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When God Builds a Church

Bob Russell

I get amused when experts analyzing church growth attempt to reduce it to some magical formula. Here at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, we've been in the middle of miraculous growth for 30 years -- watching our church grow from 150 people to more than 14,000 -- and we can't explain it! Jesus compared the movement of the Holy Spirit to the wind: "The wind blows wherever it pleases," he said. "You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going" (John 3:8).

Over the years, as I've visited hundreds of churches and talked to church leaders, I've observed a simple truth -- some churches are alive and some are dead. Regardless of their size, live churches have certain characteristics that dead churches don't have. I wrote When God Builds a Church (Howard Publishing) as an attempt to explain the basic spiritual principles that enable God to pour out his blessings on a congregation. Here's a summary of those principles:

Truth -- Proclaim God's Word As Truth and Apply It to People's Lives.

God promises to bless his Word when it's taught (Psalm 119:130). Yet even among churches that believe the Bible to be God's Word, few are training people to know God's Word, and even fewer are applying it in a practical way to the daily lives of people. But when God's Word is taught and made practical, it produces a harvest of righteousness.

  • Take a look at your sermons and identify how you're presenting biblical truths to your congregation along with practical applications to their lives.
  • Ask someone to evaluate your messages by writing down how a person can use what you're
    saying that week.

Worship -- Worship God Every Week In Spirit and Truth.

Our worship leader, Greg Allen, is a talented singer. But there was a period of several months when we let Greg lead our worship even though he couldn't sing at all! In 1994 Greg had developed a polyp on one of his vocal cords. For the next three years he endured three surgeries to correct the problem. Each surgery was surrounded by long periods of voice rest. For sixteen months, Greg led our worship services -- even though the vocal team behind him did all the singing. (Some of our congregation never figured out Greg was lip-syncing!) Yet we have so many people at Southeast with musical talent, even people who have musical degrees and experience in leading choirs. Why would we allow a guy to lead worship who can't even sing? Because it's not all about the music. We come together to worship God. The person leading us to worship should be the one who has sincerity, integrity, humility, and leadership ability, and can bring people to the throne of God.

  • Is your music time just a time of songs, or are you looking for ways to invite your congregation to the throne of God?
  • If you don't have a paid or volunteer worship leader, look for people in your congregation who express worship skills and gifts. Encourage them to become a part of your worship team -- in the areas of leading, participating, or planning.

Leadership -- Develop Christ-Centered Leaders Who Lead By Example.

A Christian publishing company recently concluded that the greatest need in Christian churches in America is the need for leadership. There's a leadership void in our churches. There's a hunger for dedicated, charismatic personalities who can inspire others to follow. One of the reasons our church has grown so dramatically is that from the beginning we've had leaders who were gifted to lead and who loved God with all their hearts.

  • Spend time with those in your congregation who portray leadership skills. Walk with them and give them opportunities to lead.
  • Great leaders bring in other great leaders. Investing time in the lives of your leaders will produce new leaders. Multiplication is the key.

Excellence -- Do Your Best In Every Area Of Service.

Paul said in Colossians 3:23-24, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." When you come to church and the grass isn't cut, the paint is chipping off the walls, the bulletin boards have missionary letters tacked on top of each other dating back to 1973, the greeters are sloppily dressed, the children's class has no teacher, and the service is slipshod, not only is it unworthy of Jesus Christ, it also negates your efforts to evangelize. But when something is done with excellence, it honors our Lord and people want to tell others about it.

  • Take an afternoon walk through your facilities with a note pad and someone who can be a "fresh pair of eyes." Write down the things that need attention, and then prioritize them according to urgency and financial involvement.
  • It's easy to get carried away with the idea of excellence in performance. However, strive to develop your worship service with excellence in presentation -- from the bulletin to the special music -- according to the personnel and provisions you have in your church.

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