Our family is visiting a growing church.
Since our first time visit in June of 2016, we keep coming back. This gives me the opportunity to watch and look for transferrable reasons for its growth.
There is no single cause to the growth of this fellowship that started in a living room in 1984. But like fertile garden soil, nurtured by rain, this church has conditions that produce a harvest of new believers.
Though it has outgrown the living room where it started in 1984, but this church has not outgrown its mission to reach people for Christ.
I recently found a 30 year old article by Donald Gerig that describes intangible conditions for growing churches, and all 6 exist in the church we visit.
They describe the qualities, climate, atmosphere, or ambiance that is the very DNA of the local church.
6 Qualities that exist in a growing church
1. A Positive Atmosphere
As we visit each Sunday, there is a positivity in the atmosphere. People are excited to be there.
Church Greeters say hello and welcome with a big smile.
Volunteers have a “Ask Me” badge on a lanyard, which makes them approachable.
The sermons, drawn from the truths of God’s word, lift up hope and call people to greater things each week.
They tell stories of the positive impact this growing church makes in the community and individual lives.
I’ve not run into people who are critical of leadership, negative on mission, or complaining about stuff.
Instead, I run into people who brag about the mission of the church and what they do.
It’s a positively electric atmosphere that continues to draw us back.
A climate of trustworthy leadership is in place. Though we’ve been visiting for a short while, I can see that leadership is trustworthy.
I see the leaders serve each other and the mission of the church. That continues to build their credibility with me, and therefore my level of trust in them.
These trustworthy leaders motivate volunteers. Last week, I talked to a first time volunteer who said “I’ve would never have served in a church before, but this is a place for me to serve.”
There’s something about trustworthy church leadership that calls, equips, and deploys volunteers eager and willing to serve.
Out of that trust, they empower volunteers to take action, serve, and grow.
Trustworthy leadership help this growing church live out its mission.
This intangible affects so much of what defines the climate of this church.
Print materials, understandable sermons, volunteer deployment, quality of music, cleanliness of the building, and professionalism in nearly everything we see and experience continues to draw our family in.
That drives us to invite our friends, neighbors and strangers we meet. Mediocirty does not attract people.
Ministry leaders have prepared and defined “work” for volunteers so they can quickly jump in to serve (rather than wondering “what do I do now?”)
Volunteers serve with passion and with commitment to excellence.
The musicians lead us with excellence in their skill. The preachers are communicators who share God’s word in a way that accessible and applicable to daily life.
I still find myself amazed every week at the pursuit excellence that’s in the atmosphere. It’s hard to see the rough edges of imperfection because everyone pursues excellence towards the mission. Imperfections always exist. A pursuit of excellence seeks to remove them. Mediocrity lets imperfections stay.
It’s clear that this growing church pursues God’s glory by seeking to do the best.
4. Oriented to Outreach
Ingrown never equals growing. - Donald Gering
The mentality of this church is reaching out to others.
On the first day we attended, the pastor said
If what we do in here [on Sunday] doesn’t make a difference out there [in the community], then we are wasting our time.
Each month, volunteers go into the local community and serve it. Sermon stories show what the church does for its community. The social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) all capture photos of community outreach.
Every single Sunday, nearly every photo we see, and most every announcement set has a focus on ways to serve the community and the world.
It is clear that this church lives into its mission. Community service is affirmed, planned for, and highlighted.
There is no place for a pew sitter here. There is a continual call to be engaged in the community.
It’s exciting to be part of a growing church that is giving it’s life away in the community and world. That’s a mission that inspires generosity in time and money.
Flexibility is willingness to experiment, to innovate, and even to fail.
In the pursuit of excellence, I see flexibility in action. If something didn’t work, these leaders adjust it. If something isn’t reaching it’s purpose, they stop it or find a way to reset.
While this church’s DNA is pretty set in “this is how our church do it”, there is enough flexibility to know that no program is too sacred to change, no process to fixed to redo, no idea worth killing off before implementing with “we’ve never done that.” When something goes poorly, it gets evaluated and fixed, or evaluated and deep-sixed.
I see adaptation and flexibility with leadership as circumstances change in the life and programming in the church.
This leadership appears flexible where it needs to be, and appropriately inflexible on matters of faith and doctrine.
They adapt where needed and appropriate for the fulfillment of mission.
6. A Serving Spirit
Every interaction that I’ve had with the pastor, paid staff, and volunteers has demonstrated a serving spirit. It’s clear to me they truly want to serve.
As a consequence, I encounter people who embody the previous 5 traits: positive, trustworthy, devoted to excellence, oriented to outreach, and flexible.
It propels me to ask, “how can I serve here?” This propels me to ask, “how can I give my life away here too?
I also think that planning ahead helps a serving spirit thrive. I see leaders who get supplies ahead of time, define tasks, and create the space for volunteers to step in a serve. These leaders make it easier to serve because they define the outcomes ahead of time.
When I lead a remodeling project on a church sanctuary, we had a volunteer workday where 80 volunteers showed up. I spent months defining the work, acquiring supplies, and setting things up so when volunteers arrived, they had a task, tools, and a targeted outcome. Advance work make it easy to serve.
When we ran the dental clinic, we prepared all the volunteer tasks ahead of time, including the prayer station. We find it helpful at some of these events to have a prayer station, a place where people can visit to receive prayer from church elders or those trained in prayer ministry.
As my family is stepping in to serve, we see this advance preparation. That helps us serve because we know the expectations, have the tools or supplies necessary to accomplish the task. We want to serve where we have a sense of ownership and pride in the mission.
You cannot program these conditions of a growing church
These conditions are intangible. You can’t program them. You can only practice them and model them.
Church leadership clearly owns these attitudes – from the paid staff to the volunteers. It affects the “how things get done” in this church – no matter the program, situation, or size.
I see that these 6 attitudes are present in the growing church we are visiting. It makes up the climate, the atmosphere, or ambiance of the church we are attending.
I believe these conditions given in that 1988 article hold true for the church we visit.
Source of the 6 Conditions: Donald Gerig, The Magnetic fellowship: reaching and keeping people (Vol. 15, pp. 29–40, Weeden, L. K. (Ed.). (1988).