Plan a Strategy for Growth
Waldo J. Werning
PLANNING A STRATEGY is basically a process by which the church plans for the future by bringing its present assumptions, policies, objectives, and goals under constant criticism and review. Such a planning procedure enables the church to adapt more readily to all kinds of conditions, to be more flexible, and to achieve greater clarity in its mission to go forward with united purpose in the right direction. Strategy planning is a method by which the church can move more responsibly into the future, no matter how unsettled or uncertain that may be. Thus, a general course of action is selected to achieve the objectives and goals which have been adopted, and the church is helped to adopt the tactics or specific steps that must be taken to implement the strategy.
DEVELOPING A STRATEGY
The steps of the strategy in church growth involve every-thing done from the beginning to the end: analysis (where the church is now, understanding statistics); goals (what the church should do); program (how the church moves ahead); evaluation (making sure the church moves ahead).
The program elements of the strategy are determined by identifying the real obstacles, brainstorming for possible ways to attain the goal in the light of the obstacles, and then choosing the most likely method. A planning instrument is supplied to assist the congregation to take the necessary steps: state the purpose; get information needed to state the goals; determine how to know when the goal is accomplished (set measurements); decide how it will be known that the process is on schedule.
The development of a strategy gives a deep sense of meaning and purpose to the daily activities of the church. It enables leaders to evaluate the thrust of their work periodically and determine the quality of their efforts.
Because of the subtle ways that Satan works, the church should not confine itself to one program. The strategy begins by knowing who the enemy is and how to deal with him. Knowing Christ’s victory over Satan, we will approach our task with a positive attitude and great expectation that the victorious Christ will direct us to a victorious “game plan.” Thus we must know what Christ wants our mission to be. Jesus did not stay at the headquarters to call out encouraging words to the troops below; He went out where the action was. We need a proclaiming and serving church to reach people where they are. There is no place for token ceremonies, for the Church is Christ’s Body and exists to do battle in the world. It is to be obedient to Christ.
GROUND RULES FOR CHURCH GROWTH
Peter D. Unruh, in an article entitled “Ground Rules for Church Growth,” gave some warnings about strategy and church growth:
1. Don’t try to superimpose someone else’s program. Reproducing the program of a successful church may lead to frustration rather than growth. 2. Don’t increase all activity. A church is not experiencing growth just because the bulletin is crowded with announcements and the church lights are blazing every night. 3. Don’t just pray and believe. There is no magic formula which will produce a short cut to church growth. It does not happen without intense effort. 4. Don’t make numerical growth the primary object. Everything is not all right just because people and money are present.
Unruh also gave some basic positives which form the preliminaries to any growing program:
1. Admission of failure. Rather than rationalizing a failure to grow by taking comfort in the fact that “neither is any other church in the area growing,” take a difficult admission to heart and admit that if there is not a multiplying of disciples, there is failure.
2. Openness to change. Although changes will not always result in growth, growth will not occur without change.
3. Attention to details.
4. Insistence on quality. Spirituality and inferiority are not synonymous. In fact, quite the opposite. Because of the “merchandise” we Christians are handling, we should go “first class.”
5. Discovery of needs. It is possible, through surveys, interviews, and effective communication to know just where people are hurting and to determine a relevant ministry based on needs.
6. A desire to grow. “The single greatest factor in a growing church is that it wants to grow.”
While leaders must dream dreams and see new possibilities, a realistic strategy will include Christ-centered and biblically-based messages, a regenerate membership, evangelistic fervor, trained and confident leadership, scripturally-financed programs, discovery and use of spiritual gifts, and balanced emphases. All members are part of God’s grand strategy, and there is a special role that He wants people to carry out as part of His Body in the world. The process, the priorities, and the program should continually be taught, discussed, and reviewed.
George W. Peters offers the following eight elements as necessary for an effective strategy of evangelism:
1. The setting of clearly defined long-range and short-range goals.
2. Preparation of a realistic timetable to achieve these goals.
3. The discovery of all possible resources to realize the goals.
4. The mobilization of personnel and means to actualize the work towards the goals.
5. The designing of an appropriate training program of all mobilized personnel to assure the unity, the effectiveness, and coordination of the work and the accomplishing of the goal.
6. The adoption of the most efficient methods to effect the goals.
7. The setting up of an appropriate organizational structure in keeping with the dynamic function of the Holy Spirit to carry through the program and consummate the goals.
