Growth Sat, 20 Sep 2014 13:59:50 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Is Growth or Control More Important to You?

He may not be Solomon, but David Chrzan often drops nuggets of wisdom that sound as if they could have come from the book of Proverbs. In the five years or so that I've known and worked with David, he's repeatedly dropped advice that has shaped my own philosophy of leadership. For example, in a recent conversation, David said, "You can have growth, or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want."

Wow. So true. David wasn't implying that control is a bad thing. In fact, some level of control is essential. And "control" really refers to the amount of institutional structure and machinery required to guide a movement forward within protective boundaries.

On the weekend before I wrote this, Grace Hills set a new attendance record for the third time this year. And on that Sunday, 36 people came to our Newcomers Lunch, which is more than we had in our first public meeting two-and-a-half years ago. Angie and I go home on Sundays and talk about how humbling—and scary—it is.

Scary? Growth? Isn't growth good? Yes, growth is good for a church if it's the result of God's response to a healthy body. But with growth can come the feeling of a loss of control. Suddenly, we don't know everyone anymore. We can't remember all the names and match them up with all the faces.

We are scrambling to staff our kids' rooms and other areas with enough volunteers to keep things working well. It costs more money to minister to more people. People from different backgrounds are converging, which brings a broader array of philosophies into our small groups.

Our gut reaction to rapid growth is to immediately try to control it. We need more systems. We need more machinery. We need to stabilize the institution. I know ... let's form some committees ...

As David shared the principle of how growth and control are fierce enemies, he also pointed out that as a church grows, some level of control is necessary. Systems are good. They help us keep people from falling through the cracks and getting left behind. But if a movement is gaining momentum because of the involvement of the Spirit of God, then who can really stand in its way?

So here's a good plan to follow when growth comes:

1. Celebrate the wins, changed lives and the steps forward happening in the lives of people.

2. Try to get in front of the movement with a framework for making disciples that will scale with growth.

3. Have a solid theological framework for doing ministry before you start.

4. Focus on developing leaders who can create healthy systems—not systems for which you desperately need leaders.

5.Go with the flow. Follow the Holy Spirit's movement, which can be as unpredictable as the wind.

6. Realize that growth should be multidimensional. How will you turn this new crowd into a committed congregation?

7. Never shift from an outward focus. It's never time to "stop reaching new people and start discipling those we have." Discipleship, by its nature, involves reproducing, so remaining outwardly focused is the best way to make disciples. 

Brandon Cox has been a pastor for 15 years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church.

]]> (Brandon A. Cox) Growth Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
5 of the Fastest-Growing Churches You’ve Never Heard of

Other Christian magazines annually report on the "fastest-growing churches in America." Churches like New Spring in Anderson, South Carolina; Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama; Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California; Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas; and Citylife Church in Tampa, Florida, have all received their just due for packing 'em in every Sunday and winning souls for the kingdom.

But what about those church plants—ones that you might not quite be familiar with—that Jesus has blessed with phenomenal growth in a short period of time?

One of those churches "fearlessly" meets in a nightclub in downtown Los Angeles—complete with, dare we say it, stripper poles. Another started out in a laundromat, with members putting quarters in machines and paying for other people's laundry, and wound up in an Irish pub.

In a society when many churches are either on the decline or have shut down, these churches certainly have hit on a godly formula to attract the unchurched.

Unique Growth

One church met in a nightclub with stripper poles—a venue popular with Hollywood celebrities. Another focused on the "profound mystery" of marriage, encouraging husbands to be the "pastors of their homes." A third uses a Crossfit gym as its second campus and offers a workout after the service. A fourth is breaking all the rules with love, miracles, long sermons and worship services that allow the gifts of the Spirit to flow. The last started doing free laundry for the less fortunate, met in an Irish pub and has the blessing of Pastor Jack Hayford, former president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

While their methods and gathering places may be unconventional, they all share a passion for spreading the hope and love of Jesus in highly innovative ways. They are among the fastest-growing churches in America that most have never heard of. Here are their stories:

Fearless Church

From an early age, Jeremy Johnson felt God was calling him to plant a church in one of America's most unchurched areas.

But he never imagined his church would hold services in a nightclub with stripper poles or that it would be featured in a positive light in a liberal, alternative newsmagazine such as Los Angeles Weekly.

The idea for this daring and innovative church gelled one day during a prayer meeting in Modesto, California, several years ago when the words of A. W. Tozer came to his wife's mind: "A scared world needs a fearless church."

"My wife (Christy) said, 'What if we call it Fearless?' Something just jumped out to me when she said that because fear had almost dominated my life to the point where I couldn't speak or share the gospel," says Johnson, pastor of Fearless Church, a Los Angeles-based church that has grown from 20 people last year to about 400 now.

"I said, 'God, I'll go out on a limb and tell the whole world. God broke my fear of approval of man, fear of failure and just worry and anxiety. 1 John 4:18 says, 'perfect love casts out fear.' There are actually 365 'fear nots' in the Bible. There is one for every day."

