The Best Long-Term Strategy for Church Growth
The best long-term strategy for church growth is not church growth.
Focusing on numbers (attendance) is a short-term and short-sighted strategy.
It’s tough to maintain an event-driven and program-focused approach. It requires more staff and volunteer energy, rarely provides significant or lasting growth, and is often exhausting.
Spiritual formation (discipleship) is an essential foundation of growth, but I’m referring more to training your volunteers and especially your leaders.
There are two critical elements in training:
Both are important, and though you can build a strong church through equipping, great churches also include developing.
The difference between equipping and developing is significant.
Without clarity in your practice of both components, you will nearly always default to equipping only and miss the great benefit of development. Development is part of the additional investment that compounds over time to grow strong people and leaders.
Here’s a closer look at the difference:
1) Equipping is the process of training a person for a specific ministry task.
There is no shortage of examples. For illustration, training your children’s leaders in how to lead a child to Christ, training a small group leader how to facilitate a productive conversation, or training your ushers and greeters in hospitality. Every ministry needs to provide high quality, practical and relevant equipping to prepare volunteers for effective ministry.
2) Equipping is focused on the church’s agenda.
Your church is based on a mission, a purpose that is driven by your vision. Your agenda connects to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. That’s a good thing; it’s the purpose God designed for the Church!
3) Equipping is an exchange based on transaction.
Many of the good things in life are based on a productive exchange, or a positive transaction. If you go to a coffee shop and exchange a few bucks for your favorite brew and a warm cinnamon bun both parties are happy!
The same is true in your church. You can invest great training to prepare people for a cross-cultural mission trip if, in turn, they will participate in the church’s mission endeavor. It’s positive and a Kingdom based exchange. Both the mission of the church and the person benefit.
1) Developing is the process of investing in a person for their personal growth.
The intent here is to invest in a person, so they become a stronger and better person. Development seeks to help someone live a better life overall. The focus is usually spiritual leadership, so they live and lead better at home, at work and in their community (including church.)
2) Developing is focused on the person’s agenda.
Development is not based solely on the mission of the church, or their particular ministry, but takes a larger more holistic approach to their walk with God, character development, and spiritual leadership. Development would help someone, for example, get a raise at work, be a better dad or mom, or enjoy more meaningful and lasting relationships.
3) Developing is essentially a gift that contributes to transformation.
The best developing is when you invest in someone as a gift with no strings attached. You invest in them because you care about them. Of course, you hope to see the fruit of personal growth, but it’s not an exchange. My life, not just my ministry career, is immeasurably better because of the investment from mentors and coaches, both short and long term.
There is a degree of overlap between equipping and developing, a sort of “blend and blur” between the two. Clearly, there are elements of equipping that help an individual grow personally, as there are elements of development that increase specific skills required to serve and lead.
But the more you distinguish and separate the two components of training, the stronger your church will become. Your volunteers become more confident and engaged, and your leaders become empowered to lead.
The primary point is to make sure you know the difference, so both equipping and developing take place in your church.