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FIRST-PERSON: Marks of a growing church

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HOUSTON (BP)–Adrian Rogers, a pastor in Memphis, Tenn., and Ed Young, a pastor in Houston, once made separate studies of the 25 fastest-growing churches in America to determine any commonalities.

Some were in the North, some in the South. Some were Anglo, some were African American. Some were charismatic, most were not. Some had marvelous new facilities, while many were very old. But when Rogers and Young learned of each other’s study, they saw five factors in common among growing churches:

1) They were strongly led by their pastors.

Boards, presbyters, deacons, elders and committees abounded. There was a large variance in ecclesiastical structure. But in each case, it didn’t take long — analyzing the inside workings of the church — until it became obvious where the power was.

But it is imperative that you understand: Leadership is not demanded; it is deserved. Pastoral leadership is taught in Scripture, granted by the people and must be earned by the pastor. Remember, a wise man will seek counsel and work with his leaders while humbly assuming the position of leadership with which God has entrusted him.

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2) They were strong Bible churches.

Each pastor believed the Bible to be inerrant and infallible, the unflawed, perfect Word of God, not just a record of God’s Word, but God’s Word itself. These men were not attempting to be apologists. They were not defending the Bible, debating it or trying to prove it. They were preaching it, explaining it, applying it and illustrating it. Once, asked why he didn’t spend more time defending the Bible, Billy Graham responded, “The Bible is like a lion. When you have a lion, you don’t have to defend him. Just turn him loose; he’ll defend himself.”

3) They were good-time churches.

This is not to say the weekend services were a hootenanny, or the atmosphere like a carnival. They were happy churches with bright, warm, friendly atmospheres. The people felt the freedom to laugh, to cry and to respond. Remember, you can’t hatch eggs in a refrigerator. A warm, fluid service that allows for the freedom and spontaneity of the Spirit is conducive to the tender response of our Spirit to God.

Often such services are considered to be only emotional, and decisions made therein naturally shallow. But consider this: Emotion is fully one-third of human personhood. Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart and soul. The mind is the seat of the intellect; the place where we know. The heart is the seat of the emotions; the place where we feel. The soul is the seat of the will; the place where we resolve and commit. The person who is stimulated in his mind and stirred in his heart will commit in his soul.

We thwart the work of the Lord among us when we stifle the freedom of the Spirit with stilted, overly formal services. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” the Bible says. This is not, of course, to suggest an inherent fallacy in planning. An order of service can be directed by the Holy Spirit and still be printed in advance. But the love, warmth and ease with which it should be carried out can and must be allowed.

4) They were churches in unity.

The people gave a high priority to their oneness in Christ. Social and socioeconomic diversity are a great plus in the church. Ideally, your church will be a cross-section of your city, and its leaders will be committed to preserving its unity. When a church is in harmony with itself, it becomes the beautiful body of Christ on earth through which the Lord Jesus in heaven recreates his presence every time the people of God gather. Songwriter Bill Gaither said it well: “I love the thrill that I feel when I get together with God’s wonderful people.”

5) Each church had an indomitable spirit of conquest.

There was a “holy driven-ness” about the congregation. They would never be satisfied. Each church pulsated with an atmosphere of more, more, more. They must cross the next river, climb the next mountain, give the next dollar, build the next building and win the next soul. They would not be deterred.

The Nissan Motor Company, formerly the Datsun Motor Company, once had a marvelous slogan: “We Are Driven.” Pastor friends, we, too, are driven. God’s children are a driven people. We are driven to the ends of the earth by the Great Commission. We are driven to the end of ourselves by the love of Christ. We are driven to the end of time by the imminent return of Jesus.

The tone of each of these five factors is clearly set by the pastor. It all starts in the pulpit. It starts in your heart. Keep your eyes on the Lord. Keep your ears open to the Great Commission. Keep your chin up and your knees down. The best is yet to come.
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Adapted with permission from the book, “Letters to Timothy,” by John Bisagno, Broadman & Holman 2001. Bisagno, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston, has spent 50 years in the ministry and continues preaching both in the United States and abroad.

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