8. The gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in all personnel involved and in all methods and means employed.
What goes into a good decision? First, there must be openness to growth and a desire to get at the facts. While we cannot deny feelings, neither can we deny facts as emotion becomes biased and clear thinking goes astray. Other important attributes are imagination, flexibility, diligence, prayerfulness, and ability to accept failure. Questions to ask are: Are we alert to signs pointing to the need for a decision? Do we review longstanding decisions to see if they are still valid? Do we look at all alternatives? Do we set priorities? Do we see a possible opportunity in every crisis? Do we face difficult decisions head on?
Setting the goal and adopting the strategy can be reduced to four steps: (1) explain the situation and background, (2) state the issue, (3) state all of the alternative courses for action, and (4) determine your recommendation and decision. Indeed, it would be well for church boards to insist that all major issues and business be presented in writing in this form. This will avoid much needless discussion and arguments, and keep the discussion on the issues rather than personalities.
There should be a clear distinction between constants and variables. Constants which never change are the scriptural requirements to evangelize the world, to worship, to disciple, to edify believers, and to pray. The program for implementation of a constant is a variable which may change as circumstances change. Grave problems are created when variables or outmoded methods of church work are maintained without attention given to their effectiveness or a need to change. When available becomes a constant, ineffectiveness is inevitable and the church becomes sick.
BARRIERS TO CHURCH GROWTH
It is vital that we recognize the obstacles to growth. Some do not expect to succeed or even plan to grow. Sometimes goals are too low. Often the planning is not radical enough, and the church still holds to wrong traditions. Others are of what has been called “impossibility thinking,” automatically reacting pessimistically to new ideas and suggestions.
Impossibility thinkers are people who immediately and instinctively react to any positive suggestion with a sweeping assortment of reasons why it can’t be done, or why it is a bad idea, or how someone else tried it and failed, or (and this is usually their clinching argument) how much it will cost! They are people who suffer from a perilous mental malignancy I call the impossibility complex. They are problem imaginators, failure predictors, trouble visualizers, obstacle visioners, and exaggerated-cost estimators! Their attitude produces doubt, stimulates fear and generates a mental climate of pessimism and fatigue. They are worry reactors, optimism deflators, confidence squelchers. The end result? Positive ideas are buried, dreams smashed and projects torpedoed.
Congregations need to be warned against an attitude of “gradualism,” which finds pastors or leaders expecting only little change or growth at any time. When leaders too quickly accept the status quo and rationalize the difficulties and nongrowth of their church, little or nothing will happen until they change their attitude and their spiritual eyes are opened to see the possibility for growth.
Some churches, despite the fact that they deny it, had far too much activity without purpose, majoring in minors and far overlooking priorities. They glorify achievements and their goal is “success.” The leaders do not disciple, but are chained to nonproductive activities and meetings. They respond mostly to symptoms; not to causes, which they hardly ever recognize or understand. Although sincere, their meetings are man centered, and they are victims of structures and programs with which they were brought up. The mission has become institutionalized so that position and status preempt setting of goals and strategies. Barely maintaining themselves and their programs, they fail to grow. They merely inform people about what they want them to do, but they do not form disciples. Seldom does one see the transformation by renewing of the mind.
Tied strongly to tradition, most strategy decisions in many congregations have been developed on the basis of institutional need rather than the real needs of the church and the world.
Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to accept certain forms and programs without question, substituting good activities for making disciples.
Too often, enlarged facilities have been exhibited as a sign of success, without recognizing that the activities within have missed Gospel objectives and biblical standards. Someone has said that “churches are expanding their facilities eternally while the world is going to hell.”
Another barrier is the fact that most churches do not know how to handle the problem of partial commitments from many of their members. Finances of many churches are sometimes diverted to church activities not related to evangelistic outreach. Thus leaders are often chained to nonproductive work.
Hollis L. Green’s book, Why Churches Die, states in practical terms some of the barriers to church growth for many churches. First, he states that the Great Commission is misunderstood. There is too much dependence upon methods and not enough on the power of the Holy Spirit. Too much emphasis on programming limits mobilization. Proclamation is down-graded, and the purpose of the church is thwarted. Converts do not become disciples. Doctrinal orthodoxy is considered sufficient. Too many churchmen are content with mediocrity. Global perspective and concern are missing. Church planting is neglected. A “no harvest” theology exists (churchmen must think like a farmer and hold to a “harvest” theology). Priorities are given to secondary projects. The priesthood of believers is neglected. The courage to prune is almost nonexistent—pruning of unproductive programs and of personnel that is dead wood.
