Church Growth and its Mystery

Church Growth and its Mystery July 16, 2014

John Johnston:

Back in 1988, Kent Hughes, then an emerging pastor, was part of planting a new church. All the signs were positive. The mother church endorsed the project, and Kent was an up-and-coming star. The community was strategically targeted, and a solid core was part of the initial foundation. As he put it, “We had everything going for us…the prayers and predictions of our friends…the sophisticated insights of the science of church growth….a superb nucleus of believers…and we had me, a young pastor with a good track record who was entering his prime. We expected to grow.” But something astonishing happened. The church did not grow. In fact, it began to shrink. Out of it came one of his first books,Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.

Growth is generally hard to predict. Sometimes it happens despite our failures; sometimes it eludes us, no matter our best preparations. There is a certain mystery to growth. People insist upon it, as if pastors control some growth lever. Paul must have felt this pressure when he wrote these words in his first letter to Corinth: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (3:6). Looking back, he found that behind lots of human activity was a more active God determining the outcome. Richard Neuhaus, in his pastoral theology, sums it up this way: “At the beginning and at the end of every day, we offer up our ministries. We are responsible for the offering, and God is responsible for the consequences, and His is the infinitely greater responsibility.” We rely on this!

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