Two Words Growing Churches Don't Use

by | Aug 23, 2016 | 1 comment

I’d like to delete the words just and simply from church vocabulary. They’re dishonest. I know; I used them way mediocritytoo often as a pastor. As in, “To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, all you have to do is simply give your life to him.” Or, “To join this church, you just have to come to a new member’s class.” Or, “Just give what you are able.” Or, “To be on this committee, we just need you to attend a monthly meeting.”
I used those words because I was afraid to scare people off. I wanted them to dive in, unafraid. Like the old Alka Seltzer commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it.”   Here’s the trouble. Just and simply are indicative of a low expectation culture. One that practices mediocre grace and doesn’t bear much fruit. Jesus didn’t have much use for trees that didn’t bear fruit. Or churches that were lukewarm.
People responded to my just and simply invitations. The church seemed to grow. But the growth wasn’t sustainable.
The truth is, discipleship takes effort and courage, and lots of it. There’s nothing simple about it. Even being an effective or committed church member requires much more than just attending a new member’s class. It takes a lot of commitment: prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
So how do we go from a church of just and simply to a church that grows and bears much fruit? I’d like to suggest adding these three words to church vocabulary.
As in, “Expect the Spirit to move in worship.” At a recent Mixed Messages about Money workshop, we looked at the hidden messages communicated in worship bulletins. “Why not begin with the vision of the church?” I asked. One pastor hesitated, “Well, I wouldn’t want to get people’s hopes up about what might happen in worship.” Why not? If we lead with low expectations, its unlikely that much will happen. If we expect a miracle, we might actually see one. I say raise people’s expectations, and then strive to meet them.
As in, “We expect you will grow here.” That means giving them opportunities to grow spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. As one DS friend recently commented, “We say we do leadership development for lay leaders, but that’s pretty much a misnomer.” Most churches don’t. Review your small group offerings: Do they encourage people to grow in their thinking, their actions, and their compassion? Do you challenge people or just comfort them?   New discoveries are made in Biblical studies all the time. Are you passing them on?
As in, “We expect ourselves to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.” People rise to the expectations we have of them. Make sure your church provides the structure for this growth. Be sure to discuss the value of prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness often. Then make opportunities for testimony, story-sharing, and recognition.
As in, “This is the vision of our church; the vision we believe God has called us to.” High expectation churches live with vision. These churches have a sense of purpose and power. They know where they are going, even if they don’t know how they’ll get there. Vision requires faith. Faith requires trust. Trust empowers growth. Growth invites action. And action gets people going.
As in, “This is how we’ll live out our vision.” Talk about the vision often.   Vision unites and inspires people. It creates momentum and fuels expectation. Think you’re talking about it too much? Just about the time you get sick of proclaiming the vision, some people will finally hear it for the first time.
As in, “Let’s try it!”  Invite experimentation, adventure, and faith in service of the vision. If your church has nixed new ideas for a long time, or been overly cautious about risk, saying yes will feel risky. The key here is to continue saying yes to the new idea—with your energy, your prayers, and your support—until you have seen it through to completion.
As in, “We invite you to try a covenant group.” Covenant groups done well are high accountability experiences.  Once the foundation is laid for personal accountability then organizational accountability is not far behind.   On the flip side, group covenants done well also create accountability.  I invite you to try being intentional about how your church operates.  When Jesus counseled us to let our no be no and our yes be yes, he was speaking about intentionality.  Give meaning and purpose to your words and your life.  Covenant groups and group covenants accomplish that.
As in, “Let’s trust God and try new things.” Here are some more things to try. Try working with deadlines; holding people to account moves things along. Try new ministries; you just might find your unique niche.  Try leaving the building; set up a prayer or listening post at your local pub, coffee shop or park.  Try being honest and transparent; that’s always refreshing.   Try risking in love; that’s what Jesus did.
Most of all, try giving up “just” and “simply.”   See if you can replace them with the vocabulary of growth.  I expect great things will come as you try living into a new vision of church!

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1 Comment

  1. Diane DiLuzio

    A timely read! I am preparing for this Sunday’s sermon – “Is GOD enough? or “How to live expectantly”. It is a theme that came to me following prayerful discernment of what to do next after the last sermon series (Half Truths – Hamilton) ended. I am free-wheeling these next 4 weeks… this article along with a free-download of: Living in God’s Household from UM discipleship resources fit right in and help align what I have been trying to share about how to interpret scripture and living God’s word for today. Perfect grace-filled timing. Deeply grateful for how the Holy Spirit moves to get my attention and to calm my own anxieties of ‘what to do while I am waiting on God.’ in peace by prayer, diane


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