Want Your Church to Grow?

By |2016-02-08T15:42:18+00:00February 16th, 2016|Categories: Anglican Leadership|Tags: , , , , |3 Comments

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

The Rev. Lee Nelson, S.S.C. is a priest, church-planter, and catechist. He is currently planting churches in Waco and College Station, Texas with the aim of making disciples on college campuses through the planting of Anglican churches. For the last several years, he has served on the Catechesis Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America which produced To Be a Christian, an Anglican Catechism. As a part of this work, he is currently developing a catechetical consulting practice, aimed at coaching and training clergy and laypeople for the work of catechesis.


  1. Joshua Bovis February 17, 2016 at 2:01 am - Reply


    Thankyou for this. May an Anglican Priest from across the pond (in Oz) make a comment?

    Surely a vital element is to preach the Word of God. As it through the preaching of the Word of God, and the proclamation of the Gospel that grows the church. A passage that comes to mind is 1 Cor. 1:18-31. Esp. v.21 where our beloved Apostle Paul writes:
    ‘For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach2 to save those who believe.’
    It is not the preaching itself that saves people, but the content of what is preached that God uses to save those who believe, the gospel (and thus grow the church).This is why when it comes to every ministry, every church, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ must be of all importance, of first importance. Gospel proclamation, preaching Christ crucified is what saves peopl, this is what grows the church. This is what God has done to bring people into a saving relationship with himself – sent his son, to die in our place, taking the punishment we deserve for ignoring God and rebelling against his rightful authority over us.
    Of course I agree with you entirely, we must pray, and fasting (if it is aids people in prayer then tis a good thing) and catechesis – we don’t use ‘To Be A Christian’ -though I have a copy of my own (I am very encouraged by the ACNA), but I long to see our laypeople become gripped by the Gospel, or as Tim Keller put it “experience white-hot grace” so that they are compelled as Paul was, to introduce people to the Lord Jesus Christ and help them home to heaven.

    Thank you for your post.

    Grace and peace during Lent.

  2. Lee Nelson February 17, 2016 at 11:33 am - Reply


    Obviously we agree. Far too many clergy proclaim a weak moralism instead of the Gospel most Sundays. But, there is an opposite problem, the preaching of the Gospel without discipleship, the stuff of cheap grace. This may be a particularly American problem, but it strikes me that many Americans are all too aware of the Gospel but unaware of serious discipleship. That fault lies with a lack of catechesis, not a lack of preaching the Gospel, although I’m sure you’ll agree that the true proclamation of the Gospel is a call to serious discipleship!

    What I often find in speaking with other clergy is that you get a lot of head nodding when you talk about the centrality of the Gospel, but blank stares or outright anger when you mention the necessity of serious catechesis and discipleship. Of course, the Great Commission is not only a call to proclaim the Gospel, but also to teach and make disciples and baptize.

  3. Joshua Bovis February 17, 2016 at 5:14 pm - Reply


    Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. What you say really resonates with me. Cheap grace sadly is not an American problem only.

    I agree with the four things you have mentioned that can be aids to growth:
    1. prayer – vital, yet I have met clergy who really struggle in this. (Which is why I think the Daily Offices are such a blessing)
    2. fasting (in so far in that it is an aid to prayer)
    3. Strive to excel in building up the church (the context of 1 Cor 14.12 is that Paul is exhorting the Christians at Corinth to use their spiritual gifts to build up the church)
    4. Get a mentor – absolutely, I think all priests no matter how long they have been in Holy Orders should have a mentor.
    5. Make use of a catechism – sadly this is not really done here in Oz as far as I know.

    I sincerely hope you did not think I was correcting your post. I agree! All I am saying Lee is that I would probably add two more points to your post.
    6. Keep the death and resurrection of Christ front and centre – after all, as Paul says in Romans 1:16, the Gospel is God’s power to save. When God saves people, the church grows. If we do not preach the cross, people will not hear. Again Paul reminds us of this in Romans 10:13-15.
    7. Keep the whole counsel of God – Teach the word of God all of it, the Christian life begins with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we must teach out people to live in the Gospel. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Colossae he writes 6″Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [Col.2:6-7]. We must strive to by God’s grace to disciple those who have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so that they become rooted and built up in him. This is where I think Bible Study groups, one on one discipleship is such a good thing, Lenten studies are also a great way to encourage our lay people to read God’s Word more consistently. We must model to our people that while they are saved through faith alone in Christ alone, (as Luther rightly pointed out) faith is never alone. The Christian life is not just about saying “Yes I accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour), that will only lead to cheap grace (o perhaps therapeutic moral deism?).

    Once again Lee, I appreciate your ministry on this website.

    in Christ

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