Friday, 4 September 2015

Seeking to bring one person to faith - A Church growth model to be ...


                                          Sneered at? 

                                                                                Stunned by? 

                                                                                                                    Made your own?

Which response would you choose if I came to you and your church and told you that was what required in your church over the coming year was this; 'Just bring one person to faith'?

In conversation with a Methodist minister this week I was surprised by their claim that the 'man at the top' (their description) had called on each of the churches to bring one new person to faith over the next twelve months. Surprised because of the tone and the nuanced speech which accompanied the information.

As niggardly as this number might seem (just one person a year? Pah!) Revd Steve Wild, President of the Methodist Conference, made this call to this Church (as a member of, not the owner) with the desire for the church to 'take God seriously and put mission back onto the agenda and take God seriously'.

I was surprised at the almost sneeringly 'just one person a year' observation because when I pressed them it seemed that 'just one' would have been a major leap forward for the churches in their circuit as all they had to offer was many venues and declining members. So was the bump in the road that was troubling my companion caused by the paucity that 'one person' presented or by the mountain that they perceived it to be?

I am often troubled by the big mission campaigns with their big name speakers* because try as they might (and here we find a very variable feast) the transition between 'seeing that hand' and leading the person on the end of it though a meaningful 'sinner's prayer' and beyond is an immense journey requiring some sound administration and committed pastoral skills.

When Billy Graham came to London in 1989, apart from getting what I thought was a bogus call from his office because the church plant I was leading was the 1,000th church to sign up*, what amazed surprised me most was the way that people were processed after they had put their hand up, come to the front and prayed.

Their names and address were taken and, unless they had a church connection beforehand, they were pointed to their nearest church (from the list of those who had signed up and sent people to be part of the whole thing) and then prayed for and talked to and listened to (doesn't always happen) and off the went. The receiving church was then contacted and the details of the person was passed over for them to hook up and sickle.

Contrast this with my experiences where the people raised their hands, said THE prayer and were sent off - never to be seen again! This makes up the majority of my church mission experience and I saw hundreds apparently make a commitment never to return or become part of a church elsewhere. Talking to someone where I experienced this it appears that this continues as the practice to this day: The claim the scalp but never do the parenting and one day (make it soon Lord) the Boss will want a word in their ears over that I am sure.

Bring one person to faith and spend a year disciplining them and you have a convert. Steve Wild has pegged it just right I reckon. He does say that the Holy Spirit might just bring in more than one - always good to err on the cautious but give prior warning of revival just in case it frightens the faithful!

When I mentioned this to another minister (not Anglican) they muttered something about just seeing one person come to faith in their church would be akin to revival and started moaning about ageing congregations, poor attendance, lower giving and a host of other ills which were making church hard work. I was about to say that if we who were in leadership (in any form) made Church a bit more hard work then perhaps we'd be seeing less of the problems but, seeing they were already having a bad time, decided against it and instead lent them a book on renewing vision and an invitation to the Mission Shaped Introduction course which is being held here beginning Wednesday 23rd September (7:30pm) - 
All are, of course, welcome!

So let's pray for Steve Wild and his vision and for the churches he is working for, and trying to help 'get serious about God', and let's pray that they do.

And perhaps we could pray that for our own churches and the churches in our towns and even further? Couldn't do any harm, could it???

* Talking of the mega evangelists we have; am I the only one to notice how many use the same jokes, anecdotes and stuff that I was hearing thirty years ago. Where's the new material and the spontaneity, the fresh and contemporary 


dg said...

OK, so if everyone brings a friend (as Wild suggested) we'd double in size this year. Process first described by the Persian poet Ferdowsi around 1000AD and it would convert the world in a few years.

Wild has the skill to do this personally, but the individual who told us about the idea noted that he personally could recall only one successful outcome in some 15 years of professional effort. If it was as easy as Wild suggests, why would we be struggling today with rapidly diminishing numbers?

This tale does neatly show the gap between a good idea and good leadership. Bring a friend is an easy idea. Creating the situation where that is likely to happen and be successful nationally is a lot more difficult. A Method for the 21st century perhaps. Starting with something like this.... might help. The trite "Conference bright idea" won't.

If Wild had backed his words with sensible action he might be doing something useful. I'm not convinced. He's a media expert and well-able to craft a meaningless soundbite.

As to the value of the "one at a time" process - well that is significantly better than the zero that most of us deliver, and every sparrow counts. The real issue is talking to enough people to spot that one prospect - even Wesley needed to connect meaningfully with several hundred people "per single member secured".

[Wild isn't actually the 'man at the top' - he presides over Conference which is something of an annual bottom, if you've ever watched it in action! Now there is a meeting to savour]

dg said...

Correction - Wild did address everyone as evangelists, but his challenge was indeed one per church - in effect about 4000 per year or 2% growth. Methodism is losing around 10000 members per year currently.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Everyone bringing someone in would be a disaster because you'd be unable to disciple them all properly and so I think that 4,000 by the end of twelve months and then repeated, and perhaps doubled, would mean stability and then growth from year three - addresses the skills gap and makes a bit of sound thinking in the missional and growth area of church of any flavour.

Can do nothing but applaud the highly acheivable gauntlet laid down from this end of the wire.


dg said...

No,sorry, not properly thought through, certainly not beyond year 1! A single-person model is unlikely to work, and setting your organisation up to fail is not a great idea. Even if, as you note, it is in places failing routinely already.

A flow-type process for small cohorts could work - Wesley's small class model, in effect - but only if the system is designed as a whole and at a sensible scale. Any effective examples come to mind, beyond the Billy Graham machine?

Vobiscum ;-))

Freeborng said...

Making disciples, thank you for mentioning this most important necessity. For more on early Methodism and its leaders, I would like to invite you to the website for the book series, The Asbury Triptych Series. The trilogy based on the life of Francis Asbury, the young protégé of John Wesley and George Whitefield, opens with the book, Black Country. The opening novel in this three-book series details the amazing movement of Wesley and Whitefield in England and Ireland as well as its life-changing effect on a Great Britain sadly in need of transformation. Black Country also details the Wesleyan movement's effect on the future leader of Christianity in the American colonies, Francis Asbury. The website for the book series is Please enjoy the numerous articles on the website. Again, thank you, for the post.