The birth of Fearless Church has its roots in a message Johnson gave at the funeral of two high school friends who died in a car accident in 1997. Plagued by fear of public speaking, Johnson only gave a "nice little prayer." Afterwards, several other friends got drunk and got into an accident. When the driver awoke, he mistakenly thought he had killed everyone in the car, walked to nearby railroad tracks and took his life. Troubled that he hadn't shared the gospel at the funeral, Johnson decided at age 18 to dedicate his life to spreading the gospel and become a pastor.

After graduating from Vanguard University, he spent a decade working as the youth pastor at The House: Modesto church. Then, one day, Johnson had an encounter with God while traveling with the band that grew out of his youth group—Worth Dying For. On the bus ride, Johnson says it felt like "all the sound in the bus (it was very loud) shut off for a second and I felt God speak to me and say that in five years I would plant a church with this band."

In 2011, Johnson and his family moved to Southern California. Joined by the band and others from the youth group, they held their first service around a bonfire on a Corona del Mar beach.

Unbeknownst to Johnson, it's the same place where Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, baptized hundreds of hippies during the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.

"We grew to about 50 people, but the police shut us down," Johnson says. "The people getting drunk and high all around us called the cops for having church on the beach."

So Johnson moved his congregation to a coffee shop in Irvine where "God would just show up in such a powerful way that the whole team would be on the floor—just weeping and crying out for souls."

Next, his congregation moved a rented warehouse in Costa Mesa where he hired a "secular marketing guy." He challenged them to "ask your God why He sent you here and who He sent you here for.' "

Motivated by his remarks, the congregation felt inspired to reach those "who are chasing a dream and who have been crushed by a dream." In May 2013, the congregation relocated to the Belasco Theater nightclub in downtown Los Angeles. Johnson told the manager that he wanted to hold church services there.

"He looked at us like, 'You're crazy,'" Johnson recalls. "'Why in the world would you want to have church here?' He said, 'Those are stripper poles over there.' "

Nevertheless, Fearless Church held its first service at the theater on Pentecost Sunday and the line "went down the street." The church continued to grow–holding services at locations that doubled as nightclubs frequented by Hollywood stars and music personalities–and moved several times before settling on the Exchange LA at 618 S. Spring St.

Today, less than two years after the church held its first bonfire beach service, attendance averages about 400 each weekend.

The church, which is "super-connected" to Planetshakers City Church in Australia, has a vision see the entire city "come to know the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ."

"I attribute it to following the will of God and listening to Him even when it doesn't make sense," Johnson says.   

Koinonia Christian Church

Every growing church is a marriage-building church.

That's the secret behind the growth of Koinonia Christian Church in Arlington, Texas, a church that exploded from a five-person Bible study a decade ago to a congregation of more than 4,000 members today.

"When you become a marriage-building church, you are pumping health and life into your church which creates the foundation for it," says Jimmy Evans, the founder of Marriage Today, a Texas-based ministry dedicated to restoring the dream of marriage in America. "It creates an inductive atmosphere where people will want to come because they know something great will happen in their relationships."

In 2004, Koinonia pastor Dr. Ronnie Goines, his wife Nikki and three other people started a Bible study in the Goines' family living room. Over the next two years, the Bible study gave birth to what eventually became Koinoinia, a church that had grown to about 70 members by 2006.

But the growth of the church didn't really take off until Nikki came home one day and told her husband about the Marriage Today ministry. They listened to a CD that teaches couples how to have a strong marriage.

"I was blown away by it," Goines says."We said, 'We have to open this up to our people.' "

The church created what became known as the COMMITTED marriage ministry. COMMITTED is not only designed to "save" marriages, but to make good marriages better.

"Many people mistakenly base the decision to marry on love, but don't realize that love alone is not the basis for a healthy marriage," Goines says. "Many couples are in divorce court every day and still in love. However, if your marriage is based on commitment, even during seasons where love is not felt, a couple is committed to working it out."

The church is modeled after Evans' ministry.

"From our perspective, churches are ignoring some of the biggest issues in society—one of those being the demise of marriage," says Evans, author of Marriage on the Rock and co-host of the Marriage Today with Jimmy Evans television program. "People want to be married. It's in their DNA. When you help people be married, you are not trying to push something on them they don't want. They just don't know how."

Goines says it's unbalanced theology for a church to not teach about strong marriages.

"According to Ephesians 5:32, marriage is a profound mystery that is akin to Christ and the church," Goines says. "Therefore a solid understanding of marriage is somehow amalgamated with a solid understanding of Christ."

Initially, only a few couples signed up for the sessions. But as word spread, the meetings soon drew 20 to 30 couples. Over the next year, attendance shot from 100 to more than 400.

"In the midst of that, I discovered there is a big void in the home when it comes to men embracing their roles as husbands and leaders," Goines says.

During the sessions, Goines says men would often tell him that they didn't know how to live the lifestyle of a godly man, but if he asked them about the responsibilities of a pastor they could easily offer a good answer.

"They had a pretty accurate idea of what they expected from me as their pastor," Goines says. "With that discovery, I started to teach men that they are to be the pastors of their homes."

As word of saved marriages began to spread, more and more people started attending the church and going to the COMMITTED sessions. By 2008, the congregation had grown to 2,000 people.

