Ten Principles for Launching a Major Growth Thrust
By Gary Rohrmayer
As we read through the book of Acts we need to always remember it is a book of history. It gives us a glimpse of how God worked through ordinary men and women to fulfill His purposes and carry out His ongoing mission of redemption. We should look at the book of Acts as a place to glean principles and insights for church planting and church life. It is not a book to look for blueprints or models but rather a book to discover transferable principles which will be shaped by your cultural context.
Here are a few transferable principles that we can glean from the launching of the church in Acts 1-2:
1. Our motives must be great commission driven. Acts 1:4-8
If our only motive is to get butts in the seats at whatever cost we are heading for a world of hurt and disappointment. If all we are doing is to try to increase our revenue stream and meet our church's financial needs, we are just going to be frustrated. If all our efforts are trying to get the "already convinced" into our church, the wheels will fall over very quickly. We must be great commission focused. Our hearts must be broken and burdened for those who are far from God. The only way some churches are going to grow in the consumeristic Christian culture that is being developed is through effective evangelism. My experience is that unchurched people don't need all the bells and whistles of the mega church...Christians do! Those far from God want relationships and meaningful connections.
2. Spiritual dependence is vital. Acts 1:12-14
The disciples gathered constantly for prayer. They reflected on their deep dependence on God, clinging to God not knowing what was next, simply waiting in humble dependence was the posture of the disciples. How will your congregation reflect their prayerful dependence on God? I remember hand labeling 12,000 mailers with our team and praying for each person that God would open their hearts and touch them. Prayer walking your community before and during your growth thrust has a powerful effect. Having your people generate a list of people they would like to see come to Christ during this outreach and then having a special prayer meeting where each name is lifted up before the throne of God is very effective.
3. Select and build into leaders in preparation for outreach. Acts 1:15-26
Preparing for a growth thrust is a great way to expand and develop your leadership team and volunteer based. Giving people short term specific assignments is a great way to training and identify leaders. In some cases you can double your leadership team and volunteer base with inviting people to fill needs for the short term commitment. The key aspect is to that the more people you have involved in the planning and preparation the more committed they will be in inviting and reaching out their friends and family. We need to see these growth thrust a leadership development opportunities.
4. Pick a good day and time of year for launching the growth thrust. Act 2:1
In Acts 2 we see that God launched the Church on the day of Pentecost. This was no accident! There are theological, historical and sociological implications to this date. Pentecost, which means “50” was the final celebration of the Feast of First Fruits which happened 50 days earlier. At this Feast, God’s people were to give a free-will offering (Deuteronomy 16:9-10) celebrating God’s provision. Theological and historical significance was that the Feast of First Fruits started on the Resurrection Sunday and ended on the Day of Pentecost. So we see that the church was born out of the first fruits of Christ’s sacrifice. The sociological significance was that Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks was one of three annual pilgrim feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16) where God’s people from all over the world came to celebrate. This is why we see such an array of people and languages in Acts 2:5-11. Pentecost was no accident. It was strategic and that is one reason why three thousand were added to the Church that day. So when is the best time to do growth thrust? Our experience in the midwest has been:
Fall: Late September-early October
Lenten Season: February-March
Easter: Late March-early April
The best time for launching a growth thrust is the fall because you have nine months before you face the summer slump. The second best time for launching a church is February, this is a season when unchurched people come back to church. The third is on Easter Sunday.
5. Launch out in the Spirit's power. Acts 2:1-4
Remember only God can draw people into a relationship with him. It can be tempting to trust your planning but you must teach your people to act in faith and depend fully on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the life giving power. Prayer and fasting will be critical for you and your church to express its dependence on God. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7
My hope is that every church would experience a season of dramatic growth like the church in Acts 2 did, but the reality is that most are unwilling to pay the price for that type of growth and impact. A major growth campaign in your church will cost you something. It will cost you your comfort, it will cost you time, it will cost you money, it will cost you your sleep and it will even cost you some relationships because everyone is not going to embrace this journey with you.
6. Create interest throughout your webs of relationships and throughout the community. Acts 2:5-13
Three thousand people were added to the church in a single day but the big question is how many people were impacted by the miracle of the disciples speaking in different languages? God in a miraculous way created a buzz throughout the community through this miracle both relationally and attractionally. There was so much buzz that it caused a reaction in people. The crowd asked three questions and made one accusation:
"Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?"
"Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?"
"What does this mean?"
Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had to much wine."
Here is a big principle that most churches don't understand. If you are going to have a major growth thrust you must, in a big way, gain the attention of your community in such a way that it causes people to react. They will react out of curiousness, out of sincerity or even out of anger or jest.
When was the last time your church caused a community reaction that led to redemptive activity? Many churches are great at creating buzz in the Christian community but what about the community of the unchurched or dechurched? Its like the church that only promotes their events through Christian media. Who are they trying to reach? Learning how to grab the attention of your community at large is central to launching a major growth thrust.
7. Have bold relevant preaching of God's word. Acts 2:14-36
I remember a well-known pastor say that 85% of the people stay in a church because they made some type of connection with the person bringing the message that day. We can have all the latest technology, the greatest music, the warmest people, the best children’s ministry but if people don’t connect with the message and the messenger they will move on. Many a pastor has spent hours on preparing the service and outreach strategy but only minutes on preparing their message. This is to their detriment and is dishonoring to God.
