The Cost of Church Growth

September 2, 2012

It’s funny but in
church life we often have a few different “Brand New Years”.  The first Sunday in January we celebrate the “New
Year” with the rest of Canada often with a sermon on forgetting the past and
looking ahead to what God has in store for us. 
At Cornerstone as well as other Wesleyan Churches our fiscal year ends
the end of April, as a result “May” is the beginning of a brand new church year
and it’s then that we have our much anticipated and highly aclaimed “Money
Month”. 
But in many ways
September is the beginning of the year as well. 
It is today that the children move up their various levels, from Nursery
to Children’s Church, from Children’s Church to Junior Church, from Junior
church to Ignite and from Ignite to the worship service.  It is in September that we often roll out new
curriculum for the children and as we move into the fall the Staff is busy
planning the preaching series and small groups. 
And the planning and work begins for the . . . wait for it. . . Children’s
Christmas productions and Christmas Eve Service.
Often times, summer
is when you check out a new church if you’ve just moved to the area or if you
just feel it’s time for a new church. 
Reminds me of the story of the man who had been shipwrecked on a
deserted Island for years and finally he is spotted by a ship and a rescue
party arrives to take him back home. 
Before they leave he’s showing them around the island that has been his
home and they come to a clearing with a beautiful view of the ocean and three
grass huts.  One of the visitors ask what
the huts are and the man replies “The one in the centre is my house and the one
on the right is the church I attend.” “Oh “came the reply “what is the other
one?”  “that” says the man “Is the church
I used to attend.”
A pastor friend of
mine told me a number of years ago if I believed that God could call a pastor
to a different church then I should also acknowledge that God could call lay
people to a different church as well. 
And so there are folks at Cornerstone and at other churches who are
starting fresh.
And so in many ways
September is the beginning of the church year, or at least one of the beginnings.
It was 18 years ago
that we actively began to tell people about our vision for what would
eventually become Cornerstone Wesleyan Church and within four months we had a
group of six meeting in our living room and the neat thing is that five of us
are still here.  Can you imagine being in
Stan and Karen Wickwire or Ian and Sylvia Richardson’s shoes when I began to
cast a vision for a church that only existed in my mind and my heart?   And yet here they are all those years later.
And it seemed that
everyone I met in that first year I told them about the church that we were
starting.   But not everyone that we cast
that vision to bought into the dream, there were some who were looking for a
church that was already up and running with a full slate of programs that we
just couldn’t offer and there were still others who just didn’t think there was
a lot of potential for a brand new church like we were envisioning.  But through the years there have been those
who have decided to invest themselves into the dream and help make it a
reality.
In the scripture
that was read earlier we saw a description of the birth of the church.  Not Cornerstone Church but “The church.”  And it is a great description.  Let’s read it again.
Acts 2:41-47 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized
and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted
themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in
meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came
over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.
They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s
Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while
praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord
added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
 Sometimes you will hear people talk about how
we need to be like the New Testament church, and this is the church that they
are talking about.  But when you stop and
think about it, today that doesn’t sound as much like a church as it does a
cult.  If one of your teenagers came home
and told you that they had heard a guy preaching on the street and they had
joined his group and they were doing church every day, and they had to sell everything
they had to put in a common pot, and they weren’t going to be eating with you
anymore that they would be having all their meals with their new friends, you’d
be a little concerned.  Just saying.  It was Vance Havner who said “The church is
so subnormal that if it ever got back to the New Testament, normal it would
seem to people to be abnormal.”
And that may be true
of the church described in Acts 2:41-47. 
There was certainly a level of commitment there that we very seldom see
in believers today.  But it wasn’t
indicative of the church of the entire New Testament, it wasn’t even indicative
of the church in entire the book of Acts. 
Outside of that one description of that church at that particular point
in history we never see it look like that again.  There is a small glimpse in Acts 4:32 All the
believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was
not their own, so they shared everything they had.  But