"People are coming to get the real deal on not just on how to be married, but how to enjoy their marriages," Goines says. "We taught men and women how to embrace their roles as God designed. "

Today, the church has more than 4,000 members. Goines says the growth is largely the result of Marriage Today and its initial generosity in sending the church a year's worth of curriculum, books and DVDs at no charge.

"They sowed that seed into our ministry and now today, as God would have it, I'm scheduled to speak at a Marriage Today conference," Goines says. "I met Jimmy Evans personally. That's an awesome honor for me to be friends with a guy who is responsible not just for our church growth, but also for saving so many marriages in our church."

OneChurch Columbus

Like most church-planting pastors, Greg Ford had many trepidations about the new venture he and his wife Shaylyn had taken on when they moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 2011. They had been trained for this through the Assemblies of God, but building relationships and trust among the community was an entirely different thing.

The Fords' vision was to establish a church that would not only attract Bible-believing Christians but also the unchurched and those who had little knowledge of Jesus. Attracting that type of crowd to church certainly wasn't going to be easy.

As a second means of income, Greg Ford took a job at the front desk of a local Crossfit gym.  An athlete himself, Ford soon discovered that he could relate easily to the members of the Crossfit gym and that they were receptive to hearing the gospel.

"I was the morning person, so I'd arrive at the gym every morning at 4:30 a.m. and the doors would open at 5," said Ford, 33, a former youth pastor at Calvary Assembly of God in Toledo, Ohio. "Literally there would hundreds of people each day that gave me the opportunity to build friendships let people get to know what we were trying to do. You had regular fitness buffs, but you also had professional athletes and former pro athletes that went to the club, and most of these people weren't going to church."

OneChurch's Crossfit campus—an 8,000 square-foot facility in New Albany—holds services on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. in that gym. Ford says he has about 100 people who call that church their home church, but normally has 50 people in attendance on Sunday. Not only can attendees hear an inspiring message, but they can stay for a free Crossfit workout afterward.

"We define worship in broader terms than some."

OneChurch's  Cornerstone Campus in Westerville holds two services on Sunday mornings and has grown to around 600 members. Between the two campuses, OneChurch has attracted both the lost and believers who are new to the faith.

Ford says his biggest thrill is seeing people get saved on a regular basis and then discipling them.

"We've had a lot of turnover, and that's been a challenge. But, it's been exciting to watch our church grow so rapidly," Ford said. "God is really doing some amazing things here."

Redemption Point Church

Redemption Point Pastor Kevin Wallace has a vision to pastor the "most loving church in America"—not to mention one of the more miraculous.

As pastor of a church in Ooltewah, Tennessee, that has grown from 34 attendees at its first meeting in 2000 to more than 1,200 today, Wallace seems to be well on his way to fulfilling that calling.

However, the early years weren't easy. In fact, the pastor of Redemption Point Church says it was "hell on earth."

"This is the part people don't usually hear about," Wallace says. "My 1-year-old son Jeremiah had seven kidney stones in his right kidney. My newborn son and my wife in the first six months both got spinal meningitis within the same week. I almost had a nervous breakdown. But what catapulted our church into the first wave of explosive, quick growth was that God healed my son of kidney stones, and he healed my wife and newborn son of spinal meningitis.

"Our agnostic doctor confessed that although she didn't believe in miracles, something had to have happened because the kidney stones disappeared. It was definitely after the church had prayed. And when those miracles happened, the church went from 34 people to about 200 people in nine months. We went into a major revival mode."

During this time, a number of miracles occurred among members of this Church of God congregation, including a mother with a walker who "threw off that walker and took off trotting around the church without a walker," Wallace says.

"The church was rather dead, to be honest, when Kevin got here," says Ron Phillips, the senior pastor at Abba's House in Hixson, Tennessee and host of the Ron Phillips From Abba's House television program. "He began in his joyful and enthusiastic way to preach the Bible and grew the campus in Ooltewah.

"I've never seen a church advance as rapidly as his church. It hasn't happened because he embraced some modern or contemporary model. It's advanced because there is a strong presence of God on this young man's life. It's obvious he's gifted by the Holy Spirit, in addition to his own natural talents as a preacher. He's a great people person and a great man in the pulpit. He seems to attract resources as well that have brought great favor to him."

Wallace, who received a word of prophecy from Phillips as a youth that he would become "a voice in your generation," says church growth experts are often shocked by his church's success "because so many times we do the opposite of what we are supposed to do to grow."

"We broke all the rules," Wallace says.
Instead of giving a 25-minute sermon, Wallace often preaches for 45-50 minutes, and worship services can last for hours.

"It's almost old-fashioned with a fresh, prophetic sort of focus," Wallace says. "I don't like weirdness, but at the same time I think that our churches have gotten so normal that anytime we get back to the Bible everyone thinks we're abnormal.

"When people come to our church, they may see people fall out on the floors, speak in tongues and there is an interpretation and healings occur. That is shocking to even some Spirit-filled people who come to church, but that is the paradigm that the New Testament church is called to operate in. While some people think that's abnormal, we think it's normal."

In the past, ministers have been told that if they allow the gifts of the Spirit to flourish that their congregations won't grow, Wallace says.

