It might seem unusual to call the last chapter “getting started”, except for a common illustration from the motivational community:

Three frogs were sitting on a log.

Each one decided to jump into the water.

How many were left sitting on the log?

How many did you say? Many people get this wrong. Given that this is the only information provided, you couldn’t know that the answer is three. They decided, but there is no indication that they every acted on the information.

Book junkies like me read, and read, and take notes, and agree, and then read some more. But if we’re not careful, we become the people James 2:17 was talking about when he said “faith without works is dead.” That person sees the church is in trouble. He believes we should do something about it. He thinks some of the topics in this book are worthwhile, and would probably produce the results. But he’s unwilling to do the work to get it started, or – just as bad – won’t follow-through on the great beginnings to success.

There’s an old proverb that says, “On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of victory, lay down to rest, and in resting died.” We wait for the right moment, for the time to be right. And we wake up and it’s too late. The church never gets better. Things never improve. But instead of doing the important, we get caught up solving the “urgent.”

Instead, we need to “just do it.” Don’t wait until things are perfect. Colin Powell says to get two thirds of the information, and then “go with your gut” in making decisions. In Acts 16:6-10, Luke writes

Paul and his friends went through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit would not let them preach in Asia. After they arrived in Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they went on through Mysia until they came to Troas. During the night, Paul had a vision of someone from Macedonia who was standing over there and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” After Paul had seen the vision, we began looking for a way to go to Macedonia. We were sure God had called us to preach the good news there.

From that vignette, I have learned the great saying: “You can’t steer a parked car.” I remember my kids, years away from being old enough to drive, sitting in the car driver’s seat, turning the steering wheel back and forth (before the days of locking steering columns). The wheels would point one way, then the other, but nothing affected the overall direction and location of the vehicle. Not until some energy is applied to the problem will the car move. Whether pushing to get it going (dead batteries, low fuel, etc.) or turning the key and pressing the accelerator, some force was needed to get the car going the direction I needed it to go.

Getting started – and keeping at it – is where much of the problem resides. I’ve read hundreds of books and even more articles on the subjects presented in this volume, but not one did anything to restore a struggling church, class or fellowship. It is not the book that does the work, but the activity that the book produces. If there is anything of value in this volume, it will be made worthless if you, the reader, don’t put these truths and suggestions into active practice.

Paul Meyer says he believes the greatest besetting sin the modern church is not pride, although pride will get in the way of letting the Spirit guide our actions. Rather, he says that the greatest sin in our contemporary Christian culture is sloth. We have forgotten what it is to work hard. My days are not like my grandfather’s, up before dawn to milk and feed the cattle and feed the horses, while his wife or children fed the chickens and collected eggs for the breakfast they would have when chores were done. Then back to the barn to hook up that team of horses to the plow and till, plant, cultivate or harvest the acres of corn, wheat and cotton, depending on the season of the year. They’d take breaks to mend fences, clean the stalls or tend the garden. In the evening, after the animals were fed and the cows milked, and after the family meal around the kitchen table, they’d relax by playing on the pump organ and singing hymns, reading by the fire, or talking. (My other grandfather – who wasn’t musical – would gather anyone he could coerce into a game of 5-count dominos.) Work in those days was hard, but rewarding.

Today, I sit at my desk and sift through the hundred daily emails, drive to the meeting and sit while someone else tells me what they did at their computer, then back to my desk to write up the notes of what I heard and email it to half a dozen other people to read. At home, after supper and a few “chores” (dishes to the dishwasher, clothes to the washing machine, and a short walk with the dog), we settle down in front of the TV or the computer (or both at once) until bed-time.

I tried two separate years (recently) to gather enough men to staff a summer camp for boys aged 6-12. In years past, a dozen men took 60 boys to a retreat center one week a year where they learned scripture, fishing, woodworking, Christian civics, scripture, boating on the river, swimming, missions … and what it meant to be a man of faith. But folks are “busy” with their lives. It’s hard to take a week’s vacation, they say. For my part, I remember the year I first went as a counselor to that camp, and a dozen boys accepted Christ as savior, and a few more expressed a calling to missions service.

