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.
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