For almost ten years I was on staff at Our Savior’s Community Church in Palm Springs, California. They were great years where I learned many valuable lessons about leadership and church life.
Lead Pastor Mike Coppersmith stayed there for 31 years and it was my joy to spend some of those years on staff under his leadership. Mike retired and is now living in Austin, Texas. He was (and is) the most Christ-like leader I have ever worked with.
Our Savior’s was a growing church and we got a fair number of visitors asking why and how we were growing. It became clear to me on more than one occasion that many of these people were asking the wrong questions and trying to measure the wrong things.
Here were the usual questions we got:
- How many people attend your church?
- What is the size of your budget?
- How many square feet is your facility?
- How many full-time and part-time staff do you have?
- How many and what kinds of programs do you use?
These are nice questions, good questions, interesting questions, but the wrong questions, in my opinion.
Experience has taught me that there is a big difference between church health and church growth. Church health I believe will eventually lead to church growth, but church growth (strictly numbers) will not necessarily lead to church health.
For me there are really only three questions worth asking and answering:
- How many growing and multiplying disciples do you have (not attenders or even members)
- What kind of community impact are these disciples having?
- What is our plan to develop leaders for these multiplying disciples
Jesus clearly commanded us to make disciples who multiply. I don’t recall that he ever asked us to develop large churches by getting lots of people to gather weekly; but, rather, to develop disciples. He said he would build his church (and that he will) as we make disciples who multiply.
I recall the late Dallas Seminary professor Howard Hendricks share his experience of visiting a church led by one of his former students. This pastor said to Howard, “Can you believe it, prof, we had 800 today.” To which Howard replied, “800 what?” That is the question: 800 what? 800 bodies? 800 attenders? Or, 800 multiplying disciples?
My good friend David Bertch used to say many churches are only interested in “nickels and noses.” Sad, but very true. If there are lots of bodies and a fat budget they’re content, regardless of how they are doing with Jesus’ clear command to make disciples.
Church health that honors the triune God will be the result of multiplying disciples who are in community and on mission with the gospel and for the gospel--not lots of people who are involved in lots of programs and are as busy as ants.
Here are the right questions for the leadership of your church to ask:
- Do we have a clear agreed-upon definition of how we are describing and defining a disciple? Does everyone at the church understand this?
- What are we specifically doing to help develop and deploy these disciples in helping others to become his disciples?
- What kind of community impact are our growing disciples having as they seek to reach people with the gospel?
- What is our plan to identify, develop and deploy leaders?