When Ed was creating Breaking the 200 Barrier, he sought out stories of how God changed churches. Here’s the story from Pastor David Richmon of Greek Lake Presbyterian in Seattle on how they broke through the 200 barrier.
Green Lake Presbyterian Church is a 78-year-old congregation located just miles from Seattle’s downtown core. We have a great tradition of biblical preaching, foreign missions, and local church planting. Our current demographic is primarily young families, but we’ve experienced an increasing number of university students and singles, as well as a robust and mature group of empty nesters. Over the last decade we’ve had several seasons of growth. The first spurt led to a multi-site ministry and the eventual planting of two new congregations.
About five years ago we hit a point of stagnation. Numerically we steadily hovered around 160-180 on an average Sunday. Our lows were in the 130s and sometimes, if we had a perfect week—no vacations, no illnesses, etc.—we’d break 200.
Nothing was terribly wrong, but things weren’t great either. During this time, we recognized some unhealthy patterns both in our church’s culture, as well as in how we as a leadership team shepherded the body. We knew if we wanted to grow—numerically and spiritually—things had to change.
One of the first things we did was build an intentional and executable long term plan, or a mission plan as we’ve come to call it. Here’s what we did:
- Imagine the future. Take a few minutes, close your eyes, and imagine your church in three years. If all went well and the Lord blessed, what would you see, touch, and experience across the spectrum of your church’s life?
- Reverse engineer. Once our team had a collective vision for the future, we were able to build backwards from it. We identified five key areas we needed to grow in. These included reshaping our shepherding strategy, developing better discipleship objectives and processes, and identifying opportunities for outreach and evangelism.
- Work the plan. I think this was our biggest point of success. Most pastors and churches have plans and goals. It’s been my experience that these plans rarely get implemented. To that end, we changed our elder’s meetings to prioritize our mission plan. It became the very first item on our agenda after prayer. This was huge. I also began dedicating an afternoon a week to working the plan. This simply meant pushing the cart down the road: sending emails, meeting with leaders, and trying to keep us thinking about where we’re going next.
All of this is pretty common sense, but making a plan and working a plan for three years was so refreshing. After this period of time we reviewed our mission plan and found we accomplished approximately 80% of what we set out to do. More than that, our church was different, from the inside out. Spiritually we’ve taken huge leaps and the numerical markers have followed. We’re consistently at 350-360 and just launched our third worship service. God is good.
Here are couple things we learned:
- Culture is critical. Every church has internal, self-barriers to growth. We did. Oftentimes these are perpetuated at the deepest levels of the church’s self-established culture and identity. We learned that you can launch ministry after ministry, but if the culture of the church isn’t ready, then most things will fail. Don’t forget to start with culture.
- Mission and culture creates a context for growth. Our main goal was to be a healthy church. If we were healthy and grew as a result, even better. But focus first on being healthy. Create that culture and an urgent sense of mission, then let God take care of the rest.
- Thinking long term gets you out of the ministry grind. Ministry is a weekly grind. Having a long term plan gets you out of the habit of judging yourself and your church by how things go on any given week or month. In a three-year life cycle, you can have bad weeks and months. What you’re aiming for is “success” over 4-6 month chunks. This makes things feel more doable.
- Engage the church and celebrate. It’s important to communicate your plan to the church and celebrate its successes along the way. They probably don’t need as much detail as your ministry leaders do, but they need to know where the church is going and how they can participate. Pretty soon you’ll notice things are working. The culture is changing, people are coming and getting plugged in, conversions are happening. Make sure to stop and celebrate. Thank God for what He’s doing. That way the work is never primarily about us; God uses us and we’re simply cooperating with his purposes.
- Make a new plan. We’re currently finishing our second mission plan. Every three years we get a chance to re-evaluate and start the process all over again. It keeps things fresh and always asking, “Where’s God calling us to go?” That’s a fun place to be.
Imagine the day you as a pastor can tell the story of how your church broke through the 200 barrier. Or maybe the 35, 75, or 125 barrier. Ed Stetzer has helped hundreds of churches stuck at these barriers. Learn more about Breaking the 200 Barrier.