There are many books written about church growth. I’ve read a bunch of them. Sixteen years ago, when Linda and I first moved to Nashville to accept the position here as the Involvement Minister, I must have read a dozen or more of those books. I was convinced that if we built it (or renovated it), people would come! So we renovated the worship center. At that time we averaged around 300 people in Sunday attendance. Now, sixteen years later, we are averaging around 300 people. Hmmm… we built it, but they didn’t come.
I began to read other church-growth books, some of which said churches were focusing on the wrong things. Giving out prizes to visitors, cranking up the worship bands, staging incredible light shows and video presentations, and creating mini-magic kingdoms in the children’s and youth ministry areas were said to be extraneous fluff that doesn’t really help families grow in their faith. And so I knuckled down on the Gospel, creating new ministries that are geared to take the good news into the world around us. I was convinced that if we took evangelism seriously (and, to be honest, I’m not sure I have yet), the church would become an evangelistic powerhouse, and Northside would grow like never before. Hmmm…
Here I am today… somewhere in the middle of two extremes. I know, and believe with all my heart, that it is the Gospel that has the true power to transform lives. Read the first chapters of nearly every one of Paul’s letters and you’ll find him stating that in various ways. Jesus Christ is God’s answer to the problems in this world. But I’m also convinced that visitors are looking for more than doctrinal accuracy. They are trying to find a church home for their families. They are looking for the place that will have a big and positive impact upon their children. They are looking for a place where they can create new friendships, a place where they can grow in their faith and in service.
That balance is important for the church. Any church that focuses too much on only one side of that coin is in danger. Many churches wind up with incredible facilities, and a watered-down gospel that prevents true spiritual development. Those churches are often overflowing with people, but they don’t know how the gospel can be “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Other churches may wind up with great ministries and teaching, but they wind up with facilities that look old and worn out. Their membership is likely to be very faithful to that church family, but newcomers don’t feel like it’s a place where they can invest their lives. As the old membership dies, the church dies also.
Northside is in an interesting place right now. Our teaching is strong… probably stronger than it’s ever been! But through the years, besides the renovation of the worship center, we’ve merely maintained the rest of our facilities. If something breaks, we fix it. But if you asked some of the young families who have visited recently, they’d tell you our building looks old and dated. And, sadly, a lot of that old stuff is beginning to break down. We don’t need to tear it down and start all over, but there are some things we can do to bring new life to the facilities. And, while we’re at it, we can create an new energy and excitement, while offering a high level of involvement as members share in the work of re-creation here at Northside.
We’ll be talking about this some more as we near the end of the year. Please, pray that we do whatever God’s Spirit leads us to do, and may we represent well the Kingdom of Heaven right here on earth.