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The Purpose-Driven ChurchGrowth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission
By Rick Warren
ZondervanCopyright © 1995 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Surfing Spiritual Waves
I am the Lord your God, who churns up
the sea so that its waves roar.
Southern California is well known for its beaches. It's the part of the country that popularized the music of the Beach Boys, beach party movies, and of course, surfing. Although the surfing fad has evolved into skateboarding for most American kids (who have no surf), the real sport is still popular in southern California. Many of our schools offer physical education courses in surfing.
If you take a class on surfing, you'll be taught everything you need to know about surfing: how to choose the right equipment; how to use it properly; how to recognize a "surfable" wave; how to catch a wave and ride it as long as possible; and, most important of all, how to get off a wave without wiping out. But you'll never find a course that teaches "How to Build a Wave."
Surfing is the art of riding waves that God builds. God makes the waves; surfers just ride them. No surfer tries to create waves. If the waves aren't there, you just don't surf that day! On the other hand, when surfers see a good wave, they make the most of it, even if that means surfing in the middle of a storm.
A lot of books and conferences on church growth fall into the "How to Build a Wave" category. They try to manufacture the wave of God's Spirit, using gimmicks, programs, or marketing techniques to create growth. But growth cannot be produced by man! Only God makes the church grow. Only God can breathe new life into a valley of dry bones. Only God can create waves-waves of revival, waves of growth, and waves of spiritual receptivity.
As Paul pointed out about the church at Corinth, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow" (1 Cor. 3:6, italics added). Notice the partnership: Paul and Apollos did their part, but God caused the growth. The sovereignty of God is a factor overlooked in almost all current church-growth literature.
Our job as church leaders, like experienced surfers, is to recognize a wave of God's Spirit and ride it. It is not our responsibility to make waves but to recognize how God is working in the world and join him in the endeavor.
Watching surfers from the shore makes catching waves look pretty easy. Actually, it is quite difficult and requires great skill and balance. Catching a spiritual wave of growth isn't easy, either. It takes more than desire or even dedication; it takes insight, patience, faith, skill, and most of all, balance. Pastoring a growing church, like surfing, may look easy to the uninitiated, but it isn't. It requires a mastery of certain skills.
Today, God is creating wave after wave of people receptive to the Gospel. Due to a plethora of problems in our world, more people seem to be open to the Good News of Christ than at any other time this century. Unfortunately, because our churches haven't been taught the needed skills, we are missing the spiritual waves that could bring revival, health, and explosive growth to our churches.
At Saddleback Church we've never tried to build a wave. That's God's business. But we have tried to recognize the waves God was sending our way, and we've learned to catch them. We've learned to use the right equipment to ride those waves, and we've learned the importance of balance. We've also learned to get off dying waves whenever we sensed God wanted to do something new. The amazing thing is this: The more skilled we become in riding waves of growth, the more God sends!
In my opinion, we live in the most exciting time in history for the church. Unparalleled opportunities and powerful technologies are available to our congregations. More importantly, we are experiencing an unprecedented movement of God's Spirit in many parts of the world today. More people are coming to Christ now than at any other time in history.
I believe God is sending waves of church growth wherever his people are prepared to ride them. The largest churches in the history of Christianity are in existence at this very moment. Most of them are not in the United States. While the stories of these churches are exciting to hear, I believe that the greatest churches are yet to be built. You may be the very person God chooses to use in that way.
God's Spirit is moving mightily in waves around the world. My prayer at the start of each day goes like this: "Father, I know you're going to do some incredible things in your world today. Please give me the privilege of getting in on some of what you're doing." In other words, church leaders should stop praying, "Lord, bless what I'm doing" and start praying, "Lord, help me to do what you are blessing."
In this book, I'll identify some of the principles and processes God is using to reach this generation for Christ. I would not presume to teach you how to create a wave of the Spirit. It can't be done. But I can teach you how to recognize what God is doing, how to cooperate with what God is doing, and how to become more skilled in riding a wave of God's blessing.
The problem with many churches is that they begin with the wrong question. They ask, "What will make our church grow?" This is a misunderstanding of the issue. It's like saying, "How can we build a wave?" The question we need to ask instead is, "What is keeping our church from growing?" What barriers are blocking the waves God wants to send our way? What obstacles and hindrances are preventing growth from happening?
All living things grow-you don't have to make them grow. It's the natural thing for living organisms to do if they are healthy. For example, I don't have to command my three children to grow. They naturally grow. As long as I remove hindrances such as poor nutrition or an unsafe environment, their growth will be automatic. If my kids don't grow, something has gone terribly wrong. Lack of growth usually indicates an unhealthy situation, possibly a disease.
In the same way, since the church is a living organism, it is natural for it to grow if it is healthy. The church is a body, not a business. It is an organism, not an organization. It is alive. If a church is not growing, it is dying.
When a human body is out of balance we call that disease, which indicates dis-ease of the body. Likewise, when the body of Christ becomes unbalanced, disease occurs. Many of these diseases are illustrated and identified in the seven churches of Revelation. Health will occur only when everything is brought back into balance.
The task of church leadership is to discover and remove growth-restricting diseases and barriers so that natural, normal growth can occur. Seventy years ago Roland Allen, in his classic text on missions, called this kind of growth "the spontaneous expansion of the church." It is the kind of growth reported in the book of Acts. Is your church spontaneously growing? If that kind of growth is not happening in a church we should ask, "Why not?"
