Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Thoughts on Church Growth

I met today with one of my favourite people with whom to meet - Associate Pastor of Victory Church Lethbridge, John Albiston. He joined Victory in 2012 with the primary area of oversight being church growth. Senior Pastor Kelly Stickel joined Victory in 2011, and it is he that John credits with the change of vision that resulted in their growing in the last four or five years from attendance of about 250 weekly to over 1200 today, as well as having planted three other congregations with more planned.

Here are some of his thoughts:

Three Laws of Church Growth:
  1. Invite lots of people
  2. Don't suck
  3. Make sure people make friends
Numbers 1 and 3 are probably self-explanatory but #2 may need explanation. It's really just a way of saying, be the kind of church that guests you invite want to come back to, for whatever reason.

The breaking of any of these laws has consequences:
  1. If a church has no new people coming, it's probably because the church is breaking Law #1.
  2. If churches are obeying #1, but people are visiting once but not coming back, it's probably #2.
  3. If guests come for a few weeks, then drift away, it could be #3
One pithy phrase he uses is that fishermen don't catch the kind of fish they want; they catch the kind for which they bait their hook. In other words, a church hoping to attract young people will probably not have great success if they insist on keeping a service style that young people might consider dull and dreary. They will only attract and keep people who enjoy that kind of service. Maybe that's what they really want, but John quotes the six last words of a dying church, "We've never done it that way." 

One exception to this matter of service style was John himself. When his children were young they attended what John himself described as the most dreary mainline Protestant church, although John admits that at least the preaching was orthodox, as opposed to small-l liberal. The reason they stayed though was that his kids liked the Sunday School, so in that sense, they, "didn't suck." It's much easier to get to church when it is the kids who are saying, "C'mon, let's go!"

John also spoke of what he called both the Spiritual and the biological Great Commission.

The spiritual one we all may know:
"...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

But the biological one is found in Genesis 9 verse 7:
"...be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
In short, both spiritually and biologically, Christians are to, in his words, "make babies, raise the babies, kick them out so they can make more babies."

And one final thought - a concept John called, "positive deviance." Not only the mainline churches, but even many evangelical churches are declining in numbers, he says. So if 95% of churches are in decline, and 5% not, don't look at what the 95% are doing, or not doing, but focus on what the deviant 5% are doing, and do it. It is a concept I learned in the business world, and one that John applies in his own field; look at what successful people (businesses, churches) are doing and do it yourself. Copy excellence.

Random thoughts, but ones I found interesting.

Take Care

Edited to add:
First of all, John messaged me already to tell me that attendance in 2011 When SCL Stickel arrived was closer to 250, so I have changed that above.
Second, I had scribbled down a note during our conversation this afternoon that turned out to be, "Relay race through time." Another of John's thoughts - the church is a relay race through time. It doesn't matter how well or fast you run your leg, if you fail to pass the baton the team will lose.

Brilliant analogy, IMO.

No comments: