Every Decision Point Is an Opportunity to Grow (and a Possibility for Pain)

Why do some churches grow and multiply, some plateau, and others decline? 

It’s a question I’ve considered for a long time, and my experience as well as everything I read and study and all the people I talk to reinforce my theory that growing churches do certain things and have a particular mind-set largely absent in stagnant and declining churches. I’ll try to explain. 

In my personal life, I’ve seen a direct correlation between my physical health and my tolerance for pain. For years I lived with carpal tunnel syndrome and eventually lost quite a bit of functionality in both hands. I knew having surgery would be painful, inconvenient, and uncomfortable for weeks after the procedure, but I need the use of my hands for work and many other things. I had to weigh the costs, and I decided to have the surgeries. It was difficult at the time, but now, about 18 months later, I sit at my computer and type without pain. 

I’ve experienced something akin to that in my spiritual, emotional, and relational life. Growth in those areas has come about mostly through times of struggle, pain, loss, sacrifice, and surrender. That’s why James said we should consider those kinds of struggles “pure joy”: they result in maturity and completeness. 

I believe similar correlations exist in our churches. Vitality and growth will never happen without pain, loss, and sacrifice, and we must weigh the costs of joyfully taking on those struggles—and the bigger, kingdom impact of not doing so. 

Churches, small groups, ministry teams, and other ministry organizations go through a common progression. They start “up and to the right,” with excitement and growth. Eventually, however, they begin to level off and plateau. This is not necessarily good or bad, at least not at first—it’s just a natural occurrence in organizations; it’s hard to sustain long-term accelerated growth. A brief plateau may be a time for rest—a sabbath of sorts. But over time it can become unhealthy: a comfort zone, a time for maintaining the status quo, focusing internally, and, well, lukewarmness. Churches, groups, classes, and teams can forget their “first love,” the very reason they were started, and settle for something safer and more comfortable. 

I think one of the saddest things in life is to see a once vibrant person, group, or church now plateaued and remaining there for years upon years. They weren’t created for that! 

One of the saddest things in life is to see a once vibrant person, group, or church now plateaued and remaining there for years upon years. They weren’t created for that! Click To Tweet

Along the plateaued line, a church comes to countless decision points, and each one represents an opportunity. They can continue with the status quo, or they can push out of the comfort zone, wholly trust God, and focus on his mission to the world around them. 

Recognizing and responding to these various decision points is a vital leadership responsibility. I have used this chart to teach small group leaders how to get out of maintenance and into missional mode, and the same principles apply for church leaders. One of the first things the leader must do is simply recognize these decision points as opportunities to grow. 

Leaders should also recognize that each decision point bears an associated opportunity cost. A decision to step out of a comfort zone may bring temporary pain and loss, including the loss of some traditions, programs, and certain people. But missing or ignoring the opportunity has kingdom consequences. We accept pain to achieve progress; we endure loss to embrace real life. We walk through pain, help people grieve loss, trust God’s plan, and strive for his mission.  

We accept pain to achieve progress; we endure loss to embrace real life. Click To Tweet

Of course, it’s not enough to just recognize decision points. We must act on them! We unapologetically cast a biblical vision. We refocus leadership meetings from internal to external. We start a new, externally focused serving initiative. We reach out to a neglected group of people in our community with the gospel. We develop young leaders and let them lead, even if imperfectly. We decide and communicate clearly that objects are not sacred and can be moved or changed to help us be more effective in carrying out God’s mission, which is sacred. 

As a church moves forward in living out God’s mission, it becomes healthier. And healthy things naturally grow, bear fruit, and multiply. Unhealthy things don’t (or we don’t want them to!).  Leaders in healthy churches count the cost at each decision point, and they ultimately decide temporary pain will not deter them from becoming the disciple-making church Jesus established and envisioned.

