If Proverbs could have a 32nd chapter of nuggets of wisdom, David Chrzan would write it. In the five years or so that I’ve known and worked with David, he’s repetitively dropped advice that has shaped my own philosophy of leadership. For example, in a recent conversation David said, “You can have growth or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want.”
Wow. So true. David wasn’t implying that control is a bad thing. In fact, some level of control is essential. And “control” really refers to the amount of institutional structure and machinery required to guide a movement forward within protective boundaries.
This past weekend, Grace Hills set a new attendance record for the third time this year and it’s only February. At least five adults have trusted Christ this year in our services. And on Sunday, 36 people came to our Newcomer’s Lunch which is more people than we had in our very first public meeting two and a half years ago. Angie and I go home on Sundays and talk about how humbled we are to even get to be part of it, and then we usually talk about how scary it is.
Scary? Growth? Isn’t growth good? Yes. Growth is good for a church if it’s the result of God’s response to a healthy body. But with growth comes the feeling of a loss of control. Suddenly, we don’t know everyone anymore. We can’t remember all the names and match them up with all the faces. We are scrambling to staff our kids rooms and other areas with enough volunteers to keep things working well. It costs more money to minister to more people. People from different backgrounds are converging, which brings a broader array of philosophies into our small groups.
Our gut reaction to rapid growth is to immediately try to control it. We need more systems. We need more machinery. We need to stabilize the institution. I know… let’s form some committees…
As David shared the principle of how growth and control are fierce enemies, he also pointed out that as a church grows, some level of control is necessary. Systems are good. They help us keep people from falling through the cracks and getting left behind. But if a movement is gaining momentum because of the involvement of the Spirit of God, then who can really stand in its way?
So here’s an alternative plan to follow when growth comes.
- Celebrate the wins and the changed lives and the steps forward happening in the lives of people
- Try to get in front of the movement with a framework for making disciples that will scale with growth.
- Have a solid theological framework for doing ministry long before you start.
- Focus on developing leaders who can create healthy systems, not systems for which you desperately need leaders.
- Go with the flow. Follow the Holy Spirit’s movement, which can be as unpredictable as the wind.
- Realize that growth should be multi-dimensional. How will you turn this new crowd into a committed congregation?
- Never shift from an outward focus. It’s never time to “stop reaching new people and start discipling those we have.” Discipleship, by its nature, involves reproducing, so remaining outwardly focused is the best way to make disciples.
You can have growth, or you can have control. How much of each do you really want?