from there in we see all of the challenges that happens when you get a group of
people together, the good the bad and the ugly. 
Miracles happen, lives are changed, the poor are feed, God moves,
arguments break out, immoral behaviour happens, people get offended and bent
out of shape.  Some want to do this and
some want to do that. 
When Cornerstone was in its
infancy a gentleman by the name of Marlin Mull told me that there are two types
of people in every church, “The goers and the whoaers”.  And I’ve met both types, you know what
he meant ,those who when you talked about new things and changes were willing
to say “let’s go” and others’ who would brace their feet and say “Whoa, not on
my watch”.  And the goers and the whoaers
were there two thousand years ago as well. 
And the reason the church
changed and didn’t remain as it was described in Acts 2 wasn’t because of sin,
or pride or the devil.  It was because of
people.  People who saw things from
different perspectives, people who had different life experiences, not better
or worse life experiences, just different. 
Even if there had never been another person added to the group the
people themselves would have changed and that would have changed the group.
For the rest of our
time this morning we’re going to look at the cost of church growth.  Let’s be honest with each other and
acknowledge that this church cannot and will not grow without some cost on your
behalf and some cost on mine.  I was
twenty five years old when I was hired as Pastor at Truro Wesleyan Church.   I didn’t
realize the price of church growth and so blindly led the church to grow from 124
to close to 200 and in the process we built a half million dollar worship
center.  Which in 1988 was some serious
change.
Now in the beginning
everyone was gung ho for growth, I mean who wouldn’t be?  How could you be against church growth.  But as we began to grow some people began to
hesitate and balk and some even left the church to find one they would be more
comfortable in.  Not bad people, good
people even godly people but people who weren’t willing to pay the price.  And I vowed that I wouldn’t attempt to lead
another church without being up front about what it was going to cost
them. 
And so this morning
we are simply reminding you of what we’ve already told you about the cost of church
growth because I truly believe that if we are going to accomplish our mission
of introducing people to God that Cornerstone will have to grow.
1) This Church
Will Never Be Like This Church Again.
  Eighteen years ago we had 6
adults involved in a Sunday Night Bible Study, that was Bedford Community
Church, seven years ago we were averaging 45 in our Sunday Morning Service, six
years ago we were averaging 135, last year we averaged 270 in our two morning
service and afternoon service, and each Sunday we have people from around the
world worship with us live online.  Things
change.
Some people have
moved on to other churches, and other people have joined us, and with every new
person the church changes.  A church of 7
is radically different then a church of 45 which is completely different then a
church of 150, which will be different then a church of 250 or 450 or
2000.  As we grow we realize that it is a
fact of life that the church will change and it won’t be like it was before. 
Eighteen years ago
we were meeting in our living room at 184 Basinview Drive, since then we have
met in a community centre then a movie theatre and then back to the community
centre, and at times when we got bumped out of our rented facilities we
worshipped at the Berkeley in Bedford, at Basinview School, in a conference
room in Sackville and at Fish Hatchery Park under a tree.  Seven years ago this weekend, our church
building looked like this and that Sunday 34 of us worshipped together at the
Lebrun Centre.  Three months later, in
our third service in our new building 134 of us worshipped together, things had
changed.  
Six years ago we had one
service on Sunday mornings and we had lots of room, now we have two services on
Sunday morning and there are times it is crowded.  Things change.
And you can only imagine how
the early church felt, after the resurrection there had been 120 who had
gathered in the upper room then we read in Acts 2:41
Those who believed what Peter said were
baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.  And then in Acts
4:4
But many of the people who heard their
message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men,
not counting women and children.  Things
change. 
Every new person,
every new family will change the personality of Cornerstone.  Think about it we are not the same church we
were before you arrived to make your contribution.  It becomes like a recipe that is changed by
each additional ingredient.  An egg is an
egg, but with milk it becomes a scrambled egg, a little cheddar and you have a cheese
omelet, add some flour and you have a popover, some baking soda, and sugar to
your popover and you have a cake.  Now I
like eggs, omelets, popovers and cakes but they are all different.
And so the first cost of growth is change, not necessarily
bad change or for that matter even good change. 
Just change and change has to happen. 
Harold Wilson, former Prime
Minister of England said “He who rejects change is the
architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the
cemetery.”

