Sitting in the middle of a church one night as a young girl, I watched as passionate people yelled and argued, some cried, as their church unity had weakened. These people could not get along. A split followed, a new church planted and young children looked around wondering why people could not just love one another.
In the 40 years that have followed that church meeting I have been to many churches around the country as our jobs have relocated us. As someone devoted to living my life as a minister, vocational or volunteer, I’ve seen healthy churches and unhealthy churches. I look at church as a marriage of people. Some marriages are healthy, vital full of fun and growing, others are full of strife, disappointment or just lifeless. So how does a church stay healthy or become healthy? How does today’s church develop a strong foundation on which to grow, impact their city, and expand the world for Christ?
I for sure do not have all of the answers. Many books from intelligent researchers are written on the subject, but, drawing on my experiences and the wisdom of others, I can say there are a few keys that tend to help. When I came into my current position as the group life pastor at a church with about 2500 on a Sunday morning, there were only seven groups.
Two of those were traditional Sunday school classes. Four were elderly groups that were closed and did not accept new people. One was committed to being welcoming and taking new people, but had not yet multiplied or grown. We have now grown to over 100 groups and currently have over 1900 people connected in a group committed to multiplying and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world around them. While we have not yet reached our goal of 85% of our people in a group, we are well on our way, with an increase to date of 660% since the beginning. Through experience I’ve learned the true meaning of hospitality and made it my ambition to have a church that practices hospitality as a key foundation in strengthening our church.
Key to strengthening a church:
- Purpose provides passion
Strong churches know their purpose. Why do you come to church on a Sunday? As a pastor, what drives you? Remember why you decided to go into ministry, lose your weekends and prepare both a lesson and speech every week. It’s not an easy task. Research tells us people are terrified of public speaking more than death Yet, week after week you do it! Know why you show up each week. Remember when you felt the tug of the Holy Spirit say “this is what you are made for?”
- Lead with love
Strong churches love. 1 John 4:7 – Let us love one another. This is just one of many scriptures that teach on love. So how do you love? This can be difficult, but the Holy Spirit is our helper. Study the people God has given you. Who are your leaders and volunteers? Lead them towards love by being an example of love. Serve them, encourage them, equip them, know your people. Get personal, know their names. When you pray for them, ask the Lord’s will to be done in their lives. It’s so easy for me to just get to work, get lost in my administrative tasks, and overlook really caring for and loving our leaders. Our leaders need us to laugh with them, cry with them, celebrate with them, pray with them and be in their lives. They in turn will pay forward what you have poured into them.
- Clear vision brings value
Strong churches have a clear vision. Be specific with your vision and keep it simple. What is the verb, the action, that you have been called to as a church? Make sure it has clear steps that you and your church are able to follow. Your vision must be concrete and not abstract.
- Equipped people are confident and connected
Strong churches are equipped. Strong churches are built around confident and connected people with a shared vision. Quarterly, monthly, weekly podcasts? Whatever you choose, just stick to it. We have chosen a yearly essentials training for all facilitators, hosts, elders and staff to attend and then monthly gatherings with a potluck where we go through a book together. This keeps us talking the same language and engaged in conversation. Sometimes it’s a theological book, others a how-to book. Regardless we are teaching doctrine in layman’s verbiage and the practical way it’s lived out every day. We have fun during those meetings with themes and games, which helps the creative process during the discussions.
- Simple systems create solid expectations
Strong churches create simple systems. Simple systems give clear expectations. Solid expectations help people feel secure. Make sure your systems make sense and are not complicated. When building up communities of people, the entry into volunteering needs to be simple. If becoming a volunteer or leader is complicated or too difficult, people will not join you. Strong churches have many volunteers and leaders. Simple systems help create large groups of volunteers and leaders.
- Multiply multipliers.
Strong churches multiply groups. Create small groups in homes, at your church or around town with the intention of connecting and strengthening people in their spiritual walk who will then strengthen others. Find out where people gather and go there. Paul went, we need to go as well. Start with the low hanging fruit. Sport fields are full of people who hang out while watching their kids. Find a few in your church who are doing just that. Encourage them to become friends with the other parents and have fun together. Equip them to start a book club or engage with couples and pray for them. Equip these leaders to raise up other leaders from their groups. This goes back to equipped people feel confident and connected.
- Hospitality builds a home
All of these points can be wrapped up in two words: Practice Hospitality. I’m not talking about donuts and welcome centers. Does your congregation feel like they belong to your church? Are they home? Strong churches are hospitable.
A strong hospitable home is a place where you feel loved, confident, connected, secure and you desire to invite and welcome everyone. It’s the same in a church. Let’s be strong church builders together!