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Adapted from my Letter from the Editor in Christian Standard, May 2019, page 6.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Dec. 5-9, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

This week’s TIPS focus on mission, making disciples, and Bible study.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

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Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Oct. 31 – Nov. 4, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

This week’s TIPS focus on living on God’s mission as a small group.

QUESTION: What specific ways is your small group DOing what the word says? If you’re not, what’s the obstacle? Please share your responses by clicking the Comment box below.

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Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week for May 30 – June 3, 2016

Here are this past week’s Small Group Leader TIPS as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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Monday, 5/30: You CAN go deep AND be open to new ppl. Everything doesn’t have to happen during the meeting!

Tuesday, 5/31: Encourage daily Bible reading. If only time ppl open Bibles is at SG mtg, that’s not discipleship.

Wednesday, 6/1: Lead your family and group as if it’s your ministry calling, not a supplementary task. #mission #lead

Thursday, 6/2: Avoid leader frustration and burnout – Let God lead thru you. His power is unlimited. #stewardship

Friday, 6/3: After you ask a question, wait…not only on ppl to answer, but on the Holy Spirit to work. Isa. 40:31

Go ahead: Copy and paste these to tweet or post them to your followers!

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

 

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Weeks for April 25 – May 6, 2016

Here are the last two weeks of Small Group Leader TIPS as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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Monday, 4/25: Be sure you are not in God’s way of working in your group’s or individual’s lives. Let God work. #ministry

Tuesday, 4/26: In your meeting agenda, leave LOTS of room for the Holy Spirit to work. #leadership #holyspirit

Wednesday, 4/27: Keep the main things the main things: 
1 Your relationship w #God 
2 #Love Others 
3 Your #mission 
#lead

Thursday, 4/28: Love group members more than you love your group expectations. #smallgroups #leadership #shepherd #love

Friday, 4/29: Learn to listen even when group is silent. Listen w/ your eyes. #kinesics #bodylanguage #facilitate

 – – – – – – – THIS WEEK – – – – – – –

Monday, 5/2: Move beyond the stories of what Jesus DID; discuss-better yet, experience-what he is DOING. #grow #power

Tuesday, 5/3: Healthy things grow, bear fruit, and reproduce. Use these to analyze if your group is healthy. #health

Wednesday, 5/4: Great, life-changing groups don’t play it safe. Move from comfy and cautious to courageous and costly!

Thursday, 5/5: The best community begins with a leader who spends time in solitude with God. #overflow #leadership

Friday, 5/6: Pray as though Christ is in the room with you…because he is! #prayer #presence #power #purposeful

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS!

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Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week: March 21-25, 2016

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past week as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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This week’s Small Group Leader TIPS focus on #mission and particularly inviting people to your small group.

Monday, 3/21: Dedicate part of every meeting to talking abt and praying for ppl who are not yet in your group. #mission

 
Tuesday, 3/22: Clarify the difference between your #mission, to go + make disciples, and the means: community, study, etc.

Wednesday, 3/23: At services & events, see ppl as Jesus would, w/ compassion, as sheep w/o a shepherd. Act accordingly. #mission
 

Thursday, 3/24: Sit with & talk to ppl at church services you don’t know or are new. Look 4 opps to invite to group. #mission

Friday, 3/25: How you and your SG prays shows your priorities. Is it just abt you or lost, harassed + helpless ppl? #mission
 

All Small Group Leadership TIPS

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Three Facts American Small Groups Can Learn From The Best Practices of Other Countries – Part 2: Guest Post by Ralph W. Neighbour

Yesterday, we began a three-part series by guest blogger, Dr. +Ralph NeighbourPlease see that post before reading this one. 

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FACT 2: OVERSEAS BODIES OF CHRIST HAVE HARVEST FIELDS
“As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you” (John 4:35).
The core values of overseas groups are:

 

  1. Every believer is a priest. A priest is a connecting link between Christ and a person who needs His presence.
  2. Every small group is a priesthood.
    They are to practice “prophesying” as defined in 1 Cor. 14:3 and 14:24, ff.
  3. Every small group has a special mission field that must be exposed to Christ.

