Guest Post – Pastor John Cross (YJC) – When God's Kingdom Doesn't Grow

Posted on September 18, 2008

There’s a lot of discussion these days regarding explosively growing churches, and growing churches in general. When I hear these stories, though, I like to ask two questions. The first one is easy: "Who are these churches trying to reach?" The second question stings a little: "Who are they actually reaching?"

I don’t think I’ve met a pastor yet who would not say they want to reach those who are without Christ. Yet, when you start looking at the hard data, you often discover that the vast majority of numerical growth is transfer growth. But really, that’s not even growth. When people leave one  church to join another church, God’s Kingdom does not grow.

And this kind of "sheep shuffling" takes place in new paradigm churches as much, if not more, than in traditional churches. It’s frightening to see how many of the new paradigm churches are simply "cool church" for people who grew up in church!

Again, I’ve never met anyone who says this is their goal. Yet, when you study the names and stories behind the numbers, you discover that this is far too often true.

To find out if your church is sheep shuffling, look at the baptism numbers. If the baptism numbers aren’t climbing significantly higher and faster than the numerical growth, most likely the "growth" is transfer rather than conversion growth.

In order for a church to truly grow, not just swap sheep, she must continually transition toward a missional church culture. And to be truly missional, we’ve got to ask these hard questions and deal with these difficult topics. Otherwise it’s like we are rearranging the furniture and changing the music on the Titanic as it sinks. We’ve changed things around and a few are being rescued. But the vast majority is still dying lost.

What are your thoughts?


11 Replies to "Guest Post - Pastor John Cross (YJC) - When God's Kingdom Doesn't Grow"

  • Seth
    September 18, 2008 (1:07 pm)
    Reply

    That is a really good point.
    Another thought: Many people want to be a part of something special. So a church that is expanding the kingdom of God may also inadvertently be experiencing a lot of “transfer growth” as well.
    Have you seen a church start out with real growth and then become a shuffle church?

  • Brandon Cox
    September 18, 2008 (5:28 pm)
    Reply

    I think there’s a pruning happening in America. We’ve had it pretty easy and there’s a church on every corner (even in California). I think it will become tougher and tougher for Christians, so many ineffective churches will die, but churches that are effectively expanding the kingdom will rise up from the ashes, so to speak.
    Thom Rainer, in one of his research projects, discussed the probability that 45,000 churches would close their doors in the next decade because the “keep it alive” generation is dying and leaving stagnant churches in the hands of a “what’s in it for me” generation.
    Interesting thought anyway.

  • Amanda Upchurch
    September 19, 2008 (2:39 am)
    Reply

    Growth is important, but what I’ve seen happen in churches is that they cater so much in one direction or the other that after a while you’re either losing new believers beacause you’re not catering to them or your losing mature christians because they aren’t being challenged or catered to either, so when people talk about church hopping or shopping I don’t think it’s always the worst thing. Be where God wants you to be absolutly, but going outside of your own church to keep growing is needed at times. It also gives you an opportunity to see the body as a whole and understand better how we all fit together and bind our communities together culturally and denominationally.

  • Keith Green
    September 19, 2008 (1:24 pm)
    Reply

    I agree. I do wonder though if a lot of this stems from churches getting comfortable with their approach and day to day operations. I think most churches do not try to push things forward like they should and get stuck in a rut by rewarming old messages, etc. They figure as long as they have good numbers, why change what they are doing?
    Do you think this could result in shuffling?

  • Melvin Canales
    September 19, 2008 (2:20 pm)
    Reply

    Wow! I just visited Fellowship Church for the first time this weekend. I evacuated Pasadena during Ike and stayed in Arlington with my sister in law and she invited me to her church. And i decided to pre order the new CD coming out and i stumbled across this…and its exactly what i needed…
    I am the youth leader at our church in Pasadena, Vida y Luz {Life and Light}. The last couple of months we have been having a tremendous growth not just in numbers but spiritually. But everyone once in a while i like to medidate on our youth {New Wine} and even though we are growing in numbers and people are seeking GOD’S presence; i wasnt satisfied but i couldnt figure out why. And this answers my question. i believe that an annointing has poured over our church and ppl are coming left and right but its just a transfer growth.
    Sometimes a sheep isnt being fully nourished somewhere else so they look for greener pastures…and thats okay. But like Ed Young stated we are called to rescue the lost, not shuffle the rescued.
    Jesus didnt come to cause a stir the ppl that knew the truth but wanted to touch the lost. And when Pastor Young talked about witnessing to a porn star and reflected on how Jesus was with the “ho from chapter fo”, that is Jesus leaving us {the church} bread crumbs on how a church should function.
    Thanks Pastor Young — GBU!

