As a Pastor, Did You Use Church Growth Strategies? – Interview with John Piper (original source in your time as a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, over all those 30+ years, did you ever use strategies aimed at church growth? How would you counsel pastors and churches who seek to grow numerically and reach more people, while doing so in the most biblical and faithful way possible?”
I am really happy for this question, because I don’t think we have tackled this in any of all the 900, plus. I tried to communicate to our people continually that, in view of the glory of Christ, his purpose is to be magnified in the world through believing people, the vast lostness of millions and millions of people near and far, the horrors of hell, the beauties and the power of the gospel, the nature of love, the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I tried to communicate in view of all that, not rescuing perishing people is not an option for us. It is also not possible for us since only God can raise the dead and open the eyes of the blind and take out stony hearts of unbelief.
So, our first strategy of growth was prayer. I tried to create a culture of desperation for all the things that matter most, which are the ones that only God can do. Parents can’t do it. Evangelists can’t do it. Pastors can’t do it. Friends can’t do it. We scatter prayer meetings all through the week, besides encouraging families and small groups to pray and individuals, of course, to pray for the impossible goal of getting sinners through the eye of a needle, which only God can do that miracle.
We also knew, however, that faith comes by hearing. So, not sharing the gospel with a view to seeing people believe and be saved and be part of God’s family forever was not an option for us. The term “church growth,” however, had connotations for us that were not so good. At least in the circles in which I function and my people, so much depends on where the accent falls when you talk about church growth. Abuses of pragmatism, minimization of theology, dilution of the gospel, dumbing down of serious, joyful worship in a way that came to be known as seeker-sensitive, all these things were associated in our language with the church growth movement. Which is sad because there is nothing wrong with growing. In fact, I wanted to say: We must pursue growth.
But in that context, my suggestion to pastors is that you use biblical language constantly to permeate your people’s minds with something other than catchphrases that are in seminars like “church growth.” The great challenge is not to become a bigger and bigger church, but to see more and more people escape the wrath of God. Ask your people that. If they say: Oh, I don’t know if that church growth stuff is biblical, say: How about escaping wrath? Is that good? So, you put in categories like that.
Once our people believed in that, ultimately it didn’t matter whether the people who escaped wrath through faith in Jesus went to our church or not. That is quite secondary. What ultimately mattered was: In every community, are people hearing the gospel? Are they believing? Are they escaping the wrath of God? Are they getting full of the Holy Spirit? Are they participating in biblical churches? It is not about our particular church getting bigger and bigger. And when the people understand church growth in those categories, then, I think, a pastor can say, which I did: Not growing is not an option for us. They knew what I meant when I said that, at least if you live in a metropolitan area with several hundred thousand unbelievers, that is true. You might live in a small town where everybody is lined up somewhere, and growth is not a very big possibility. But if you live in the Twin Cities or in any place where you have a few thousand unbelievers, you can talk like that.
This can be, however — and here is a great obstacle — this can be very unsettling for a church. There are a lot of people, shame on them, for whom they are just happy with these 50 people. And they are happy with these 150. And they are happy with these 350. Or they are happy with these 500 and, frankly, they don’t like all these strange faces around here. It is just not as comfortable here as it used to be when we all knew each other. Continue reading