Rethinking the Successful Church

by Samuel D. Rima

Almost without exception, the mega-churches are the ones that get airtime on CNN or in Christian publications. Should every pastor, then, strive to develop his church into a larger and larger congregation? Not necessarily, says Samuel Rima. God's plans are not the same for all churches. And God may choose not to cause a church to grow into a community monolith. Church growth, the author contends, depends on the sovereign will of God. It is the pastor's responsibility to "plug in" to God's will for a particular congregation.

A pastor does not have to suffer guilt trips when he cannot report to the denomination periodically that his church has added significantly to church enrollment. Rather, the pastor must examine his relationship with the Lord to be sure he is in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Lack of church growth can be caused by several factors: congregational decline, changing availability for employment, congregational division, or crippling church debt. These may or may not be of the pastor's own making. But surely, if we believe that God knows all things, He certainly must know potential hazards before they ever surface.

Rima suggests that pastors should let go of their self-made plans and trust implicitly in the sovereign working of God in all circumstances. That advice, he counsels, may be difficult for most pastors to accept. We all fear the unknown. We fear failure and the failure label that others may put on us. This leap of faith may mean that a pastor will have to relinquish his dream of a new building, a vibrant congregation, or a broad world outreach. But God knows all those things. That leap of trust frightens the best. We may prefer to work our own plan and hope for the best results.