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Friday, December 02, 2005

Hello, My Name is Bill, and I’m a Church Growth Addict

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Today's guest blogger is Bill Streger, a church planter from Houston, TX.  Bill's confession is an easy trap to fall into.  Bill writes:

If only there were group meeting for church growth junkies. Alcoholics have them. Drug users have them. Sometimes I think I need one too.

One of the most powerful experiences I ever had was going with one of my friends to an AA meeting one night while I was still in high school. It was way out of my comfort zone. I felt like a 11 year old boy who accidentally wandered into the “intimates” section at Foleys – I was completely out of place, and the look on my face showed it. As I sat silently, people began to share. As they spoke, each person preceded their comments by introducing themselves and declaring that they were an addict. Not a former addict – an addict. My friend told me this was because you are either a current addict or a recovering addict… but either way you were still an addict. There was no way around that.

As they shared, what really floored me was the complete honesty in what they said. Most of the language was interlaced with “colorful metaphors”, but there was something raw and compelling about what they were saying. As someone who grew up around church, I learned at a young age that you don’t talk openly and honestly in group settings. You say the right things, the things you were supposed to say. But it seemed that no one every told these people that. In story after story, I heard how marriages had been ruined, children had been abused, and careers had been destroyed. And yet, no one blamed someone else. The common thread seemed to be, “I did this. I messed up. This was no one’s fault but my own.”

It’s funny, but the church is supposed to be the kind of place where these confessions occur. James 5.16 tells us to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” But that had never happened in my experience at church. Never. Everyone seemed to have it all together. Everyone had a plan. Everyone was moving forward. But honesty is important… and so here I go. I’ll do my best to model this virtue that I learned from a roomful of alcoholics – to tell the truth about myself...

Fast forward a few years. I had recently heard the call to ministry, and I dove in with everything I had. I knew very little, so I talked to as many people as I could. I read as many books as I could. I visited as many churches as I could. I quickly learned that everyone serving in ministry “had it all together” as well. Everyone had a plan – a strategy for success. Everyone was moving forward, living out the vision God had revealed personally to them. And so I learned how to play the game…

It became obvious that the goal was growth. Big growth. I remember hearing John Maxwell say that the greatest churches were yet to be built. I resolved that day that I would build a great ministry – that we would grow larger and faster than anyone had ever seen. After all, God wanted me to be successful, right?

I learned to walk in the footsteps of the masters. I would build a ministry that was purpose-driven, seeker-friendly, vision-casting, resource-rich, volunteer-enabling, leadership-developing, and any other hyphenated word you might want to include. I could quote the big boys like Hybels and Warren, and I could tell you about the local guys who were “exploding with growth” but hadn’t gained a national spotlight just yet. I could tell you all about vision, mission statements, core values, strategic plans, and big events.

And it showed in my ministry. I read marketing and management books like a kid devouring the new Harry Potter book – I couldn’t get enough. I developed great looking marketing pieces. I gave all of our programs clever titles. I developed slick mission statements and some great sounding core values. I built a team of volunteers that were excited to “get behind our vision” and managed to hire a part time staff that I wasn’t really prepared to lead. We planned, strategized and promoted. And the worst part of it all? It seemed to work.

There’s a night that I don’t like to think about and try to avoid in conversation. As Dickens once said, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” We had spend months getting a huge outreach event together for junior high and high school students. We spent literally tens of thousands of dollars. Everything had revolved around this event… and it came together exactly as planned. We had over 500 students show up that night – the rush was amazing. I remember standing to the side for a moment taking it all in. This was what it was all about. I had a big budget – no, make that a huge budget. I had dozens of volunteers that I was leading. I had a staff working for me. I had other ministers calling me to learn our secret. I had more students showing up than ever before in the history of the church. Everything was great – I was a success…finally.

And I was so far away from God that I didn’t even notice He was nowhere to be found.