I believe the key issue for churches in the twenty-first century will be church health, not church growth. That's what this book is really about. Focusing on growth alone misses the point. When congregations are healthy, they grow the way God intends. Healthy churches don't need gimmicks to grow-they grow naturally.
Paul explained it like this: "It is from him that all the parts of the body are cared for and held together. So it grows in the way God wants it to grow" (Col. 2:19 NCV). Notice that God wants his church to grow. If your church is genuinely healthy, you won't have to worry about it growing.
Twenty Years of Observing
For the past twenty years, I have been a student of growing churches, regardless of their size. In my travels as a Bible teacher, evangelist, and later as a trainer of pastors, I have visited hundreds of churches around the world. In each instance I made notes on why some were healthy and growing and why others were unhealthy, had plateaued, or were dying. I've talked to thousands of pastors and interviewed hundreds of church leaders, professors, and denominational leaders about what they've observed in churches. Years ago I wrote to the one hundred largest churches in America and spent a year researching their ministries. I've read nearly every book in print on church growth.
I've spent even more time going through the New Testament. I've read it over and over, studying it with "church-growth eyes," searching for principles, patterns, and procedures. The New Testament is the greatest church-growth book ever written. For the things that really matter, you can't improve on it. It's the owner's manual for the church.
I've also loved reading church history. It is amusing to me that many concepts currently labeled "innovative" or "contemporary" are not new ideas at all. Everything seems new if you are ignorant of history. Many methods parading under the banner of "change" have been used in the past in a slightly altered form. Some of them have worked and some of them haven't. It is a well-known truth that if we are ignorant of the lessons of the past, we usually end up making the same mistakes as the people did before us.
My greatest source of learning, however, has been watching what God has done in the church I pastor. It gave me an education that no book, no seminar, and no professor could have ever given me. I started Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, in 1980, and spent the next fifteen years testing, applying, and refining the principles, processes, and practices in this book. Like a research and development center, we've experimented with all kinds of approaches to reaching, teaching, training, and sending out God's people. Saddleback has served as a laboratory for everything written in this book. The results have been very gratifying and have, I believe, brought glory to God. I am continually humbled by God's power to use ordinary people in extraordinary ways.
I've waited twenty years to write this book because I did not want to write it prematurely. Instead, I've let the concepts percolate and develop and mature. Nothing in this book is theory. The last thing we need is another church-growth theory. What is needed are answers to real problems that have been proven effective in actual church settings.
The principles in this book have been tested over and over, not only at Saddleback Church, but in many other purpose-driven churches of all sizes, shapes, locations, and denominations. While most of the illustrations are from Saddleback, that is only because I am most familiar with our church. It seems that every day I get a letter from another church that has adopted the purpose-driven church paradigm and has been able to ride waves of growth that God has sent their way.
To Pastors with Love
This book is written for anyone interested in helping his or her church grow, but because I am a pastor, my writing style is naturally slanted from a pastor's perspective to other pastors. I come from a long line of pastors. My great-grandfather was converted through Charles Spurgeon's historic ministry in London and came to the United States as a pioneer circuit-riding pastor.
Both my father and my father-in-law have been pastors. Both recently celebrated their fiftieth anniversaries in ministry. My sister is married to a pastor, and I spent part of my childhood growing up on a seminary campus where my father served on staff. So I have a deep love for pastors. I love being around them. I hurt with them when they hurt. I believe they are the most underrated leaders in our society.
My greatest admiration is for the thousands of bivocational pastors who support themselves with a second job in order to shepherd churches that are too small to provide a full-time salary. They are the heroes of the faith, in my view. They will receive great honor in heaven. Because I have been fortunate to afford training and experiences unavailable to them, I feel an obligation to share what I have learned with them in this book.
I also believe that pastors are the most strategic change agents to deal with the problems society faces. Even many politicians are coming to the conclusion that spiritual revival is our only solution. Recently I read this statement from former Cabinet member William Bennett in American Enterprise magazine: "The most serious problems afflicting our society today are manifestly moral, behavioral, and spiritual, and therefore are remarkably resistant to government cures." Does it seem ironic to you that at a time when politicians are saying we need a spiritual solution many Christians are acting like politics is the solution? While there is no doubt that the moral decline in our society has produced a battlefield, it also has given us an incredible mission field! We must remember that Christ also died for those on the other side of the cultural war.
It is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility to be a pastor of a local church. If I didn't believe pastors have the best chance of making a difference in our world, I'd be doing something else; I have no intention of wasting my life. Today the pastoral ministry is a hundred times more complex than it was just a generation ago. Even in the best circumstances, ministry is incredibly difficult. But there are also many more resources to help you if you avail yourself of them. The key is to never stop learning.
If you are a pastor, my prayer is that this book will encourage you. I hope it will be both instructional and inspirational. The books that have helped me most have blended facts and fire. My desire is that you'll grasp not only the principles I share, but also the passion I feel about God's purposes for his church.
I love the church of Jesus Christ with all my heart. Despite all its faults (due to our sinfulness) it is still the most magnificent concept ever created. It has been God's chosen instrument of blessing for two thousand years. It has survived persistent abuse, horrifying persecution, and widespread neglect. Para-church organizations and other Christian groups come and go, but the church will last for eternity. It is worth giving our lives for and it deserves our best.
"I've Heard This Before!"
As you read through this book I'm sure you'll come across concepts and think, I've heard this before. I hope you have! This book contains many of the principles shared in the Purpose-Driven Church Seminar, which I've taught to over 22,000 pastors in the past fifteen years.
Excerpted from The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren Copyright © 1995 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.