CLUES FOR STRENGTH
In Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, Dean M. Kelley asks how a pastor or a layman would go about strengthening the congregation of which he is a part. Kelley answers:
Those who are serious about their faith: 1.Do not confuse it with other beliefs, loyalties, practices, or mingle them together indiscriminately or pretend they are alike, of equal merit, or mutually compatible if they are not. 2. Make high demands of those admitted to the organization that bears the faith, and do not include or allow to continue within it those who are not fully committed to it. 3. Do not consent to, encourage, or indulge any violations of its standards of belief or behavior by its professed adherents. 4. Do not keep silent about it, apologize for it, or let it be treated as though it made no difference, or should make no difference, in their behavior or in their relationships with each other.”
Kelley’s conclusions could be summarized as follows: Churches should not hastily admit members. Test the readiness and preparation of would-be members. Require continuing faithfulness. Edify and strengthen one another in small groups. Do not mold the church to the expectations of outsiders. Be serious about the faith commitment which Christianity imposes.
Kelley’s conclusion states:
Perhaps the initial and essential step in all this is for the members of the congregation to determine what ultimate meanings they are going to embrace and embody. If as a whole they are not ready to do so, perhaps it will be necessary to begin with a nucleus of those who are, and organize them into a disciple-ship group “an ecclesio” to which others in time may be at traced. This will not be easy, and the dangers of elitism will need to be guarded against. Still, there will be in every congregation some who want to be called to a really serious disciple-ship.
The church has always prospered most when it has been blessed with strong spiritual leaders who experience and expect the power of God to touch and direct them. Leaders should have the commitment to draw people to a common purpose and display a spiritual character which inspires confidence.
Someone has said, “There are only three kinds of people in the world—those that are movable, those that are immovable, and those that move them.” The Bible gives many examples of how the people of God moved gloriously in their spiritual tasks under the direction of leaders who were obedient to God.
True spiritual leadership can be exercised only by Spirit-filled leaders. Spiritual qualities required are: knowledge of the Bible and skill in expounding it, an understanding of Christian doctrine, commitment to Christ, a strong faith, eagerness to find God’s will, and motivation by God’s love in Christ for all men. Important personal qualities are humility, patience, tact, courage, discipline, decisiveness, friendliness, wisdom, and vision. Perils of leadership include pride, false ambition, jealousy, compromise, pettiness, covetousness, and apathy toward failure.
The responsibility of leadership is to serve, to guide, to initiate, to accept responsibility, and to discipline. It is the responsibility of the spiritual leader to reproduce and multiply himself.
MOBILIZING THE PEOPLE: MAKING DISCIPLES
Making disciples is one of the chief objectives in church growth. Going, baptizing, and teaching are means to accomplish that end. Making disciples involves accepting Christ, showing evidence of regeneration, and being incorporated into the Body of Christ as a witnessing and serving member. Christ’s “make disciples” is a command, not a request. If people do not become disciples, they usually become parasites.
A disciple is a believer, a learner in the school of Christ. The disciple is one who adheres to and serves the Savior, Jesus Christ. A disciple has an appetite for spiritual things and is truly responsive. He is a servant with a heart for people and their needs, and is open to God’s will. Discipleship involves obedience to Christ, incorporation into the church, and responsible service in the world. A disciple first receives, then gives. Discipleship is the fulfillment of life’s purpose as Jesus binds His disciples to Himself, to His person. Jesus does not wait until applicants come to Him, but rather He calls people to be His disciples. The decisive initiative comes from Jesus. Discipleship in the church does not go from bottom to top, but from top to bottom. It starts with the pastor and church officers.
Discipleship is not a classroom exercise but a life situation. It involves teaching (imparting knowledge from Scripture), training (imparting skill on the job), and building the Christian faith and life (imparting character through the Gospel).
Unless God draws them, people do not come to the commitment of discipleship by themselves. Disciples need to know the assurance of salvation, the importance of God’s Word and prayer, the vitality of Christian fellowship, faith, the lordship of Christ, obedience to the will of God, witnessing, discipleship, and the power of God. This call is so exclusive that it means an uncompromising commitment of service that is the essence of church growth strategy.
