Nothing encourages a preacher like the regular addition of newcomers to the congregation. Recurring visitors and new members may come through baptism, birth, marriage, transfers from elsewhere, university students, and locals checking out the church. I’m overjoyed to say that we’ve lately had all of the above where I preach. I must ask what draws some of these folks to keep coming back. It shouldn’t surprise me that some might find our church attractive since I would attend here even if I weren’t the preacher (I haven’t been able to say that in every place I’ve been). I think the loving reception visitors find here is the biggest reason they come back.
I’d like to think the leadership here, including me, is doing something right by showing a genuine interest in people and committing to being there for them. If we’re doing something right, I want to know about it. I sometimes ask recurring visitors or new members what it is that has kept them here. Many say that it’s our commitment to Scripture. Others say they get a lot out of the preaching, which I try to take with a grain of salt when someone says it to me, but when it comes through the grapevine I wonder if maybe some of my grueling mental labor is paying off. I also believe the elders are true shepherd-leaders who are more than apt to teach. None of them fall into the extremes of legalism or liberalism. All are intense students of the Word.
Moreover, if someone is looking for a Church of Christ here in northwest Ohio that is a cappella, not King James only, mainline as opposed to non-institutional, neither legalistic, nor progressive—then we’re pretty much it for a good number of miles in any direction. Our average attendance has held fairly consistent through most of this year in spite of all the newcomers. A lot of people are in and out here—traveling and so forth. Not until I see the average attendance consistently increase can I safely say that we are growing.
I once believed, as a younger and more naïve minister, that if a church wasn’t growing that it must be doing something wrong. I thought that if we just hit upon the right formula, or inserted the right key, or discovered the right combination—then presto!—growth would be assured. I no longer believe that and in my next post I’ll share some of the things I once believed were keys to church growth, but have since come to realize are not guarantees. Some could even be a hindrance depending upon your location and demographic. So many factors play into whether a congregation grows that I don’t think there is a secret formula or master key. I also think we tend to leave God out of the picture forgetting who it is that really gives the increase.