Every church wants to grow. Few know what to do when it happens.
Our church has been in a season of growth over the last few years. Since the pandemic, we have almost doubled in size each year. We’ve opened an overflow room, added additional services, sent our youth off-site, and ran out of parking spots. In many ways, the grass seemed greener when things were more manageable.
I remember sitting down with a retired pastor at a coffee shop who wisely remarked, “Looks like you’ve caught a tiger by the tail. Now, what are you going to do with it?” That was the first time I had heard that expression, but it stuck in my memory. Things could go very poorly if we don’t figure out what to do with the tiger.
Reflecting on the last few years, I’ve found three primary temptations growing churches can fall into.
Temptation 1: Making a Name for Ourselves
God’s original command in Genesis involved people going from Eden to fill the earth with His glory. The story hits a snag in Genesis 11 when people decide it would be much more comfortable to stay and build a city for themselves.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” - Genesis 11:4
Babel showcases one of our most primal reactions to times of peace and prosperity—we make it about ourselves. The people plan to build a tower to heaven to be on God’s level. They care more about making their name great than praising the name of God.
Churches can fall into this same tendency. We get so caught up with our brand of Christianity that we forget that God’s Kingdom is much bigger than our local church. This attitude might manifest in competing with other gospel-believing churches. It also results in an unwillingness to deploy people and money beyond our walls because we think we are the only ones doing meaningful work.
Making a name for ourselves prevents us from doing the mission of God. The cure for this temptation is focusing on making the name of Jesus great. We declare that He is the only one who can save.
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:12
Temptation 2: Doing It Our Own Way
Patience is a rare commodity among leaders. When God has given you a vision, it’s frustrating to wait until He fulfills that vision. Abram faced this tension in the many years of waiting for his wife to give birth to a child of promise.
And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. - Genesis 16:2
Abram and Sarai decide to use culturally acceptable methods to start a family instead of trusting divine instruction. His failure was listening to any voice other than the voice of God. As a result, Ishmael was born. What they thought would be the answer to their prayers soon became a source of strife within the family.
Our world is full of strategies and tactics for how to grow an organization. For clarity, there’s nothing wrong with learning lessons from the business world. However, church leaders must recognize that we aren’t just growing an organization but joining Jesus in building His church. We can create something big, but it might not be what God wants us to make.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. - Psalm 127:1
Our measure of success is too one-dimensional. We want to get the job done at any cost. God cares just as much about how we do things as what we do for Him. Pete Scazzero offers a robust definition of success.
“Success is being the person God calls you to become and doing what God calls you to do, in His way and according to His timetable.” - Pete Scazzero
Temptation 3: Reproducing the Wrong Things
At a glance, Genesis 6 records the seeming fulfillment of God’s command to fill the earth.
When man began to multiply on the face of the land… - Genesis 6:1
There’s just one problem. The people that filled the earth were full of wickedness.
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. - Genesis 6:5
We live in a world where bigger is better. People naturally assume that “healthy things grow.” While this is generally true, it’s also true that unhealthy things also grow. Cancer, disease, and debt are all examples of harmful forms of exponential growth.
Jesus expects every disciple to make more disciples. But before doing that, we must ensure we are healthy in our walk with God. Otherwise, we might fall prey to Christ’s critique of the Pharisees.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. - Matthew 23:15
A disciple always becomes like their teacher. The problem with the discipleship of the Pharisees is that they were multiplying their hypocritical lifestyles. Before we multiply, we have to make sure the DNA is right.
What are the right things anyway?
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” - Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus summarized the Law with the word “love.” Love God through obedience. Love your neighbor through sacrifice. When we focus on the right things, we can trust God with the growth.
Check out this sermon to learn more about church growth and multiplication.
How have you experienced these temptations? Any others that you can think of? Let me know in the comments below.
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