The Math of a Growing Church

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If you can do fourth-grade-math, you can calculate the numbers of a growing church. I learned this while in my ninth year of shepherding churches. I don’t remember why, but I decided to study the Sunday school organization of our church. I began by adding up the number of classes and dividing our average annual attendance by that number. What I learned was that we averaged ten persons per class.

I remember thinking, “That’s interesting. I wonder if we averaged the same attendance per class the year prior?” I discovered that we did. I then examined every year for the past 15 years. I learned that no matter the average annual attendance, we always, and I mean always, averaged ten per class. I served that church for almost 11 years and we never averaged nine or eleven per class. We always averaged ten. And for every net increase in the numbers of classes, our attendance increased by ten people per class.

When I started serving in denominational leadership I began calculating the average attendance per class in other churches. With few exceptions, the average was ten. The number ten seems to work whether the church is small or large.

This observation led to several conclusions. First, attendance goals are not as significant as goals to start new classes. Attendance increases as the number of classes increases.   This means that recruiting and training new teachers must be a top priority. Recruit, train, and begin new classes. Doing these things enabled us to reach and teach more people.

Second, some classes will average more than ten. Demographics, exceptional leadership, and adequate space, allows some classes to grow larger. It is not necessary to divide these large classes, but we did train new leaders from their members. We were also able to show that, while they may average more than ten, they too reached a maximum average. Some classes maxed out at six or seven, others at twenty, but the church-wide average was always ten.

Third, while the square footage of your education space is important, so is the total number of meeting rooms that you have. If you have a total of ten rooms for classes, you will not exceed an average attendance of 100 without adding meeting rooms or using rooms for multiple groups.

Fourth, increasing numbers came to faith in Christ as our Sunday school enrollment increased. If we could connect a person to a Sunday school class, our opportunity to lead them to Christ, and see them follow Jesus in baptism, greatly increased. As I studied our Sunday school, the attendance-to-enrollment percentage became unimportant to me. What I wanted to see was an increasing number of classes and an increasing enrollment. If those two things grew, I knew attendance would increase, and we would see more people come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

I strongly believe that churches need to emphasize growing the numbers of Sunday school classes, or small groups, if you will. The only way to do this is by increasing the number of small group leaders we have. People are reached, taught and cared for by committed small group leaders.

How about a little fourth-grade-math homework assignment? Add up the total number of Sunday school classes, or small groups, in your church. Divide the average attendance for the 20013-2014 Sunday school year by the number of classes. If you are like the vast majority of churches, you will average about ten per class. Next, develop a plan to train new teachers and start new classes. Failure to do so will result in declining impact on your community. But, if you will do the work, you will increase your impact, to the glory of God.

And here’s an opportunity for you. On March 6-7 there is a training conference for all who work with preschoolers, children and their families. It’s called CM52, because Children’s Ministry is 52 weeks a year. First Baptist Church, Longview, WA is hosting the event. You can register at www.nwbaptist.org. If your church doesn’t have a quality children’s ministry, with trained workers, you will find it impossible to reach and keep young families. I highly recommend this event. Ongoing training of small group leaders is key to a growing church.

Northwest Baptists/East Asia Partnership Update, February 2015

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On November 10, 2014, the Northwest Baptist Convention celebrated our first-ever international mission partnership. We are joining our IMB personnel in East Asia to push back lostness among peoples who have no knowledge of Jesus Christ and little access to His Gospel. Though we are only a few months into a many-year partnership, I want to give you a status update.

First, rejoice that the churches of the NWBC gave 25% more money ($101,000) to the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions in 2014 than we did in 2013. That deserves a “Praise God, hallelujah!” In part, I believe this happened because 11 IMB missionaries joined us in October, conducting 9 EA1Day events across the Northwest, encouraging us and mobilizing us to join them in reaching the lost of East Asia.

Second, we already have about a dozen churches planning to take teams to East Asia in 2015 (that I am aware of), travelling to peoples and places where little or no Gospel witness exists. Go to http://www.nwbaptist.org and click on “East Asia” to read the specific requests our IMB personnel are making, asking your church to come and serve on a short-term project. When I say, “your church,” it means a small team from your church, comprised of 2-6 people, that actually makes an individual trip (though the entire church should be praying and supporting the effort).

Third, our East Asia IMB leadership has provided $25,000 to the NWBC to scholarship college students participating in one of our partnership trips. We have had several students apply for a scholarship of up to $500 each, but we have many more scholarships available so complete those applications. We want to spend every dollar this year, sending your students to East Asia, so go to the NWBC website and download the application from the East Asia page.

Fourth, two IMB couples will spend July-December of 2015 with us, helping our churches develop plans to participate in our East Asia partnership. What a blessing they will be!

Fifth, when a church does missions among the unreached, it nearly always results in increased evangelism locally. So, one reason to do international missions is that your local outreach will be strengthened. Doing missions can be, and should be, a part of the discipleship ministry of your church.

Visit the East Asia page at http://www.nwbaptist.org to learn more about the partnership. And please battle against the thought, “I can’t afford this. I can’t do this.” I have taken people on mission trips who earned their trip money by cleaning houses, mowing lawns, washing cars, and hosting bake sales and dessert auctions. In our churches, some will be unable to go themselves, but will help someone else go on mission. What I am saying is that doing missions is about the call and commitment to go, no matter your financial status. God truly does provide a way. No matter how small your church, or how meager your bank balance, you can travel to East Asia. Not only that, but the spiritual preparation for the trip, and the actual doing of missions, will help you grow in your faith. In East Asia you will visit with people who have never heard the name “Jesus,” literally. You will join God in His great work of making disciples of all peoples.

“Here I am Lord. Send me!”

