By Bill Henard
As a church experiences growth, it must develop ministry and mission that strengthen the church internally and align the church externally.
A key component to church revitalization and initiating change is getting the church onto the mission field to minister through the gospel and meeting needs. Leadership must learn to strike the balance between developing ministry that cares for the church and getting the church onto the mission field.
When ministry and mission begin, leadership learns to give things away. The pastors do not do all the visiting or care. People are encouraged and trained to become decision-makers and are allowed the freedom to try and to fail.
The church moves beyond its four walls to engage the culture with greater relevance and impact. The congregation becomes more gospel-centered in its approach to growth, health, and ministry. Growth, mission, and ministry go together, even when coupled with severe persecution.
The church that wants to avoid the crises, problems, and difficulties of ministry and mission moves into a survival mode. Ministry becomes more about taking care of those in the status quo than meeting genuine needs. Mission is nonexistent unless it provides an opportunity for self-promotion or self-worth.
In other words, the church in the state of self-preservation will feel good about itself if it helps others in need, but the motive is far more self than it is mission or ministry.
For example, I was talking with the staff member of a church that had been on a decade-long plateau. No one really noticed the plateau because the church had regular baptisms and additions. They just did not notice that they were only maintaining, not growing.
Most of the leadership was satisfied because they were growing old together with their church friends. The numbers, though, did not lie.
Leadership would even talk about mission. They were proud that a group had gone to another country one time a decade ago. Locally, they fed the hungry.
In fact, they would load up the buses and pick up the homeless downtown for a Thanksgiving meal, then herd all the partakers into the sanctuary to hear a sermon from the pastor, and then load them back up on the buses to be driven “home” to their downtown box on the street.
This staff member relayed to me that the church bragged on this work as though it was something noble. He also quickly mentioned that they ceased the ministry when they caught a couple of homeless men wandering around the church during the dinner and thought it to be too risky from that point on.
It was mission, but it was mission with an asterisk, a qualification that its purpose was far more for the church than for the mission.
At this point, even if it does not recognize this stage, the church has moved into a survival mode. Decisions certainly become more about what is best for the church at hand than about reaching those outside of Christ.
Risk becomes an anomaly. The church, though it has grown in the past, now decides it is time to survive.
Even if the church develops a strategy of how it would continue to grow, that strategy is ignored when the church realizes that it must give the ministry away and move out of its newfound comfort zone.
As long as those who do the ministry can keep doing the ministry, everyone is happy. The church of seventy-five can expect that the pastor makes all of the visits. Let that church grow to 175 or 275, and the scenario dramatically changes.
Now the youth pastor appears at the hospital before surgery, the Bible study teacher calls absentees, and the deacons are expected to care for the widows, and nobody likes it. Therefore, the church locks down, and instead of expanding ministry and mission, it reverts to its past when the “apostles” took care of everybody and did the preaching as well.
The saying “small church mentality” may be overused and sometimes misused, but at this juncture on the growth plane, it is incredibly important. Why is it that most churches have fewer than a hundred attendees?
Some of the reasons include location and population, but even in the more rural or small-town areas, a church probably has more potential than it is reaching.
The church is not growing because it does not want to grow any larger and has moved into a survival mode. It is now purposed to take care of itself.
This fact is true for long, established churches, but it is also true for many newer church plants. Any church can start out right and have the right goals, vision, and even strategy.
The real test occurs when the church has to expand its leadership base and ministry concepts. It either decides to develop ministry to meet needs and mission to reach the world, or it chooses to hunker down and take care of itself.
When a church decides to become a survivor, it unfortunately sets the stage for death.
- Hope for Dying Churches
- 6 Radical Steps for a Dying Church to Find Life
- From Dying Church to Thriving Outpost of God’s Kingdom
- Church Revitalization: New Life for Dying Churches
BILL HENARD currently serves as Executive Director-Treasurer of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists and an adjunct professor of evangelism and church revitalization. He is father to three grown children, and he and his wife Judy are grandparents of five.
Excerpted with permission from ReClaimed Church by Bill Henard. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.