2) You Don’t Get Nothing For Nothing  Contrary to popular opinion church growth
doesn’t just happen.  It requires
sacrifice.  Sometimes lots of sacrifices.
  One
thing that people don’t like talking about in churches is money, but the truth
is that churches can’t function without money. 
The money has to come from somewhere and the Scriptures are quite clear
that the “somewhere” is the people of God. 
There is a lot of difference between the financial commitment needed to
maintain a church and the financial commitment needed to grow a church.
We maintained a
church paying $500.00 a month rent for the community centre and some office
space, that’s two days mortgage payment now. 
  Ten years ago we had Denn part
time, 6 years ago we had Denn full time and Jay Part time, and Mike volunteering
20 hours a week for administration and Angela was leading the children’s and
women’s ministry as a volunteer. 
Things continue to change,
I am still full time, but now we have Jason, Marilyn, Mike, Michael, Ben and
Bayley part time.  And if we are going to
continue to grow those positions will eventually morph into full time
potions. 

By staffing for growth we are acting instead of reacting.  Whatever the dollar costs are they will not
be found immediately with new growth.  It
takes about two years for giving to catch up with numerical growth.  If our growth is coming through conversions
it can take that long for people to accept the concept of tithing, and if we
are picking up transfer growth then might need that time to build loyalties and
trust.  Now understand that doesn’t mean
that you have to wait for two years to start giving, you can jump in
anytime. 

The same goes for
time and service.  As the church grows
there will be a lag between getting people in and getting people to the place
where they are willing to serve.  During
the transition period it stretches our people as they have to teach more
children, lead larger youth groups, take on the responsibilities of more growth
groups and begin new ministries to cater to all these “new people”.
One of the greatest
sacrifices that will need to be made is the giving up of preferences. As the
church grows it sometimes grows away from the area that we are comfortable in
and yet unless those changes are clearly wrong in light of the Scriptures we
may have to surrender them in order to see continued kingdom growth.  Twenty Five years ago I read “The Moncton
Wesleyan Church Manifesto”. I don’t know if they still use it but I still quote
it and part of it says, “We might have our
personal preferences about a big church or a small church, a formal service or
an informal service, a long service or a short service, gospel music or
liturgical music, fiery preaching or quiet preaching.  However, if those preference dictate which
church we attend and support, then we can never experience God’s greatest
blessings, because our motives are selfish.”
The second cost of
growth then is sacrifice, of money, or time and of labor or preferences.
3) We Will Have To
Lose Our Smallness. 
Now when you think of it, this is a really
obvious statement and to a certain degree goes back to the idea of our church
changing but it is different. 
One of the major
reasons why some churches are small is because they like being small.  Whether we are willing to admit it or not
there are a lot of nice things about being a small church.  Probably the most obvious advantage of a
small church is that you know everyone. 
You don’t have to guess at names or occupations, and everyone knows
you.  As the church gets bigger you start
to notice there are people that you can’t quite put a name to, and there are
people who don’t know who you are. 
When a church is
small each person has a fair amount of control over what goes on.  After all, one vote in twenty has a lot more
sway then one vote in two hundred.  There
is an intimacy in a small worship service that is difficult but not impossible
to capture in a larger service.  In a
small church you usually know what is going on at any given time.  In a small church you have more of the
pastor.  One man has more time for each
person in a group of forty five then he does in a group of two hundred and seventy.  There are over 400 people who now call
Cornerstone their church home.
I am the chair of the
Kingswood Ratepayers and one of the things we are always struggling with is
development and I have discovered that for most people the community was just
the right size the week they moved in. 
And at that point it should have stopped growing.  In the same way most folks think the church
was the perfect size right after they started attending. 
And size is relative,
Cornerstone Wesleyan is one of the larger churches in the Maritimes, as sad as
they may seem 75 % of the churches have a smaller Sunday Morning attendance
then we do, but there are some here who don’t want to lose our intimate
feeling.  
The problem remains
that if we stay the same size because it appeals to us, then our decision is
based on selfishness.  We cannot see
people won to Jesus Christ and discipled without this church growing.  The only way we cannot grow is by not leading
people into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and so we would have to make a
conscious decision to exclude people from the Kingdom of God in an attempt to
make sure that our church remains comfortable for some people. 
But listen to the command of
Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore,
go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all
the commands I have given you.”
It is a rule of
nature that everything in nature is either growing, dying or dead.
Peter Pan never
wanted to grow up and I think that as children we are often content to remain
children.  But that isn’t what God had in
His plan when he created us, (although maybe having to grow up was a part of
the curse!) even though childhood can be a blast.  We can’t be a Peter Pan Church.  God has some great things in store for us as
we grow and mature, but let’s not ignore the costs that will have to be paid if
we are going to grow.
As we stand on the
threshold of a new era lets step across it with with our eyes open, not
ignoring the problems but realizing that our God is bigger than any problem we
will encounter.  Can I count on you, no
let’s change that it’s not my church and it never has been, can God count on
you to do what needs being done to reach the HRM? 
Sure there will be problems
but none of them so big that they can stop the people of God.
Many things have
changed about the church over the past two thousand years but we still pause
for the sacrament of communion to remember what Jesus did for us. We are the
church, the bride of Christ, part of the Family of God and this morning we are
going to take the time to remember what that means for us today.