My friend Tim Dahl, who is a pastor in Ft. Worth, wrote a great article on the relevance, or irrelevance, of the church.  Apparently, he has been sneaking over to Southwestern Seminary to listen to chapel sermons, and caught one by current SBC President Frank Page that captured his attention.  Tim is, by Southern Baptist standards, very young, and thus, is a rarity in terms of both his vocation as a pastor and as a member of a denominationally affiliated church.  His observations are worth reading. 

Tim cited Rick Warren’s statement at the BGCT this past fall, that only about 1% of our churches are growing by conversion, or by adding to the Kingdom, though perhaps 20% of our churches are growing in membership and attendance.  So when we are talking about being “relevant,” it isn’t a matter of whether or not we are relevant to the culture, but whether we are relevant to the Kingdom.  Yes, Tim, I was paying attention.  It’s a legitimate question for several reasons.

The experience we call “salvation,” which is symbolized in baptism, is a work of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit which does the work of conviction, or drawing a person to a point where they come to a realization that they are sinners in need of confession, repentance and forgiveness as they stand before a holy God.  There are probably as many unique circumstances related to how this is accomplished as there are individuals in the world.  God chooses to use those of us who have already experienced his redemption to help others through this process.  It is also the Spirit which responds to the individual’s repentance and cry for forgiveness, and which does the work of justification and sanctification when someone has trusted in Christ, accepted his sacrifice as the penalty for their sin, and believes in the power of his resurrection.  Denominational programs may increase the awareness of believers with regard to their efforts at evangelism, but they don’t make kingdom growth happen.

Church growth for the 20% of Baptist congregations that are experiencing it, is generally the result of the attraction model.  Churches with the means to offer a variety of programs and ministry services attract people from other churches into their congregations.  But they are not significantly adding to the Kingdom.  In fact, it still holds true that most of the baptisms that occur in SBC congregations in a year happen in the two thirds of the churches that have fewer than 150 people in attendance on Sunday morning, and the ratio of baptisms to average attendance rises as you go down in attendance.  Tim also pointed out that the Pentecostals in particular seem to have success in growing their churches by adding converts, and not just by transfer growth.  That is not to suggest that we imitate Pentecostals, but there seems to be a correlation between their open attitude toward the moving of the spirit, and the number of conversions they experience.  Most Pentecostal churches are also small, under 150 in attendance.  That might be worth looking into.

When I graduated from seminary, I went to serve a small church in a small town as Minister of Youth and Education.  The people there were patient as I “tried out” what I had learned in seminary, and attempted to move the congregation forward in terms of growth.  There was not much in the way of growth during the first year and a half I was there, and I was getting kind of discouraged when one of our youth led a friend to the Lord.  Over the course of the next year and a half, our pastor baptized 32 people, 20 youth and 12 adults, a real revival in that congregation of 150 people.  It was a cooperative effort.  In each case, there were several individuals involved in the life of the person who was baptized, relationships that, in some cases, had been active for a dozen years or more, and it was not the result of a program or an emphasis.  The personal relationships and the dynamics of the small group life of that congregation responded when someone led a friend to the Lord, the Spirit moved, people were open to it, and the Lord added to his Kingdom.  I often wonder if the higher baptism ratio in small churches also has something to do with the closeness and influence of relationships.  That may also be worth looking into.

Tim, well said.  Thanks for bringing this up.

Here’s something else interesting and relevant to the topic from Gary Dyer.


About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

5 responses

  1. kfgray says:

    If a good church service is one which is planned, predictable, smooth, efficient, and controlled, and features no silence, unplanned speaking, unexpected appendage movements, confession, kneeling or tears, and ends promptly when the hour is over, then how would an objective observer conclude that we desire or welcome the Holy Spirit?

    Pentecostal services which I have attended seem to assume more freedom. Rather than “drawing undue attention to oneself,” the singing, clapping, hand-raising and praising seemed joyful and unselfconscious. There was a sense of community of praise. Very little fear. You could join in or not join in, as — if I dare say — the Spirit moved.

  2. JMatthews says:

    I’d add to what kfgray has said that in most Baptist megachurches today, not only is the worship programmed and planned so that the Spirit doesn’t really have a place where he can come in, but we have convinced ourselves that authentic worship can’t take place without a $50,000 sound system, a six piece praise band paid like they are performing a gig rather than leading worship, a video setup with both words of songs and high tech visuals on a screen, and the accompanying lighting effects. Add to that a pastor in his late twenties or early thirties with no real life experience, but who dresses in trendy clothes (untucked, short sleeved shirt with long sleeved undershirt, faded jeans and a $250 pair of sunglasses with the band to wear around the neck) and fills his sermons with trendy pop sayings. He doesn’t really “pastor” in that he jumps in and relates to people, he more or less just preaches the pop sermon each week and does some P/R work. Those kinds of churches gather large crowds, mainly by draining the younger people from churches that do not have the financial resources to offer high dollar religious entertainment (or wouldn’t do so on principle, even if they could) but they don’t run very deep. Then, of course, you have the megachurch which is build around the preaching style, oratory skill and personal charisma of the lead celebrity pastor who spends his day working on his next book.

    I don’t know, maybe churches like that are doing the rest of us a favor in weeding out those who are uncommitted and looking for a show. Interesting that smaller churches, among them Pentecostals who believe that authentic worship requires the presence of the Holy Spirit, are the ones where people experience genuine conviction, repentance and regeneration.

  3. […] Church Growth vs. Kingdom Growth from Deep in the Heart… “The change to our name and our physical facilities alone […]

  4. kfgray says:

    Paid praise bands? I have not heard of that.

    I really appreciate a well-thought-out worship service, especially the message, and I certainly know that God is a God of order. I just think most of us are afraid of anything unplanned; it’s a control thing.

  5. Tim Dahl says:


    Thanks for reading.