Men Wanted! Part-time Pay, Full-time Work, Survival Likely

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Bruce Corley was an outstanding New Testament professor. After sitting in his class for two semesters, two things stand out to me these 30 years later. First, when asked about a particular passage of Scripture, one that we were not studying at the time, he answered the question after first quoting the text in Greek, parsing the key verb, and dealing with other significant grammar issues. He is very smart.

The second thing that I remember is Dr. Corley making this statement: “Two-thirds of you will be bi-vocational in your ministry.” I must confess that my immediate thought was “Not me!” But I soon learned that Dr. Corley was correct, both practically and strategically, he was correct. And for several years the term “bi-vocational” described my ministry.

In the Northwest Baptist Convention we have 450+ churches, about 80 of which average more than 100 in worship attendance. More than twice as many average less than 50 in worship. If that surprises you, you should also know that our percentages are not very different from other states, including the Bible –belt states of the South. Without question half of all Baptist churches average less than 75 in worship, and in some states half would average less than 60 or 65. That means that many pastors and associate pastors are bi-vocational. Some that are not bi-vocational would be if it were not for a spouse providing additional income.

This reality means that Dr. Corley was correct for practical reasons. Most churches are small and need a pastor that has additional income. But Dr. Corley was also correct for strategic reasons. For many different reasons, most churches never average 100 people in weekly attendance, even in their peak years of attendance. This was true in A.D. 1815, 1915, and 2015. Therefore, if we are going to reach more people, we must have more churches, not simply seek to grow our existing churches.

Every church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ. And every church should not only desire to reach more people, but should actually work to do it. That said, never in the history of our country has the typical church had 100 people in weekly attendance. It has always been true that the denominations and networks of churches that have won the day have done so because they had more churches, most of which were led by bi-vocational pastors. This has always been true. Thus, strategically, we must have more bi-vocational pastors if we are going to reach more people.

“Whoever has the most churches wins” is a statement that I’ve been making for many years. What I mean by that is that whoever has the most churches will reach the most people. That means that whoever has the most churches will make the most disciples, send the most missionaries, develop the most prayer warriors, and make the greatest impact on culture.

In Washington and Oregon, “the people” voted to legalize same-sex marriage and marijuana smoking. Other states have same-sex marriage because of the decision of a federal judge. But “the people” of Washington and Oregon voted to legalize it. Why did they do it? Because we don’t have enough churches making more and more disciples. It’s not that our churches aren’t big enough. The reason Arkansas hasn’t voted to legalize same-sex marriage isn’t because they have bigger churches. It’s because they have far more churches, most of whom have bi-vocational pastors. This is true of Missouri and Texas and Oklahoma and Mississippi and Georgia. The churches in those states are not better than the churches of the Northwest, and most of them are not bigger, there are just many more of them.

In the Northwest, we need more churches. And the way we get more churches is to call-out more pastors, many of whom will be bi-vocational. Bi-vocational pastors are heroes. They work full-time (a pastor always has his flock in his head and heart). They get paid part-time. But most of them survive, and even thrive, by the grace of God.

Is God calling you into ministry leadership? Is He calling someone in your church? If He is, it doesn’t mean you have to quit your day job. He might want you to pastor that small church that’s struggling to find God’s man. He might want you to start a church while you continue to teach school, or police your city, or run your business. I can promise you this, we need many such men. God is calling many such men.

Seven Reasons for the Pastor to Lead the Church in Prayer

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One of the great joys of the pastor is that of leading the church to God’s throne in prayer. I have observed, however, that the “pastoral prayer” is less common in our churches than it used be, or than I had assumed it was. There are many reasons for the pastor to lead the church in prayer as she gathers to worship God. Consider these seven reasons:

  1. Prayer is one of the two most important components of worship (the exposition of Scripture being the other). Leading the church to talk to God in prayer is vital to spiritual leadership.
  2. The church learns what is on the pastor’s heart as he prays. Are the lost in the community on his heart? Community leaders and servants? Missionaries? The persecuted and suffering? What and whom we pray for helps others understand what we value. It also educates the church on what the pastor deems most important, and thus, about which we must be talking to God.
  3. Children and new believers learn how to pray, and what to pray for, by listening to prayer that comes from their pastor’s heart.
  4. Sunday guests, especially the lost, expect that when they attend a church worship service that they will be led to meet with God. They come needing to meet with God, as we all do. Prayer is a spiritual activity they expect to experience in the church, and they need to experience it, in a deep and meaningful way.
  5. Congregational prayer should be planned and prayed about in advance and the pastor is the best to do this. The pastor’s focus on preparing for the weekly worship experience is unsurpassed and thus he is best positioned to pray for the people and matters than need to be brought to the Lord that week.
  6. What the church prays for reveals the heart and priority of the church.
  7. There is no greater privilege than to lead the church to the throne of God in prayer and the pastor should covet this opportunity.

One thing I want to make clear is that others in the church should be called upon to lead in public prayer. I am not suggesting that only the senior pastor should lead in prayer. Nor am I suggesting that the pastor is always the greatest prayer warrior in the church. Thankfully, many churches have godly women and men who spend a great deal of time talking to God each day. In one church I served there was a teenage boy, though young in his faith, taught us important lessons on how to pray. He didn’t know “church vocabulary.” He talked to God in a simple, sincere way, and it was refreshing to hear him as he led us to God in prayer.

You might add to the list I am suggesting, or change it in some way. That is perfectly fine, of course. But I do hope that each of us will give careful thought to the prayer ministry of our church, including our time spent in public prayer on Sunday morning. Sad to say, many churches spend less than one minute in prayer on Sunday morning, and often this minute sounds the same each week and addresses nothing outside the walls of the church building. It doesn’t have to be this way. We should plan and prepare to pray, just as we plan and prepare to preach and sing.