You will see the same even in disaster relief. Southern Baptists cook 90% of the meals that the Red Cross and Salvation Army hand out during every major disaster in this county. When hurricanes hit land, there is usually a fleet of Disaster Relief vehicles standing ready near enough to get to the devastation within a day. Thousands of volunteers are involved. Yet four times as many people have taken the training to serve as will ever deploy to a disaster site. More still will only act as long as the event is on the news. They’ll drop a few dollars in a bucket, deliver a bag of cleaning supplies at a pickup point, but don’t see a need for long-term involvement.

In the church where I “interned”, I provided a large number of the ideas in this book to the pastor and youth pastor, and offered myself as a behind-the-scenes resource for their implementation. That pastor was reluctant to move forward with most of what I suggested, choosing a cautious approach of “not much and not too fast.” I was able to present them periodic “tastes” of new music, different worship styles, alternatives to service, etc. but had to watch carefully with each change to make sure I didn’t push too fast. (The looks I got as they stood silently through the new music!) When I left, it was clear I had offended some who had little interest in turning that church into a missions station for the Gospel.

Ultimately, after I had gone, so were many of the ideas. Most of what I had instituted had not taken root in the hearts and minds of the congregation, and were not continued. Within six months, the youth pastor (and almost all the youth) were gone, leaving an even more struggling congregation, still wondering what to do.

Remember what they say about advertising. The rhetorical question asks “what happens when you don’t advertise? – nothing happens.” I saw a school do that. It was a great school, founded on solid principles, with dedicated teachers and a good curriculum. There was excitement in the hallways and parents willing went above and beyond the Fall and Spring fund-raisers with cash donations for special projects. But their growth strategy was an ad in the phone book, word of mouth and trust in God. All of these are commendable, but a financial crisis slowed needed expansion plans, and bickering and gossip between parents and faculty could not overcome a downward inertia. In 3 years, this fine independent institution lost half its enrollment and was struggling to survive, while other local private schools were thriving, with entrance waiting lists. By the time they started acting, it was almost too late.

Don’t be like the curmudgeon in the old joke. He lived in a cabin in the valley. One day the sheriff came by to warn him the dam upstream was weak and might break soon, and he should consider retreating to higher ground. He replied that he trusted in God to protect him. A thunderstorm came, and it rained and it rained, and water came over the dam, and the stream jumped its banks. A neighbor passed by on the now-muddy road, and urged him to come along. Again he affirmed his faith in God to protect him. The spillway sprung a leak, and water flooded the bottom floor of his house. The rescue squad came by in a boat to check on the area, and urged him to leave with them. He shouted back that he was trusting God to protect him. The dam burst that night, and stranded him on the house top. A rescue helicopter came by to find him sitting on the roof. He waved them off just before the rising waters covered him and he drowned. Standing before God a few minutes later, he complained, asking God why he hadn’t been taken care of. His Heavenly Father looked back and said, “I sent the sheriff to warn you, a neighbor to help you, a rescue boat to get you and a helicopter! Why didn’t you leave that old shack and accept the help I offered?”

Change can be scary for the traditionalists. Sister Betty and old Deacon Bob have been in the church for 40 years, and may not take well to a newer style. The job, then, is to show points of commonality, enlist them in mentoring spiritual development, in ministry protocol, in anchoring the new people; the new people may be making concessions to join with you and bring their gifts, talents (and tithes), and the core membership needs to bend on a couple of minor issues as well.

There is a danger, of course, that the church will change so radically and so quickly that it will look to the older members that their church has been stolen away from. If pushed too fast, they will rebel and push away the reformist leader (even if it means going without a pastor – again). If the change agent pushes from the outside, it will be seen as an outsider telling them what to do against their will, and again it will fail when the consultant leaves.

If a failing church is to recover its purpose and return to spiritual health, the first task is for those who are willing to live the purpose-filled passionate life. Jim Collins has informed us that the difference between a failing organization or even a merely good one, and a great organization is its single-minded focus on doing what it is best at doing and not worrying so much about everything else.[1] Knowing the organizational focus will allow you to zero in on those tasks and leave the rest for someone else to do.

And so I challenge you. Not that this is the definitive book on church growth, or that the solutions will work in every case. But if you will not grow weary in doing that which you know to do, I am confident God will work out His best purposes for the glory of His kingdom through you. Like the parachute jumper. To be successful, you will need to:

Stand up Hook up Step out And claim the victory!

* Home *

[1] Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t. (NY: Collins Business, 2001)

Copyright 2008, Harwin House Publishing, Hampton, VA  All Rights Reserved


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