Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Guardrails for Growth

While a big part of church growth - branching out as God intended us - is to encourage our members to pursue their passions and go after the things God has put on their hearts, we have to have some guardrails in place that determine how we grow. Without them, we risk losing the shape God has given us. 

So here are some things that I think are important. 

First, whatever we do - whatever we encourage - has to be God-honoring. It has to be God's idea. It has to be something that Jesus Himself would do if He were walking the streets of our community. You would think that this point would go without saying, but it doesn't take a very long look at the world around us to see how easily Jesus gets twisted and turned into something He would never be in the name of persons' pet projects. So no matter what it is, we have to ask if it's consistent with the character of Christ as given to us in the Gospels. If it's not, take a pass. 

Second, we need to make sure that there is a need for that kind of ministry in our community. Every community has its own shape and thus, has its own challenges. To be good stewards of our resources, we have to make sure that what we're investing in is going to have an impact where we're investing in it. So if you're a church in a community with a bunch of gated neighborhoods and finely manicured lawns, you're probably not in the best place to open a soup kitchen in your auxiliary room. (I guarantee you that even in communities like these, there are persons that are hungry, but your gated-neighborhood church might not be the best place for a kitchen.) Maybe you open that soup kitchen in a neighboring community that's more accessible to those who need it, but you just have to be real about who you are and where you are. 

Third, and closely related, we need to make sure that another church in the area (or churches in the area) aren't already tapped into that ministry. One of the greatest traps that churches fall into is trying to copy the success of the church down the street. But not every church has to be good at the same things. That's why God has formed us the way that He has. And if you try to build a big children's ministry like the church down the street, 1) you're going to have trouble getting kids into it because they already have a church that's meeting their need for that and 2) you're going to put yourself in competition with that church. We are not in competition. We are here to complement one another. Find a need that isn't being met - trust me, there are plenty of them. Don't waste your resources trying to copy someone else's success. (And if your people are interested in that kind of ministry, help them plug into the one that already exists. It's okay if we work together instead of trying to stay inside of our own fences.)

Fourth, make sure everyone in the congregation has the opportunity to participate. A lot of times, what happens is that someone comes up with an idea for a ministry that is heavy on their hearts and they try to get things rolling and all they are really interested in is funding or support. They don't want others to actually participate in the ministry, but they want them to donate to it. Time or money. Few details are given, but a notice is put out that anyone who wants to come help paint classroom 7 for the new ministry that's going into it should come out and paint and anyone who wants to fund it should donate, but no one is allowed to know what's going on or how it will work or be part of actually running the ministry. This is a huge red flag. If your church is not invited to participate in the ministry, they should not be expected or pressured to simply invest in it. 

Fifth, make sure that what you're looking at is an actual ministry and not a private business venture. Do you remember five or ten years ago when you started getting friend requests on social media from persons you hadn't talked to since high school, only to find out they still don't really care about you but they are now in the business of selling something and thought you might make a good target? Persons use churches in the same way. They get into a congregation and plug themselves in because to them, that increases their customer base fairly quickly. And it doesn't take long before they start dragging their wares into church meetings and small groups and it kind of takes on this tone of "we support so-and-so so we buy their product because this is us loving one another." No. Get the moneychangers out of the Temple. A personal, private business venture is not a ministry. Period. Your members should not be using the church to pay their bills. It compromises not only the integrity of the church, but the safety and dignity of persons in it. We cannot be vulnerable with and truly love one another if we're nothing more than targets.

This is also true, by the way, about members who maybe don't show up on Sunday morning for business, but still want to use your building to make a profit. Your church becomes associated with everything that goes on in it, not just the services it puts on, and you take on a liability for anything that happens inside your doors/on your grounds. Be careful about who you let profit off your name - it may come back as a bigger debt that you intended to pay. 

These are a few good guardrails to start with. I'm certain there are more. But these are also the biggest traps for churches who dare to try new things. Being mindful of these few things will help you to be more confident that you are growing in God-shaped ways when you do branch out. 

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