Looking back, sometimes I wonder why God allowed me to move on. I had built an empire of success and growth for myself, but the kingdom was an afterthought. I have not choice but to stand alone and acknowledge my sin: “I did this. I messed up. This was no one’s fault but my own.” I had ceased being a lover and pursuer of God, and had become drunk with success. I was addicted to growing my ministry, and if God happened to be involved that was alright to. I took the responsibility to grow the church out of the hands of Christ himself, believing that I was somehow more equipped. After all, I’d read The Purpose Driven Church and had a library of hundreds of volumes on leadership, motivation, marketing, and success. It was an addiction that will linger inside me until the day I die, a trap that Satan will continue to lay before every step I take.

Hello, my name is Bill, and I’m a church growth addict.

Bill Streger is the Lead Pastor of Kaleo, a 15 month-old church plant in Houston, TX.  You can find more of this thoughts at his blog - KaleoBill.com.

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December 2, 2005 in Church Growth | Permalink

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Comments

Well I bet many are going to like this post.
I think it is easy for many Pastors to have their identity tied up in the numbers in their pews, rather than finding their identity with the Christ in their hearts.
The issue is pride. I see it in the question how many attend your church or youth group. This question really does not bother me, however, I would prefer: "Tell me about your church."

Posted by: Jade | Dec 2, 2005 3:53:34 PM

The same hold true whether you have a large church or a small church. I planted the church I now pastor, with 12 people. I know what it feels like to struggle, and I know what it feels like to succeed. After 17 years, I now pastor one of the largest churches in my community. One thing I've learned, is that my relationship with God depends on me. I've been guilty of going through the motions at times when we were small, and I've been guilty of going through the motions at times after we had grown. Each time I recognized my condition and sought God's face. It's not about the size, it's about the heart.

Posted by: Allen | Dec 2, 2005 4:00:32 PM

Bill, thanks so much for your testimony. I'm sure it helps far more than you'll ever know. Please keep it up... it needs to be heard and known!

Better things lay ahead... you must be a much better man (more spiritually mature) for going thru this experience. Think of how many are stuck in this phase... a sad thought indeed.

Wondering... what was pivotal in turning you from your ways?

Also, you mention this experience as a weakness. I don't think so. I think your eyes have been opened. You were deceived. Now you see the temptress. Now it's your conscious decision to avoid her. I hope you will be instrumental with your witness to rescue other Pastors from the same situation... those who can't see it and are being deceived.

They may go thru the classical stages when you confront them:
- denial
- anger
- bargaining
- depression
- acceptance

...Bernie

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Dec 2, 2005 5:11:11 PM

There is nothing more than my desire for the people I know to come into a personal relationship with Christ and if that means growing the church then so be it. Amen

Posted by: ld | Dec 3, 2005 2:56:27 AM

Just to clarify, I think that the church should grow - I am not against that at all. I am definitely not one to say "well, we've got our 4 people here, everyone else doesn't really matter". No, we must be missional and do all we can to engage the culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was my heart that was the problem. Thanks for all the feedback so far!

Posted by: bill streger | Dec 3, 2005 10:07:38 AM

Several years ago I starte a bible study at work. This was not an easy task to do while working for the state of Ky. However. When we had our studies it began 1 time a week, then to two, three, four to five, then we had it every other weekend. Would you say that everytime we met we were a church. Although we only grew to 7/8.

Posted by: Evangelist Jeff | Dec 3, 2005 10:58:35 AM

Bill wrote:
"No, we must be missional and do all we can to engage the culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Bill, sounds like your read "The Present Future?"
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0787965685/103-8017904-9337453?v=glance&n=283155
If not, I think it's something you would really enjoy. If you did, can you give some of your feedback on it?

I think the book oozes with a brilliant analysis of church history and suggestions for the future. I underline the things I liked. I'm half-way thru it, and almost every sentence is underlined.

The author explains what it means how to be "missional" and the problems with current church operation (as a club for members)... about turning the church "inside out." We don't need to do existing things better... we need to operate much differently... esp. considering the post-modern cultural context of the USA (modern, post-modern, etc. is explained in the book).

...Bernie

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Dec 3, 2005 4:57:52 PM

Thanks for the honesty, Bill. I just have a question for you. Now that you recognize your addiction to church growth, do you believe that God can heal you of this addiction?

Charles

Posted by: Charles Horton | Dec 19, 2005 10:21:46 AM

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