"But in the Book of Acts every explosive growth season in the church was tied to supernatural and miraculous sorts of activity where God broke in and just did things that only He can do. When He did that, and the people allowed Him to and entire cities and communities were transformed."

Wallace says the church needs to refocus on the things of God and let the Spirit of the Lord do what only the Holy Spirit can.

"We have seen the limits of what man's gifts and man's abilities can produce in the church," Wallace says. "Whatever we see now is as good as it can get without God restoring true apostolic power and authority. The only thing that I think will revive the church in America is an authentic demonstration of the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit."

Freedom Church

Freedom Church started with seven friends from his Bible study going to a Laundromat in Chatsworth, California, putting quarters in the machines and paying for everyone's laundry.

"We did it without any strings attached–just a way to love and serve the community in a really under-resourced area," says Freedom Church Pastor Justice Coleman. "Over the course of months, we made a lot of friends. I prayed for people, I did a funeral and we did more than 1,000 loads of laundry.

"When it came time to start the church, we had a group of people who were really excited about it. They were like, 'When are you going to start your church?' "

In deciding on a place for the church to meet, Coleman thought about a tattoo-covered friend he once invited to church who felt so awkward that he never returned.

"It was then that I realized that the church experience he had was fine—like the pastor did a great sermon and people were welcoming—but it wasn't good for Jake and he never came back," Coleman says. "I realized that I wanted to start a church so people would have a place they felt like they could belong before they even believed."

One day, Coleman approached the owner of McGee's Irish Pub in Chatsworth to see if he could hold his church services there.

"He didn't want me to start a church in there," Coleman says. "He said, 'I don't want my bar turning into a church.' With fasting and prayer and by the grace of God—and the right price—he agreed to rent it out to us."

The first service was held on Easter Sunday in 2011, and about 100 people showed up.

"We wanted to start a church in a pub because I felt it would be the most comfortable place people who are not Christians to go," Coleman says. "We were trying to start a church to reach as-yet-not Christians. We were trying to create a church where people can belong before they believe, and an Irish pub seemed like a good place for that."

Jack Hayford, former pastor of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, where Coleman grew up, says Coleman is an "outstanding young leader, and I'm grateful for his leadership and for what's occurring over at Freedom Church."

After meeting at the pub for a while, the church relocated to a middle school and opened a campus in Highland Park near downtown Los Angeles. About 500 people now attend the two campuses each weekend.

"I think people are really hungry for real and authentic faith and real and authentic community," Coleman says. "The No. 1 thing I hear from people when they take a survey or are talking about the church is that it just felt real. We are talking about real stuff every week that is very practical."   

Troy Anderson was an award-winning reporter and editorial writer at the Los Angeles Daily News, The Press-Enterprise and other newspapers for two decades. He currently writes for Ministry Today, Reuters, Newsmax, Charisma and many other media outlets. Learn more at

7 more churches in America experiencing rapid growth

Here's a look at some more rapidly growing churches in America:

1) The Fellowship Church, Antioch, California (ARC) – For the better part of seven years, The Fellowship Church, established in 2003, stayed stagnant at around 350 members. Pastor Shaun Nepstad was essentially a one-man band, doing everything from worship to visitation, announcements and preaching.

After much prayer and a new vision, the congregation hit a growth spurt a little more than three years ago, and Sunday attendance now stands at around 1,500. Nepstad attributes that to the church's faithfulness in serving the community and getting everyone involved as a volunteer.

Gratitude baskets to police officers, free BBQ for the homeless and passing out coffee and donuts to commuters at the local train station are only some of the ways members of The Fellowship Church brings the gospel to the unchurched.

"All of these outreaches are to get people in the church serving," Nepstad says. "I've heard 11 percent of people in the church have the gift of evangelism. So what do the other 89 percent do? We've got to figure out a kind way to reach God's lost kids."

2) New Hope Leeward, Waipahu, Hawaii (Foursquare) – Under the direction of Pastor Mike Lwin, New Hope Leeward, a January 2003 church plant, outgrew the Leeward Community College Theater where it met when it opened. By the end of its first year, it became clear that God had huge plans for the church. It moved into a new home, the Leeward Ministry Center, and the church has grown to more than 1,200 members for that campus.

However, the church has birthed three other campuses, and its attendance numbers have reached 5,000. Three more campuses on the Hawaiian Islands are planned.

3) Abundant Life Church of God, San Antonio, Texas (COG) – A multi-cultural church under the direction of Pastor Eliezer Bonilla, Abundant Life adopted a small-group ministry strategy and started a second all-English service in 2003, shifting its focus from the congregation to the community. The church planted a second campus in 2008, and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the congregation has grown from 200 to 2,000 in less than six years.

The fruit of these gradual changes has yielded four worship services (two in Spanish and two in English) and it has cemented a growing trend where Hispanic churches are planting English-speaking congregations.

4) Mill City Church, Fort Collins, Colorado (ARC) – Not unlike many others, Mill City Church's small-group ministry is thriving. Instead of meeting at church members' homes, however, MCC has it what it calls City Groups, which look to be the hands and feet of Jesus by paying attention to and meeting needs around their families, neighborhoods or workplaces. This outreach has helped MCC in its growth spurt since being launched in 2012.