SCHEDULE FOR CHURCH GROWTH PLANNING PROCESS
Where do you start the church growth process? When do you start? What preparations are to be made? What resources are available?
SIX MONTHS BEFORE TARGET TIME
A general committee should have been selected and assignments made. The general committee consists of the pastor and entire administrative staff, a general chairman, a self-study survey chairman, an evangelism committee chairman, a social ministries committee chairman, and a chairman of the organizations committee. Each of the committee members should be given the evaluation and questionnaire sheets for their particular area of responsibility.
At this time, the following reading assignments should be given:
1. All members of the general committee read the following books during the next six months or before the Target Time:
Gerber, Vergil. God’s Way to Keep a Church Going and Growing. Glendale, Calif.: Regal, 1973. Wagner, C. Peter. Your Church Can Grow. Glendale, Calif.: Regal, 1976. Werning, Waldo J. The Radical Nature of Christianity. South Pasadena, Calif.: Mandate, 1976. Vision and Strategy for Church Growth. Chicago: Moody, 1977.
2. The pastor, general chairman, and self-study survey committee, in addition to reading the previous books, ought also to read:
McGavran, Donald A., and Arn, Win. How to Grow a Church. Glendale, Calif.: Regal, 1973.
Wilson, Carl. With Christ in the School of Disciple Building. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.
3. Evangelism committee:
Hemichs, Walter G. Disciples Are Made—Not Born. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1975. Wilson, Carl. With Christ in the School of Disciple Building. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976. The World Home Bible League, 16801 Van Dam Road, South Holland, Illinois 60473, provides materials for congregation and personal evangelism. Write for sample packets to learn of the possibility of training members to distribute the Bible and teach it to non-Christians. Especially important is the program, “The Touch of His Hand,” a dynamic, evangelistic Bible study program with the goal of church growth. This filmstrip shows how to plan a program for non-Christians to join a small home study group
4. Stewardship committee:
Gangel, Kenneth 0. You and Your Spiritual Gifts. Chicago: Moody, 1975.
Werning, Waldo J. The Stewardship Call. 3rd printing. St. Louis: Concordia, 1970.
5. Education committee:
Anderson, Andy. Where Action Is. Nashville: Broadman, 1976.Gangel, Kenneth 0. You and Your Spiritual Gifts. Chica-go: Moody, 1975.Henrichs, Walter G. Disciples Are Made—Not Born. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1975.Wilson, Carl. With Christ in the School of Disciple Building. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.
6. Elders or deacons:
Henrichs, Walter G. Disciples Are Made—Not Born. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1975. Wagner, C. Peter. Your Church Can Grow. Glendale, Calif.: Regal, 1976. Werning, Waldo J. The Radical Nature of Christianity. South Pasadena, Calif.: Mandate, 1976.
THREE MONTHS BEFORE
The general chairman should call the general committee together to ascertain whether all of the committees are on schedule and to encourage them to finish all their setting of goals and strategies at the Target Time, which is now three months away. Check whether the books are being read and evaluations made. Now is the time to set goals and develop strategies.
The Target Time may be a two-week period in which all committees conduct open meetings to inform the congregation of their goals and strategies. The congregation should invite denominational leaders from their district who are responsible for the specific areas discussed in the open meeting. Denominational leaders should be given an opportunity to reflect upon the goals and strategies which have been set.
After all the committees have held their meetings, the general committee should meet and coordinate all efforts and make plans that the committees continue to work on strategies which have been developed.
Any books that have not been read by church leaders by the Target Time should be read in the following months.
Those who want to keep informed should subscribe to the Church Growth Book Club, 305 Pasadena Avenue, South Pasadena, California 91030, which offers their “Church Growth Newsletter” and reduced rates for books.
ONE YEAR LATER
The general committee meets to hear individual reports from each committee to learn whether the one-year goals have been met and exceeded. Plans are made to continue the process by regular evaluations. If the church growth process and planning has not been transferred to the church council and individual boards and committees, this should be done immediately. Select a staff member or officer of the congregation to be responsible for continued leadership.
The above article, “Plan a Strategy for Growth” was written by Waldo J. Wening. The article was excerpted from Werning’s book Vision and Strategy for Church Growth.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”