Latest posts by Fr. Lee Nelson (see all)
- On Publishing the Banns of Marriage - March 23, 2017
- The Stranger is to be Welcomed as Christ Himself: Benedictine Wisdom on Welcoming and Pastoring Strangers, Visitors, and Newcomers - September 13, 2016
- When You Hate Ministry: Don’t Quit It, Fix It. - September 6, 2016
So you want your church to grow, do you?
Listen, I get it, every pastor wants their church to grow. And it’s not just selfish ambition, although there will always be some of that. On our best days, we know the hard work we put into preaching and pastoral care, in equipping our people to serve in ministries and reach their neighbors, and we think: aren’t there people out there who would benefit from the life of our church? We think: we’ve done everything the books and the experts said to do, and nothing! We’re friendly to visitors. We have well-designed newcomer materials. We put in long hours, and we want to see results.
And there’s heartache when we see numbers drop. It’s really painful and it’s not easy to avoid taking this as a verdict on our ministry.
Here’s the hard truth: very few have the ability and talent to grow a church by their own strength, personality, or charisma. Those guys – we all know at least one of them – seem to have the golden touch. But, what they end up with is a cult of personality, a vapid wasteland of their own making. Let’s get that right, even if we get everything else wrong – if you try to grow a church by your own power, you’re a charlatan. Faithful pastors work faithfully, and let God give the growth. In that vein, I offer three ways that the Lord wants you to grow the church he’s entrusted to you.
You can have great programs, and well-thought-out mission statements, and an endless supply of funding. You can have well-trained greeters, and just the right visitor cards, and a great boilerplate welcome letter. All those things are great, but they’re not essential. Only prayer is essential. Prayer sets us in the position of children, appealing to the Father for the good things only He can give.
What should we ask for?
Jesus tells us that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) I’ve heard fellow clergy complain that they don’t think there is a harvest anymore, that people simply aren’t biting anymore. This is a lie. The harvest is as plentiful as it’s ever been. What isn’t plentiful are laborers. Pray that men and women will join in the work of building up the Church and making disciples. Pray that your ministry team will be expanded.
Pray for good things. Pray for resources to put to use in the building up of the Kingdom. In our church, we have a group of intercessors which meets every week and a group of people who pray together every morning, and I don’t know what I’d do without them. If you don’t have a group of intercessors, make that your number one priority.
In addition, engage in spiritual warfare. Invoke the ministry of angels in doing battle against the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil. Bless the homes of parishioners with holy water, casting out all manner of evil. (My favorite house blessing, in the “Manual for Priests of the American Church” calls for angels to dwell in the walls of the house.) Cleanse the building where you worship. Cleanse your office and classrooms.
Fasting expresses conversion of the heart within ourselves. As opposed to loving ourselves, our appetites, tastes, and desires, we learn to hunger for the good things of the Lord, to know that only He can fill our deepest hungers. Self-satisfaction is a ministry-killer. Fasting is a self-satisfaction killer. You get my drift.
Call together your leadership and invite them to fast with you. Even if it’s only one day a week, a common fast is a sure sign that you’re setting down the pride associated with having a growing church and that you’re getting oriented towards the building up of the Church and the flourishing of the Kingdom.
Some special intentions for the fast could include:
- That God will call men and women, whole families, to know Him and follow Him within your congregation.
- That your congregation will be ready to disciple and instruct those whom He calls.
- That you’ll have the pastoral and physical capacity to bring in the harvest.
- That laborers will be called into your congregation.
- That the mouths of those who speak ill of your church will be stopped, and that the people of your church will have a well-deserved good reputation.
Strive to Excel Building up the Church
Paul writes to the Corinthians: “since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” (1 Cor. 14:12) What he meant by “building up the church” was to put primary interest in edification, not edifices, to engage in solid catechesis. In later verses, Paul writes “I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Cor. 14:19) The word for instruct used here is the Greek word katēcheō. Catechesis is the work of instructing men and women not only in those things which Christians should know, but also those ways in which they should live and pray.
Friends, catechesis builds up the Church, not only in the growth of her members, but the growth of her membership! Rick Warren once said that if God can depend on your church to make disciples, you’ll never have a shortage of them. That is absolutely true.
Hone your teaching skills. Learn to take delight in teaching. Saint Augustine once remarked that one of the most important things you can do in teaching, especially when teaching people the basics, is to cultivate delight in the teaching. Because, honestly, who wants to listen to a teacher who is bored by the content of their teaching?
Get a mentor in teaching
If you have someone in your life who has taught and instructed you, ask them for advice. If you know a priest who is also an excellent teacher, get in their world, read the books they read.
Lastly – make use of a catechism
The Anglican Church in North America has provided a great resource in “To Be a Christian: an Anglican Catechism.” This document is meant to be used in the basic and ongoing instruction of Christians and those preparing to enter the waters of Baptism. It forms the basis of all of my teaching and I’ve found that it keeps me disciplined and precise, and that people are growing deeply from the instruction contained in it.
Image: Public Domain