Mill City Church, under the direction of Pastor Aaron Stern, is a church plant of the Association of Related Churches and has grown to 1,000 members in less than two years.

5) New Hope Church of God, Trenton, New Jersey (COG) – Ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in America, Trenton is where God instructed Pastor Philip Bonaparte to set down roots for New Hope. With one location already in East Windsor, Bonaparte, a doctor by trade, founded a second congregation in Trenton in January 2013 and decided to go full-time as a pastor.

In a little more than a year, the congregation of New Hope has swelled from less than 50 to 500. Among its many outreaches are a food bank and clothing ministry to help the poor and destitute of Trenton. As another testament to its growth, New Hope began a third congregation in Long Branch, New Jersey, in July 2013.

6) Hope Fellowship Church, Frisco, Texas (AG) – In a little more than a decade, Hope Fellowship, which initially met as a church plant at a daycare center, averages 5,500 on Sunday mornings. Pastor John McKinzie chose Frisco to set down roots because of its moniker as one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation.

"We just put up a sign and we initially had 51 people," McKinzie said. "It was the only place in the whole city that was open to start a church."

7) TurningPoint Church, Lexington, Kentucky (ARC) – Launched in February 2012, Turning Point Church's congregation has swelled to 1,200 in a little more than two years under the direction of Pastor Josh Mauney with Sunday services at 9:00, 10:15 and 11:30 a.m.

Yet another ARC church plant, TurningPoint's mission is to "help every person we can find their place in God's plan." TurningPoint's Connect Groups, including its Café Team, College Survival Guide, Friday Friends, Men Being Men and Making the Most of Your Marriage, help keep the congregation connected to each other and the community.

Shawn A. Akers is the managing editor of Ministry Today magazine.

]]> (Troy Anderson) Growth Thu, 10 Jul 2014 12:51:38 -0400
5 Things Every Church Planter Needs to Know

I've planted two churches. In each plant, God overwhelmed us continually with what He did among us. I feel humbled and blessed to be a part of such healthy environments God uses to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I have learned a few things in the process. Some of these were new insights and some of were things I had confirmed, but all are things I would suggest other church planters consider.

Here are 5 lessons I learned in church planting:

1. Don't shy away from leaders, even though they are churched—you'll need them. When we started, if a person showed up who regularly attended another local church, we shied away from them. We weren't rude to them, but we really didn't pursue them as we did other visitors, simply out of respect of other churches. What I have learned, however, is that many times this was standing in the way of something God was doing in the person's life. At the same time, we were suffering from a leadership void not having enough people ready to lead in a church setting. There's a huge difference between recruiting and accepting churched people into a church plant.

2. Don't be afraid to talk about money—you'll need it. I know this is a problem for many church planters, because a perception is that people church plants reach are repelled by money talks. Granted, some people wrongly feel that all churches talk about is money and so they push back any time money is mentioned. We can know and tell people that Jesus talked much about money (some say more than any other subject), but in an attempt to be attractive to unchurched people, church plants often avoid any money talk whatsoever. What I learned, however, is that it takes money to minister to people. Additionally, part of the spiritual growth process of a person is how they view and handle money, and one of my roles is to help them mature in this area. I can't do that unless we talk about it. And, the pushback when we do, if handled with truth and grace, is far less than I expected it to be.

3. Surround yourself with some encouragers—some days they'll keep you going. The work of church planting by itself is tough and places a strain on the planter and his or her family, but church planting also has plenty of naysayers. The church world can be very competitive, and church planters are not always the most popular pastors among the established church world. Because things are new and in the discovery phase of building a church, not everyone will agree with every decision. (That's in every church setting.) I've learned I needed enough people around me who believe in me and the vision of the plant so that on the days when I was down they could encourage me to pick my head up and keep moving forward towards what God had called us to do.

4. Know what to control and what to let go of—you'll be stretched if you don't. There are some things to hold on to very tightly, such as vision or senior leadership positions, but I learned to let go of things such as how the vision gets implemented or what color we use for rugs in the preschool area. (I never would have stressed about that last one—but you get the idea.) The more I allowed others to do and take leadership of, the greater success we had in reaching our overall vision.

5. Embrace hurting people—as much as it hurts. We extended so much grace to people—and we were burned a few times. I have been personally hurt by people to whom I invested so much love and support; who quickly fell back into their old way of life. I know God rewards this sacrifice, but it still stings. The fact is however, that some of the best leaders we developed over the years were hurting, broken people when they arrived. God still does miracles with people when we extend His grace and truth. (And, those have to be extended on an equal basis.)

I am not sure these are unique experiences to church plants—in fact, they are true now that I'm serving in church revitalization, but certainly church planting was where these paradigms were shaped in me. It was a learning process every day—as all leadership positions are, but my hope is that others will learn from our experience.

Which of these do you most need reminding of today?

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Growth Wed, 18 Jun 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Bob Rhoden: ‘The Spirit Said … '

When the Holy Spirit chose to kick off a bold new outreach from the Antioch church (Acts 13:1-3), what voice box did He use? I’m inclined to believe it was either Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, or Manaen—or perhaps all of them. And the Spirit is still speaking through people in our day.