  • Amy
    September 19, 2008 (10:16 pm)
    Reply

    Like Brandon, I believe churches will die, but I do not “blame” that on the abundance of churches. And yes, there is sheep shuffling going on but for instance, in my case my lifelong church simply cannot offer me the spiritual direction that I need to grow in my walk with Christ.
    My lifelong church is home to an elderly population, and though I have an abundance of love and allegiance to many people there (some were my childhood Sunday school teachers who led me to Christ) – including my not so elderly family – the church does not have programs that speak to me – a 20s-30s single, career woman. Part of growing in your relationship is being with others like you both personally and spiritually.
    I spent much time in prayer about moving, as did my family for me, and have taken great care in seeking out a new church home. So I have shuffled, is there anything wrong with seeking out what is right and comfortable for you in order to follow your Lord and better your relationship with Christ? No.
    God asks that we surround ourselves with believers and friends; that’s all I’m doing!

  • Rona Davis
    September 20, 2008 (1:36 pm)
    Reply

    What a great and interesting blog topic! I want to add a thought to the posts. While leaving one church for another is sometimes necessary and good, that is how I found Fellowship where my walk with Christ took off in amazing ways, I want to make a specific comment. If we are mature Christians and feeling stagnant in our growth, I think the first question we should ask ourselves is, “am I serving the Lord somewhere in my church?” If you want to learn more, then help teach more! One of the things I love so much about Fellowship is that week after week Pastor Ed speaks to the lost and ALWAYS preaches the GOSPEL – duh!!! I get so tired of hearing people complain that “seeker churches” are not deep enough for mature believers. What a cop out! What an excuse for sitting in the same pew week after week and having someone else do all the work for you so you can be LED into maturity. Get out and serve, get out and lead, get out and spread the GOSPEL with your church!
    One of the other great things about Fellowship is that we continually move forward, grow, reach out, reach up and reach in! We strive to look at the changes we need to make in ourselves as Pastor Ed leads us week after week in messages that continue to convict, correct, rebuke, inspire, and encourage. Then we look for ways to change our city and change our world!

  • Tenia Nelson-Cobb
    September 22, 2008 (1:13 pm)
    Reply

    If you are a member at Fellowship and you really want to go deeper and grow, try volunteering and attending a FC Study. FC has some of the most phenomenal teachers of the word. I don’t know if there’s a master lesson plan on the church calendar, but it is absolutely amazing how the FC study, Flavour, and Ed’s message always seem to tie-in.

  • Brian Moon
    September 23, 2008 (4:44 pm)
    Reply

    Dude great post!!! Come post on my blog anytime 🙂 I love this though because I planted a church two years ago and it is so easy to play the comparison game. But, those are great questions. Who are they actually reaching. My prayer for all our churches is we will reach this generation for Christ and not be content with church as usual. Thanks for the post again!

  • Sandra West
    September 27, 2008 (7:17 am)
    Reply

    My family would be considered part of the transfer growth. However, it was not a decision that was made lightly. We struggled with this decision for a good while, wanting to be sure that it would be good for our two young children and for the two of us in the years ahead. We are certain we made the right decision…and have been at Fellowship for close to five years now. It was difficult in the sense that our youngest child was very close to her teachers and fellow bible classmates. Both our children did love the church, but when we explained that there were certain views held by key people at the church which we didn’t feel matched what the bible taught on those issues – we had to make a decision. As our children grew, they would need teaching and guidance through the difficult world in which we live and we desperately wanted their teaching and counsel to always reflect God’s word on the subjects at hand. We found that at Fellowship. My husband feels it is a matter of discernment and following Gods
    lead. We have all been tremendously blessed at Fellowship church and feel we are all growing and flourishing as a result of the transfer. God was directing our steps as we sought his will in prayer and study. Thank you for having staff and volunteers that reflect the love of Christ and the knowledge and understanding of Gods word. As I have said so many times, we are so very BLESSED by our involvement with Fellowship…and we so appreciate all of you!

  • Kevin
    September 30, 2008 (11:53 am)
    Reply

    AWESOME POST! Thanks for becoming the sword the Lord has used to pierce my heart!
    Being a pastor of a small church, I am trying to make an impact in the local communinities. Unfortunately, because the numbers are not as good as I would like, I have sometimes fallen for the lie that before “real growth” can occur, I must have some “transfer growth” to have solid people to assist in ministry. God please forgive me for entertaining this mentality.
    For the last several months, I have felt the need to “evangelize” but have also faced frustration in beginning the process. It’s almost like starting a new church. However, this word has been an encouragement to me and a major confirmation to the approach and next steps I must take in the ministry the Lord has entrusted to my care.
    Anyone else dealt with these feelings?


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