The Critical Element Of Church Growth

When I started planting in 1974 there was not much help to be had.  In fact there was hostility to it in some cases.  Other pastors in the communities where we planted were almost universally threatened by our presence.

Today church planting is the frontline in the battle for the souls of men.  There are books, conferences and schools that specialize in preparing church planters for ministry.  Coaches and mentors are available as well as every manner of ecclesiastical support for this endeavor.  Expectations on the part of those new to the CP adventure vary widely.  If you’re in central Tennessee you might be able to put up a few cardboard signs on telephone poles around the community and draw a crowd.  If you’re in Salt Lake City it will be another matter.

The most common questions I am asked relate to critical mass and how to achieve it.  Does everyone have the capacity to build a mega-church?  If so, how long should it take?

In my last year of college I took a trip around the country visiting the nation’s largest churches and spent a hour or two with each senior pastor.  You’d recognize most of the names…  John McArthur, Tim LaHaye, etc.  All of them were large back then.  The purpose of the exercise was to see if what they did could be replicated.  Or was their numerical success unique to the man or the location.

One of the churches I surveyed was Peninsula Bible Church in Paulo Alto, CA.  Ray Stedman had been there for decades.  They were running about 1,500 on Sundays.  I asked Bob Smith, Stedman’s co-pastor, “How does a church get to be 1,500 people?”  Smith answered, “It’s easy. You grow one person per week for 1,500 weeks.”

Steadman had been there 30 years or about 1,500 weeks.  I learned a lot that day.  The critical element of church growth is persistence.  When I was at Moody, Dr. George Sweeting used to often say, “It’s always too soon to quit.”  Hang in there, brothers!