Dale Turner


 Church Growth Books Are Not Silver Bullets

Two pastors were talking the other day when one said to the other, “It seems like the members of my church are looking for some easy answer or silver bullet that will reverse our worship decline and renew our church.” That pastor then asked, “Do you know of any good church growth books that could help us?” Most of us have had that conversation. The answer to that question is both yes and no. There are dozens of good church growth books. Will these books help us?  The answer is maybe and maybe not.

A few years ago, I completed a national survey using key questions to get at the crux of real church growth. By church growth I mean spiritual development as well as numerical gain, mission outreach, disciple making, increased worship attendance, and world transformation. During the process of that survey I corresponded with the Rev. Lyle Schaller numerous times. At one point I asked Pastor Schaller, “what is the key to real church growth as demonstrated by one of our United Methodist mega-churches?” His response was as follows.

“Dear Rev. Turner: The church you asked about, like most American megachurches, has been built on the foundation of three basic cornerstones:
1). A long tenured, personable, creative, exceptionally competent, and reflective pastor.
2). A comprehensive ministry plan that (a) clearly and precisely defines the primary constituency, (b) is designed to produce the ministries required to serve that primary constituency, and (c) is totally compatible with the gifts, skills, priorities, and theological stance of that long tenured senior minister, and
3). The location and size of the meeting place are supportive of that ministry plan.”

(Letter from Lyle E. Schaller to Dale Turner February 28, 2003).

I will reflect on Rev. Schaller’s first two points.

The first deals with pastoral leadership. I am convinced that any real growth in the local church must begin with who we call today the “lead pastor.” My 50+ years of experience as a lead pastor and a district superintendent have led me to the conclusion that there is currently some kind of a standoff between appointed pastors and laity within many of our local churches. Laity are waiting for pastors to lead and pastors are waiting for laity to lead. In the meantime, decline continues! In my opinion, the “calling” to be a pastor plus the detailed college and seminary education required, plus the board of ordained ministry requirements for ordination places pastors in a position of required leadership. Pastor Schaller goes even further calling for personable, creative, exceptionally competent, and reflective leadership. In future newsletters, I hope to unpack my conviction regarding pastoral leadership. In the meantime, it would be helpful to read two books by George Barna. “Turnaround Churches” and “Today’s Pastors.”

Regarding Pastor Schaller’s second point I respond, “Laity must be involved!” Pastor Schaller speaks of a ministry plan, a constituency, gifts, skills, priorities, and theology. All of this begs the question of a mobilized laity carrying out the mission and vision of Christ for his church as they are inspired, encouraged, motivated, and led by their “lead pastor”. I often speak of what I call the Ephesians 4 pastor.  The Bible says, The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12 NRSV).
Years ago, I took a master’s level course on “leadership and group process” at a state university. One of the rules of group process that I learned is this, “where there is no leader and leader will emerge.” In practical terms, this means that when the pastor does not lead and the laity do not lead, everyone does the best they can and whoever turns on the lights in the meeting room becomes the leader by default. This is by no means the way to run a ship let alone the ship of Zion.

So, what have I concluded? I conclude that most church growth books are good. I have concluded that most pastors and laity are waiting for a better book to emerge before they act. I have concluded that that silver bullet (book) will never exist. I have concluded that it is time to pick one book, one model, one vision and just do! I have concluded that pastors must lead the charge. I have concluded that laity must embrace the vision cast by the pastor and be 100% supportive. I note that in many middle size churches leaders have emerged where no pastoral leadership has been forthcoming. Such leaders have formed clicks and groups around their own ideas as they try to do the best they can. Folks have retreated into their self-designed prayer groups, Bible study groups, fellowship groups, workgroups, etc. If the church wants to survive, what is most needed is a grand vision cast by “a long tenured, personable, creative, exceptionally competent, and reflective pastor that is embraced by a spirit filled, ready to serve laity who will support that vision at all cost.

Please let me know what you think about this article!  Watch for future newsletter articles dealing with similar subjects.

21st Century Renewal Ministries Newsletter Volume1 Issue1.
Author: Dale R. Turner, September 5, 2017, www.daleturner.org