It was 1969 when the Spirit spoke to me through my uncle Obie Harrup about planting a church in Richmond, Va. He simply said, “Bob, there are 12 people who want to start a church in the West End of Richmond. Would you be willing to go and see if this is the Spirit’s leading for you to be their pastor?”

If you visit West End Assembly of God today, you’ll find some 2,000 people gathering each Sunday to worship. I’m no longer the lead pastor; I resigned after the first 22 years to become a district superintendent. But I’ve not forgotten how important it was to listen to the Spirit’s voice at every step of planting this church. Why is that? Here are four reasons:

1. If the Spirit is speaking, He supersedes the need for a Plan B. Paul and Barnabas went “on their way by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:4) without any backup plan. My wife, Joan, and I never had any doubt about the church plant in Richmond being successful. Did we have trials, disappointments, setbacks, frustrations? You bet. But we never thought about a bailout strategy. We were all in!

When starting a church, there is too much at stake to waste energy on “What if this doesn’t work?”

It’s paramount to understand that the Spirit speaks through the primary leaders around us. Notice, I said primary leaders. Sometimes there are peripheral leaders with other agendas. Those responsible for making decisions about planters and places need to be in tune with the Spirit.

So in the face of 6 inches of snow on opening day, March 2, 1969, we went forward. Forty-two people showed up! This was truly amazing in a region not comfortable with winter weather.

2. When the Spirit is leading, you can expect miracles. We knew God had to work on our behalf to plant a Pentecostal church in the upscale West End. And God did! One of the biggest surprises was when a person who did not attend our church gave us three acres of prime land on a major thoroughfare.

Every church planter must expect the miraculous. My friend Jason Byars, a church planter in North Melbourne Beach, Fla., took me to a building they wanted to buy. In faith Jason and I laid hands on the front door’s lock and chains, asking God to open these doors for their church. Within a few weeks, they raised $60,000 for a down payment and closed on the building at an unbelievable price.

Every growing church plant, I believe, can tell at least one miracle story.

3. When the Spirit is leading, He connects us with the right people. My dream of planting a Pentecostal church that made sense hit its first snag five weeks after launch Sunday, which was Easter. There was nothing wrong with the Virginia weather by then—but only 28 people showed up. I wasn’t simply disappointed; I was crushed.

I dreaded going to meetings with my peers and having to report such a low Easter attendance. So the Spirit needed to deal with my pride before He could take me to the next level. I surrendered the weekly attendance to His care and focused instead on ways to serve the community.

One night a high school girl showed up at our home obviously in demonic bondage. After we prayed for her deliverance, I can still see the smile that clothed her face. She and her friends began to fill the first couple of rows on Sunday. When the news spread through the community that young people were being turned on to God, social and professional people began to “come and see.”

There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in changing lives—especially young people—to spur momentum in any church, no matter its size.

4. When the Spirit speaks, He will often talk about multiplication. Before we had our first public meeting, our core group of 12 people had felt led to put in writing that we would plant other churches. Talk about vision! We were imagining other church plants before we were officially opened ourselves.

And God granted our desire. Over the years, West End has planted at least seven other churches. One huge benefit of this planting is it gives new people an opportunity to serve. I witnessed this when a lady became a key board person in one of our church plants after not finding an opening in the larger mother church. The multiplying of gifts is a plan of the Spirit as we plant churches.

A Calling for Every Church

My prayer is that we listen as the Spirit speaks to us about sending out people who want to obey what the Spirit is saying. Like Paul and Barnabas, they will return from time to time and report back to us what God is doing. All of this fans the flame of the Spirit’s fire.

Bob Rhoden is now an executive presbyter with the Assemblies of God. His book, Four Faces of a Leader, was published last year. You can follow him on Twitter @bob_rhoden.

]]> (Bob Rhoden) Growth Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:00:00 -0400
7 Reasons Why Church Worship Centers Will Get Smaller

A seismic shift is taking place in American church facilities, a shift that will become even more noticeable in the years to come. Church worship centers or sanctuaries will become smaller than they were the past 40 years.

As church leaders decide to build, a large number of them will decide to build smaller than most of their predecessors have in previous years.

The trend for the past four decades has been to build increasingly larger worship centers. And while the large worship center will not disappear, you will notice more intentionality to build or buy smaller.

Why? As I look at the church landscape in America, I see seven reasons, and only two of them are related to declining attendance. I will note those two first.

1. Decreasing frequency of attendance among church members.  I noted this trend in a previous article. The informal definition of an “active” church member a decade ago was a member who attended worship services an average of three to four times a month. Now a member can be present only two times a month and be considered active. That trend is definitely adversely affecting attendance.

2. The growth of the “nones.” I have written or spoken about this issue on a number of occasions. Pew Research found that the number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation increased from 15 percent of the population to 20 percent from 2007 to 2012. This shift is huge. One out of five persons will likely never be in your church services, and they no longer feel a cultural compulsion to be there.

