Churches: Good to Great

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"It's a sin to be good if God has called us to be great."
So says Thom S. Ranier, founder of the Billy Graham School at Southern Seminary and soon to be President of Lifeway, in his new book "Break Out Churches."

The book discusses Ranier's findings after he and his team studied churches that had transitioned from good to great. Over at Crosswalk, Rebekah Montgomery has a piece discussing the book and her interview with Ranier. While I'm curious about the methodology and how the team defined "good" and "great," it seems that members and leaders weary from the struggle that is the church grind would do well to ponder what Ranier has to say.

"We did not do a screening of theology on the front end of our survey, but when we came out on the back end, it was with conservative evangelical leaders. None of the other types of leadership were even close. Quite frankly, it is hard to do evangelism unless one holds to the exclusivity of salvation through Christ ...

The unchurched are only attracted to a church that believes in the truths of God's Word ... Essentially, they are saying, 'We get enough of relativism out in the culture. We're looking for a place that really believes something.'"

Amen! One thing that has me increasingly baffled are Christian "leaders" who are quick to discount Scripture. "'Well sure, it's in the Bible, but you have to remember that it was written by a human being, and subject to human bias and fallibility.'" Thus the door is open to compromising the message of God's Word, which leads to pretty much anything the leader wants it to lead to, and thus we have neutralized one of our greatest ministry tools and offer nothing special to the seeking.

For me the two big "Wake Up!" points were: 1. Deep prayer was a key precursor to a church's "break out," and 2. worship style was not!

In the case of prayer, this is nothing new, but probably a much needed reminder. In a church, when we set out on a project we plan, we timeline, we budget, and we staff. But how about prayer? How does the intensity of the prayer effort compare to the investment of energy and resources into men leaning on their own intellect and ability?

As for worship style, is this not a battle that rages in every small church living in the shadow of a mega-church? Here Ranier makes an important point:
"There is no correlation between style of worship - liturgical or contemporary - in terms of evangelistic growth. That's counter-intuitive because most people believe that more contemporary churches have the greater evangelistic growth, but we have found the more contemporary churches have growth explained by transfer growth but not evangelistic growth." emphasis added
In other words, the big churches with slick presentation get big by taking members from other churches, not by reaching the previously unchurched.

Montgomery concludes her piece with one more power point:
"Rainer sees the next trend in church growth coming in simplification of a church's focus by doing a few things well instead of trying to cover the gambit of activities. 'Over commitment and busyness are killing our best people and the ministers within the church. I see churches doing less but doing what they do better.'"
Thomas J. Peters in his landmark business classic, "In Search of Excellence," found that the best companies "stick to their knitting." It's high time the church discovered this decades-old concept.


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