Two things we learn for Peter's sermon 1) He responded to the questions and reaction of the crowd. The bulk of the sermons preached in the book of Acts are responses to people's questions. If we are going to do a effective job of touching the hearts of people outside the church we must address the questions they are asking. We must understand their "heart language." We must understand what moves them. Do you know the primary heart language of your community? 2) He boldly proclaimed the word of God in providing an answer to their questions. Paul writes to Timothy, “Preach the word.” (II Timothy 4:2 NIV) The foundation of any church is to be based on strong biblical preaching, not motivational speaking; an undying commitment of bringing the unshakable Word of God to a world that is falling apart at its core must be the underlying conviction for every pastor.
8. Ask for a commitment to Christ. Acts 2:37-41
The key to getting commitment is clarity! Peter's conclusion to his message was crystal clear, "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (vs 36) His call to action was specific and realistic, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (vs 38) His appeal was filled with passion and urgency, "With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'" (vs 40)
Remember that this major growth thrust, at its core, is evangelistic in nature. Our preaching must be evangelistically focused. David Murray describes evangelistic preaching as plain, simple and clear. He writes, "Evangelistic preaching will be plain. If we love sinners and we are anxious for them to be saved, we will be clear and plain in our structure, content, and choice of words. If we can use a smaller word, we use it. If we can shorten our sentences, we do so. If we can find an illustration, we tell it. Everything is aimed at simplicity and clarity, so that, as it was said of Martin Luther, it may be said of us, 'It’s impossible to misunderstand him.'"
At some point during this major growth thrust we must passionately lift up the person and work of Jesus Christ. We must challenge our audience with the implications of His claims as Lord and Savior. We must make it clear on how one becomes a true follower of Jesus.
9. Call them into the community of faith. Acts 2:42-47
When Peter called the crowd in the temple area to “Repent and be baptized…” he was not just calling them from something (sin, corrupt generation) but also to something (to Jesus, a new community of faith and to a new mission).
Peter’s words give us a beautiful picture of the “church.” The Greek word for church is ekklesia which in its base form means “to call out.” Isn’t this what Peter was doing? Calling them out to repent, changing their minds on who Jesus was and what He had done for them. He called them out to be baptized, to be dipped under water before the crowd, as a symbol of personal identification with Jesus and His followers. He called them out to be marked by forgiveness and to receive the promised Holy Spirit. He called them out from a corrupt generation that offered nothing but hopelessness. In response to his calling out they gathered together in complete devotion, filled with awe and wonder, sold out to the God that saved them and to each other. They had a clear sense of mission which was seen in their ability to add people to their numbers daily.
As pastors and church planters we have this same wonderful privilege as Peter. As we launch a major growth thrust in our communities we have an opportunity to call people out to something greater than themselves. The Church. The Body of Christ. The Bride of Christ. God’s agent of change and hope for our world today.
How do you do that practically? What are the pathways of discipleship and involvement in your church? Would a new Christian know what the next step for them was in the life of the church? Would a returning believer know where to go to re-energize their relationship with Christ? Would a growing believer new in town know how to get connected with the leadership and onto a path of service?
Clear pathways of discipleship are critical for having a successful growth thrust. George Barna in his book, “Growing True Disciples” writes, “Offering programs is not the issue. We discovered that surprisingly few churches have a well-conceived model of discipleship that they implement. The result is that churches feel they have fulfilled their obligation if they provide a broad menu of courses, events, and other experiences, but such a well-intentioned but disjointed approach leaves people confused and imbalanced."
Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger in their book, “Simple Church” articulate that in order for a church to have good pathways of discipleship and involvement there needs to be four elements: movement, alignment, focus and clarity. As you consider what you are calling people to, the following questions will guide you in simplifying the process.
Movement: How would you describe the “ministry or discipleship flow” that exists in your church right now?
Alignment: What type of alignment exists between your ministries to achieve your vision?
Focus: How do these ministry opportunities help achieve our missional outcome?
Clarity: Do those who attend our public worship service understand our process and the next steps they need to take?
10. Mobilize missionaries to serve the world not just members to serve in the church. Acts 2:47
The new term of assimilation is mobilization. In the book of Acts we see that Peter not only called the crowd into the life of the church but also called them to be engaged in the mission of Jesus. This is how ”…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
In 2007 I wrote on the differences of church-centric and mission-centric philosophies of ministries. For years the church has practiced a church-centric philosophy of ministry where the goal was to create healthy members for the betterment of the church. But in recent years there has been a paradigm shift where churches are embracing the need to be mission-centric, in that the goal for the church is to create missionaries for the betterment of society and cultural transformation.
Churches are in the sending business. One of the questions we must ask in evaluating a church's health is, ‘How many people are being mobilized for the Great Commission?’" Reggie McNeal reinforces this paradigm shift in his book, The Present Future when he writes, “The first Reformation was about freeing the church. The new Reformation is about freeing God’s people from the church (the institution). The original Reformation decentralized the church. The new Reformation decentralizes ministry.” The only way we can decentralize ministry is by seeing each member as a missionary to be sent by the church into their personal mission field.
The big principle I take away from Acts 1-2 is this, “Missionally focused leadership will not only lead the church towards missional evangelism but will also engage the church in missional edification; both are key to seeing the church continually engage in God’s redemptive purposes.”