 

I have observed that a universal contrast between American churches and overseas churches who have cell/small groups is their core values.
In America, small groups seem to exist as “holding tanks” for congregations who are not equipping, nor expecting, each member to be a priest empowered by Christ and to reveal Him in their communities. There is a fuzziness about the purpose of groups. Some are for “discipleship” or “Bible study” or to keep members “involved,” but few have an awareness that their primary task is to be used by Christ to harvest unbelievers.
Overseas, groups are formed on a conviction that all believers function as priests, that all groups contain Christ’s presence and power and that Christ dwells in His new body to draw all men to the Cross. He does this by energizing the body members to edify, exhort, and console one another. The observation of this by searching unbelievers reveals His presence, leading to repentance and salvation. Thus growth takes place as new believers are added to the groups.
There is a great sensitivity overseas to the responsibility of each believer to see his relatives and friends as a personal mission field, and the total of these persons connected to the group, as their “mission field.” Each group will list the total number of unbelievers and focus on how to jointly connect to them. Half nights of prayer for them are common. Group meetings will be planned to invite them as guests, where they are allowed to observe the members ministering spiritual gifts to one another. As the guests begin to share their own burdens, they are embraced in love as they surrender to Christ’s Lordship.
Thus, the stark contrast between American groups and overseas groups is the intentional ministry of the second group. They see themselves as vessels containing the Godhead, accepting the responsibility of exposing Him to guests by manifesting ministry gifts to one another.
Spending at least equal time being in the households of the unbelievers as spent in group meetings will take place in certain seasons of the group’s calendar, leading to a harvest point for the entire congregation. 
This is the third fact we shall discuss in Part 3, tomorrow.

 

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week: February 22-26, 2016

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past week as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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Monday, 2/22: Simple yet powerful. DDIY. Don’t Do It Yourself. Lead w/ God and share leadership with others. #DDIY
 
Tuesday, 2/23: What got your small group here won’t get you there. Don’t settle for the same ol’ small group stuff.

Wednesday, 2/24: You’ve huddled together and learned gr8 thgs. Now brk the huddle and carry out the mission of your Head Coach.

Thursday, 2/25: You are a group of priests for God (Rev. 1:6). EVERY Christ follower offers up worship and intercession.

Friday, 2/26: Your grp has been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). Discuss how to carry out that ministry.

All Small Group Leadership TIPS

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Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week: 11/2-16/2015

Here are the Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past week as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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Monday, 11/2: Has someone in your grp hurt you? Forgive. It may be the most powerful lesson you ever teach.

Tuesday, 11/3: Move your Bible study from info abt God’s Word to obedience to it. Don’t let ppl settle for info.

Wednesday, 11/4: Make Matt. 28:19-20 your group’s mission statement. Then go and live it out.

Thursday, 11/5: Is your mission to sit and eat brownies, know the Bible like a Pharisee, or go and make disciples? Live the mission!

Friday, 11/6: Decide TODAY who your group is for: insiders (“righteous” consumers) or lost outsiders. Lk 5:32; 19:10

MORE SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP TIPS

10/14-23/2015
10/26-30/2015

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7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation: #3: Love Those Who Are Struggling

This is Day 3 of my 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See #1 HERE. #2

Remember the folks in your circles who struggle this time of year. Many people—inside your group and among your group members’ friends—are vulnerable during the holidays. Many hurting people find it difficult to be thankful at Thanksgiving and come to Christmas feeling like God is far away. They desperately want to know Immanuel—God with them—but he seems more like Exmanuel: God used to be with me, but now I feel like he’s left me … or, I feel like he is so external to my current experience.

This is one of the best times of year for a small group to reach out to these folks and love them, invite them into your celebrations, and invite them to know more than the “baby Jesus”—to develop a relationship with him who died for them and lives today. People are not only vulnerable, they are open to an invitation to connect during the holidays.