Like me, if you have spent time in leadership at your church you have wondered, and discussed, ways to grow the church. You’ve tried to figure out what the “secret” is and how you can see church growth in your church. You’ve looked at programs, discussed strategies, and planned campaigns designed to see exponential and permanent growth. And you are still wondering: what is the key?
Personally, I’ve been concerned that the secret to church growth is having a full head of hair and a Ph.D.; because I have neither. I’ve also been concerned that the secret to quick growth is in cool glasses and skinny jeans and soy-non-fat-mocha-vegan-gluten-free-useless warm brown water. Because, if that’s it…I’m in trouble.
As it turns out, the “secret” to church may lie in something as simple as doctrine.
A new study is reporting that doctrinally conservative churches that prioritize reaching out to their community are growing.
This goes against everything we’ve heard in recent years. As an article from The Gospel Coalition explains:
“This isn’t necessarily what we’ve heard in recent years. Whether it’s the music, the attractive facility, or the feeling of community, we need something to keep the church growing—something besides biblical teaching. How surprising, then, that David Millard Haskell, Kevin N. Flatt, and Stephanie Burgoyne have found that doctrine grows churches. In their peer-reviewed scholarly article for the Review of Religious Research, a prestigious journal, the trio present findings among mainstream Canadian churches showing that—contra the stereotypes—doctrinally conservative churches that reach out aggressively often grow. Churches that soften biblical teachings and de-emphasize evangelism often shrink.”
How refreshing to see collected data reinforce what many biblical churches already believe: doctrine is critically important in growing a church. But it’s not merely about church growth; it’s about the priority of the church in making disciples. When a church emphasizes reaching the lost and then making mature disciples it will eventually see organic growth. But, as we’ve seen many times in recent years, quick growth, exponential growth seems to be more important that authentic growth born from disciples making disciples.
The article at The Gospel Coalition makes some excellent points on the critical nature of the pulpit ministry of the church and the role of the pastor, not as innovator-in-chief, but as preacher and teacher. These are wise points that churches would do well to heed. Churches need to have not only right doctrine, but also a right view of the role of the church and the role of the pastor in the church. If these roles are not biblically defined and clearly communicated, the church will experience internal turmoil.
This is a good and encouraging study that I would suggest reading and sharing with your church leaders. The reality is that programs and events and concerts do little to produce disciples. In the end, people will leave because they will be attracted to the next big thing and seeking the next thrill. What people need is the Gospel of Jesus and the doctrine He imparted in the Bible. People don’t need an excuse to make excuses or to have their church justify their sin by silence.
A comment in an op-ed at the Washington Post hits the nail on the head and should be a key takeaway for us all:
“We had been told that liberal doctrine was needed to draw people, but the data show the reverse is true. It turns out people actually want to be called to believe in something, belong to somewhere, commit to Someone.”