150 in less than 3 years when it had no right to exist looking at the demographics of the community. A small group of believers in China who growing in faith and numbers daily.
God throughout history has used the oppressed, downtrodden and the hopeless to build his Kingdom. Church growth is not dependent on a set of circumstances but a willingness to be obedient to God.
Here is the key question: Is your church willing to to have the faith, will and teachable spirit necessary for church growth? Do you have the competent leadership to grow?