3. The growth of the multisite and multivenue church. This movement is large and growing. Church leaders are strategically starting different sites and venues to bring the church to the population rather than expect the people to come to one worship center. Churches are more likely to have a few small worship centers or use one worship center on multiple days than to have one large worship center.

4. The Millennials’ aversion to larger worship centers. I have seen this trend in my research of this generation born between 1980 and 2000. I have also experienced this sentiment personally with Millennial church leaders. On one occasion, I went on a tour of a large worship center with a Millennial. I came away greatly impressed with not only the size of the place, but its functionality as well. My Millennial friend remarked that he hopes he never has to build something that large. On another occasion, I went by a small worship center with little parking with a Millennial leader. I noted that only about 200 people could ever worship there. He countered that 2,000 could be at the worship center each week if it were strategically used throughout the week.

5. Governmental agencies are increasingly unfriendly to church building plans. I have worked with a number of churches that have run into big roadblocks with zoning authorities that refuse to let them build or expand. Some of the zoning authorities fear increased traffic issues in residential areas. I suspect many of them are concerned about more property that will be exempt from property taxes.

6. The shift in emphasis from the big worship event to an emphasis on groups. Worship services will not go away. Preaching will remain central. But an emphasis on worship services as the big event will not be as great. Church leaders are giving more of their energy to the development of healthy leaders and groups. As a side note, watch for an increased demand for small group pastors or discipleship pastors. As worship pastors were sought after the past 30 or 40 years, so will these other staff members be for the years ahead.

7. The desire to spend more on ministry and less on facilities. Church facilities have grown in proportion to the expenses of churches over the past four decades. Church leaders are looking for more funds for ministry, and they will find those funds by reducing facility costs. The big worship center will not be built in many congregations so they will have more funds to reach and minister to the community and beyond.

This trend toward smaller worship centers has already begun, and I only see it accelerating. An ancillary issue will be the challenge of churches to do something wise with existing worship centers that will continue to have higher percentages of vacant seating.

But that’s a matter for another article.

Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Growth Mon, 09 Dec 2013 20:00:00 -0500
5 Steps to Take Before Beginning to Plant a Church

About once a week, or sometimes more frequently, I get an email or tweet from someone who says they feel led to plant a church. They almost always have the same question: "What do I do now? What’s my first step?"

After answering dozens of times, I decided to put my thoughts in a post.

Step one: Run as fast as you can!

Just kidding, although that does give you a testimony like Jonah. Again, just kidding.

Here are five immediate steps I would recommend:

1. Check your heart. Are you sure church-planting is what you are being called to do, or is it a desire because everyone else is doing it? It’s fine if you are. We need church planters. But we also need people willing to help established churches thrive. It’s hard work to change what’s established already—but so is church planting. Make sure you know that what you’re getting into is what God’s drawing you into.

2. Check your spouse’s heart. Church planting is not a sole venture. No ministry is, for that matter. If you are married, you will need to be on the same page with your spouse, no doubt about it. Trying to do this without complete buy-in from both parties will destroy one or the other—the church plant or the marriage.

3. Determine where you feel called to plant. That’s an important beginning step. Much of your future steps will depend on this one. Many times, you already know this, and I think God gives tremendous latitude in this. We need churches lots of places. But this will be one of the most difficult decisions you make if you don’t know. I once thought I wanted to plant in New York City. I still might someday. But when I spent time talking to God about this, I sensed Him releasing me from the desire and pointing me in another direction.

4. Find others interested. This is critical. If you tell me you can’t find anyone—and I hear that often—I’d seriously question how successful you are going to be. Just as with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, in my experience, God is always “reserving” (1 Kings 19:18) people He plans to use in the vision He is shaping in you. To build a body, you need those who are part of the body to start.

5. Find experienced help. It can be a denomination, another church or an experienced pastor or mentor, but don’t do it alone. Let me say that a little clearer: Don't do it alone. Too much has been learned about church planting to miss out on someone else’s experience.

Those are my first five initial suggestions. What would you suggest?

Ron Edmondson is a pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. He is also a church leadership consultant who is passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Prior to ministry, Ron had more than 20 years of business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner. Follow Ron on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog at

For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Growth Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:00:00 -0400
Kyle Searcy: Birthing a Church 101

When my wife and I decided to start a family, we thought we were ready to become parents. We had read the best books, asked for advice from our most auspicious relatives and mustered our prayer life around what God had in store. And He didn’t disappoint us!

Last weekend, I spearheaded a new church in a different state. It reminded me of the exhilaration I experienced while waiting for our first child to be born. And the process to create a successful beginning to this baby church paralleled some of what we had to do to prepare for our progeny.

Conception begins the baby’s life; vision for the new church had to be conceived and defined. Babies take nine months to grow through strategic and intricate design modules in order to have the necessary parts to support life; a new church must work through a strategic plan so that the outcome matches the original concept. The DNA of both babies and churches integrates the function of the body in a cohesive manner. The anticipation is exciting, but once the new one (baby or church) appears, you realize you experience joy but are also awakened by a feeling that although you have worked hard and waited long, your real work is only beginning.

