Organizational Growth and Nature

Sitting in a meeting the other day a group of ministry staffers were discussing how to help a struggling small church in a large city environment. Years ago that church grew to thousands. Now it was downtown to a sprawling city, in the heart of a deteriorating infrastructure that defines many urban American environments. The church has beautiful facilities that seat several thousand with about 180 in regular attendance. The small local body hired a new Pastor who has a heart for the “down and out” crowd that are literally sleeping at his door. “What can he do?” Someone asked in the meeting. Several suggestions began to flow. One that seemed to gain traction was the opening an alleyway beside the church for a “coffee house” band type outreach to reach some of the evening restaurant crowd in the downtown area. Around the table this sounded like a reasonable approach to outreach. It didn’t seem that way to me at all. I began to think about it, and couldn’t settle down without getting some of this out on paper. I believe there are natural principles that govern growth of any church or organization. These principles exist in nature, and show themselves in organizations as well:

  1. It starts with inspiration that evokes a commitment of the current people to gain the new people. That must be won before growth will occur. I know it sounds like a terrible analogy, but think about it – until two people decide to come together, a baby is not made. It takes some level of communal agreement on to make growth. Divided organizations don’t naturally grow. Sometimes the natural rallying point is bringing people back to the original cause that brought them together. All of the time it is required to get people to believe they have an important role to play in an attainable goal. In business it is called the “energizing myth”. In church it is simpler, because we serve a great God that has already shown us a prophetic glimpse of our future. “How do I get our people to buy into the idea of growth?”, one Pastor asked. I am no growth expert, but it seemed to me that you can’t conquer an ailment that you can’t identify. In other words, diagnosis precedes solution.  Some smaller congregations feel threatened by new people. They may fear a loss of identity or even fear a loss of control. Both issues need to be carefully addressed or growth will be elusive, despite the efforts of their leaders. People need to be on the same page to read together aloud.

  2. When the objective is understood and accepted the actions that follow will have power. Leadership means casting vision and influence to a group that becomes enlisted to the cause. Our communication to the people needs to be inspirational, but is most effective when attitudes were ready.  Motivation is a constant issue. I have found people are most encouraged by lifting their eyes from the small world of their problems to seeing the greatness of the vision. In the church we have the opportunity to bring people to a right relationship with the God that created the universe! People can be set free from addictions and moved to their actual purpose – a dynamic relationship with the living God!

  3. Assessment should not be strictly an internal matter. As I age, I become acutely aware that younger people look at me as older than I feel myself to be! When a long-time friend visits and I see the aging on them, I am aware that it is happening to me, though I have paid little attention to it. Organizations have the same issue. They measure themselves internally, and are often unrealistic in the measure. Members of a small church may believe they are friendly, because during a “meet and greet” they always have someone to talk to. They don’t notice the discomfort of a visitor nearby who is left standing with no one to greet.

  4. Growth demands some drawing factors. I Pastor in a small town, so any event that draws a significant crowd gets noticed. Because of that, we put on several festivals a year to invite the community to a free carnival like atmosphere. The events give a “buzz” in the community, put us in touch with people of the area, and raise our profile. More importantly though, it gets our people focused on a goal to work together and see something happen. At the last event, we had twenty-four people give their life to Jesus, and several new families joined the church. Sometimes I think we just expect that people will bring in those familiar to them. Yet, when surveyed, most people that think of evangelism and outreach think of strangers. We need to help them to see exactly who they CAN bring – their family members, their friends, their co-workers. Events give them a comfortable reason to open this part of their lives to people from another part.

  5. Serve your way in to people’s lives. At Grace, we have chosen to use this strategy because we believe it reflects a Biblical directive. Funny as it may sound, it works in any business as well. When we focus on what the community we intend to reach feel they need, we open the door to meeting deeper and more important needs. It begins with a focus on where they are and what their problems are. To reach family, Grace focused on children. This summer we have had 85 kids all over the property between “Ignite Day Camp” and “Kid City Daycare”. Our services are tooled with a full range of  children’s ministries. Parents worship where their children are cared for and are growing. It doesn’t matter who we reach out to, we have to earn the right to be heard. Every age group is important. We are working to build an inter-generational ministry – because it follows the way families grow in the natural world. It wasn’t the VILLAGE that raised the child, it was EXTENDED FAMILY in the village that raised the child. Events are important (see #4) but people only stay connected if ministry is really going on. We get an exciting opportunity to be a part of the life of our community, but we exist to serve Jesus by serving them.