Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the largest Christian resource companies in the world. A respected pastor and researcher, he has written more than twenty books, including the #1 bestseller I Am a Church Member.
We recently interviewed Thom for the ChurchLeaders Podcast. In our talk we discussed the critical issues of ministry growth, evangelism and church trends. We collected our favorite questions and answers (below), but we highly recommend listening to the full interview as well. It's packed with practical wisdom and ministry insights.
Thom, what do you see as some of the main hindrances to church growth?
Rainer shared, “Churches by their very institutional nature become inwardly focused.” It becomes about my needs and my wants, but the Great Commission goes against that and commands us to go beyond ourselves. He stressed how we need God’s spirit to move people.
There is high attrition because the back door is wide open. If the church has low expectations, people won’t stick, but if there are higher expectations (like offering membership classes), people will stick.
“An inept church member is an oxymoron. It does not exist in scripture.” He says people need a clear understanding of what it means to be a member of a church – not an institutional member, but a member of Christ’s body.
What will make the church more effective in evangelism today?
There is an entropy in today’s church. Rainer says, we must ask ourselves, “What are we doing to look beyond ourselves?”
His answer is to have a right theology of the lost-ness of humanity. “It’s hard to be passionate about Evangelism if you don’t believe people really need Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
We must care deeply about the lost, have both passion and compassion, and the power of prayer, then evangelism will feel more natural and not contrived.
What’s the most dangerous thing happening in the American Church today?
The church has a serious case of “Comfort-it,” meaning they often resist change because they’re comfortable with how things are. Rainer says, “When people resist growth, they resist the Great Commission.”
Church leaders must discern the “change receptivity” of their church. Rainer says we must ask, “How much are my church members willing to change and at what pace?”
Then you must make the case of change. People won’t change unless they know there’s an urgent reason to do so. Then change should be incremental and not wholesale.
He reminds pastors not to move faster than the church, but to go at a pace where the church can accept change. He says, “A good leader is someone who is out in front of his people, but not too far ahead that he’ll get shot in the back.”
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