The new church in Norcross, Ga. (outside Atlanta), experienced a marvelous birth. Amazingly, a great crowd of people attended that first Sunday. Some were well-wishers from the mother church, Fresh Anointing House of Worship in Montgomery, Ala. But a healthy contingent of Georgians was present, checking out who we were and what we might do in the future.

I learned so many things during the preparation for last Sunday, but five essentials stand out as principles I need to remember for any future launches:

1. Teamwork makes the dream work. I learned that phrase from leadership expert John Maxwell, and sure enough, I spent a year and a half building the planting team and putting the exact spiritual DNA in them. Patiently, we made sure  the team could gather strength even as they had to persevere through those 18 months without starting the church. The character was proved in the team members and paid off with a strong leadership group.

2. It won’t get done without the funds. I have started churches before with little to no money and discovered financial hardship increases the difficulties. Having enough money to do proper advertising and procure needed equipment is truly essential. I believe a test of one’s call to pastor can be whether or not the pastor has a compelling enough vision that people will give toward it. Starting a new church is expensive. Raise the money before you start.

3. Rely on grace but have key components in place. When starting a new church, there are some essentials you don’t want to leave home without. You need an excellent, aesthetically pleasing environment. You must have the capacity for presence-filled worship and a preacher that can actually preach. To draw families, you must provide an outstanding, safe and fun children’s ministry. I delayed our launch until we had each of these components solidly in place with a certain level of excellence.

4. You must pray if you want to stay. Many make the mistake of trying to succeed in God’s work without spending lots of time with God. Church-planting is spiritual work, and it requires a great deal of spiritual exercise. Planting a church without much prayer becomes frustrating. Starting a church with lots of prayer is fascinating. Before launching we prayed—a lot!

5. Do your best and leave the rest. I can never forget the nagging feeling I had Saturday night and Sunday morning before the launch. The team of 60 people I had built did all it knew to do. We prayed, we fasted, we trained, we planned and we raised money. We sent out 110,000 mailers to homes near our launch site. We hung door hangers and served the community months before the launch. In spite of all we did, there were no guarantees. We had no idea who would come. So we just rested, saying, “Now it’s up to the Lord.”

We rejoiced at the 444 people that showed up that Sunday—but we were elated at the presence of God that filled the room. What a glorious service it was! Our prayers had been answered.

So the baby is home from the hospital and now the real work begins. But joy abounds in all of our hearts as we excitedly anticipate what God has placed in this baby called Fresh Anointing House of Worship, Norcross, Ga.

]]> (Kyle Searcy) Growth Tue, 29 Oct 2013 13:00:00 -0400
3 Ways to Find Out Why Your Church Isn't Growing

empty-churchHere is an example of a common question I receive:

My church is not growing. People come, but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should, but they do not stay. Any thoughts, please?

I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time, I know they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Growth Wed, 07 Aug 2013 13:00:00 -0400
4 Keys to Planning for Church Health

Thom-RainerBased on research and anecdotal evidence, I estimate that nine out of every 10 churches in America are growing at a slower pace than their communities—if they are growing at all. That is not a good sign for the church in America.

Through the feedback I’ve received on my blog over the past two years, it has become overwhelmingly evident that the spiritual health of churches and pastors is of great concern. Many have asked how to transform the churches in the 90 percent that are not growing into ones like the 10 percent that are.

This is no easy task, but it can be done.

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Growth Fri, 02 Aug 2013 16:00:00 -0400
Rick Warren: The Most Overlooked Key to a Growing Church

Rick-Warren-newI believe the most overlooked key to growing a church is this: We must love unbelievers the way Jesus did. Without His passion for the lost, we will be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach them.

Jesus loved lost people. He loved spending time with them. He went to their parties. From the Gospels, it is obvious that Jesus enjoyed being with seekers far more than being with religious leaders. He was called the “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34). How many people would call your church that?

Jesus loved being with people and they felt it. Even little children wanted to be around Jesus, which speaks volumes about what kind of person He was and what kind of pastor He’d be. Children instinctively seem to gravitate toward loving, accepting people.

]]> (Rick Warren) Growth Fri, 21 Jun 2013 13:00:00 -0400
Rick Warren: Before You Lead Your Church Through Change

Rick-Warren-newIf your church has plateaued in its growth for a while or shows signs of being unhealthy, things may need to change, and the pastor is the point person to produce positive change in any church’s culture.

Having said that, leading a church through change is difficult, and sometimes it can be detrimental if you don’t consider some important questions before starting the process.

Three aspects of change you should evaluate before shaking things up are:

]]> (Rick Warren) Growth Fri, 14 Jun 2013 13:00:00 -0400
How to Launch 163,000 Churches

church-planting-logoA few months after we started New Song Church, I began to pray about how our little church could play a part in Jesus’ Acts 1:8 vision for the church. How could a young church like ours play a part in reaching our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world?

Fast-forward 20 years, and God has done exceedingly abundantly above what we could ask or imagine. By His grace, New Song has played a measurable part in planting 163,000 churches around the world. Those 163,000 churches have seen over 7 million come to Christ.

I recently asked myself, “How did this happen?”

]]> (Hal Seed) Growth Thu, 06 Jun 2013 20:00:00 -0400