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Will Mancini writes: Every year, Outreach Magazine provides a profile of the 100 Fastest-growing churches in the country. This year, they had a few interview spots entitled, “What I wish someone told me.” What really struck me are the common threads on vision and alignment. Look for how these pastors discuss clarity and unique calling. The big themes are as follows: Radical emphasis on mission and vision (including values and strategy) Willingness to “let people go” who don’t align with the vision Commitment to stop programs and cut ministry not aligned with the vision Now, listen to their own words form the 2012 special issue. Luke Barnett (@LWBarnett),  Phoenix First Assembly of God (12th Fastest-growing) At first you think the mobilizing leadership happens naturally, like leaders and volunteers and magically appear because you have a great idea, but that’s not so. Over time you learn that you have to be intentional in mobilizing and recruiting leaders and you have to develop the leaders that have bought into the vision and feel appreciated. John  Beukema (@John Beukema), King Street Church (39th Fastest-growing) Some people will never leave no matter what happens and some people will leave no matter what happens. Since that has been true, I wish I had been told how pitiful and unproductive it is to worry over who you retain and who you don’t. Just do the right things, be clear on your mission, and don’t get emotionally invested in who stays or goes. David Brown (@DavidBrown_Ave), The Avenue Church (44th Fast-growing) People do not have trouble committing to something. Look around at the ball fields and cheerleading meets. The church has been slow at giving them something worth committing to be in. When leaders are passionate about the vision God has given the local church and begin to share that vision people will follow. // Read more here:  “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me:” Pastors of the 100 Fastest Growing Churches Share on Vision and Alignment – Will Mancini. What do YOU wish someone would have told you about ministry 10 years ago? Todd

Geoff Surratt writes: The idea of numerical growth being the major measure of success is deeply baked into  our culture. Outreach Magazine’s list of the 100 largest and fastest growing churches is  by far its biggest selling issue. Twitter lights up every Easter and Christmas as the sem-ilost return to the fold, and we report our new record attendance. We add measurement on  measurement to create the perfect metric. Its nickels and noses, its small group  attendance, its number of volunteers, it number of missional communities. We are  looking for the Nirvana of Numbers that will finally tell us that we are doing a good job,  or at least that we’re doing a better job than the guy down the street. The sad thing is that  there is no end to the race. A pastor of a church of 20,000 told me that the real goal was  30,000. Once they arrived on that mountaintop they could then turn their attention to  other things. Pastors, however, are not just in it for the numbers. The bottom-line for almost every  pastor I know is Kingdom impact. He isn’t as concerned about making a list (as nice as  that might be) as he is in knowing that he had made a difference. All of the numbers are  just a way to figure out if the blood, sweat and tears that he has sacrificed in ministry  have been worth it. The sad truth is that for many pastors who are entering their sixties they don’t know that it has. Their churches have stopped growing and may even be  beginning to decline. The thrill of the next goal, the next barrier is past and they are  asking, “Is this all there is? I’ve played the numbers game, now what?” I believe we need a major paradigm shift. If we continue to measure the same things, to build our churches with the same goals, we’re going to continue to get the same  disappointing results. We need to acknowledge that every church has a lifecycle of increase and decline. There are seasons of growth, seasons of maturing, seasons of reproduction and seasons of decline. We need to stop emphasizing the tree and begin looking at the orchard. To borrow a phrase from Steven Covey we need to begin with the end in mind. Read more here…

An article in Outreach Magazine by Granger pastor Rob Wegner shares what Granger has learned over the past ten year journey to becoming a “Missional Church”: Small and reproducing The key to any missional success is keeping it small enough to be easily replicable. In our multiplication efforts in India, for instance, we do not seek to directly reproduce Granger clones of 5,000 member churches with massive facilities and several strata of highly trained professional staff. Rather, the average size of a faith community in India is probably 20 to 50, most likely meeting in a home or small, rented space, and is led by a bivocational pastor who has been trained in a very modular, highly organic, coaching environment. Keeping them small and highly replicable allows them to grow quickly and spread virally. Collaborative The mission of God is not accomplished merely in the religious sector of society or by the total strong-arming of a single local church, regardless of its size or budget. Rather, the most effective missional processes utilize a full gammut of potential partners to accomplish a core mission, including businesses, local communities, other church partners, outside organizations, nongovernment organizations and agencies, and even local and national governments. A kingdom vision includes players from every domain of society, and it requires collaboration across those domains. Holistic The mission of God is holistic. In poverty-stricken environments, or when working with the sick, the marginalized and the oppressed, a message of “salvation after you die” is almost offensive if it is offered only in that vein. The mission of God requires both a verbal proclamation and a demonstration proclamation. Meaningful mobilization Missional churches must meaningfully mobilize every follower of Jesus in well-defined steps to draw them deeper into the mission of God in the world. Genuinely missional movements demythologize the notion of specialized “commando Christians” who are an elite echelon of the body of Christ and are responsible for all the work that takes place “outside the walls.” Disciple-making The strength of any missional movement rises and falls on its ability to make and reproduce disciples. You can read more here from Outreach Magazine, or visit Rob’s blog for more of his writing… How do YOU define “MISSIONAL”?

My friend Kent Shaffer hits a great point over at the Church Relevance blog:  What is most interesting about these lists is no longer the data itself but rather how many churches are choosing to no longer take part in these studies. Kent continues:  “From a research perspective, this nonparticipation is sad. But theologically speaking, the reasons many churches choose to not broadcast their numbers are quite noble. Many nonparticipating churches just don’t want to negatively affect other churches. And, of course others, just forget to report their numbers to the researchers.” I agree.  I think there’s one other possible reason that some churches aren’t reporting their numbers this year.  I think… just possibly… that some churches may not have reported their numbers because their numbers are down. I mean, who wants to go from the 5th largest church in America to 8th? When this whole list thing started a few years back, it was fun.  It was interesting.  And, the first list ever presented, was probably the most honest. Human tendency says that the next year, the pressure was on to put up a better number for the list than the year before.  Now years into it, it’s more and more difficult to produce an honest number that looks better the year before’s number.  After all, you have people out there (like Kent!) who actually look at the numbers and compare them to other lists and other years. I’m not saying that churches knowingly fudge their numbers.  Not at all.  I’m just saying that there is an inherent pressure to make your numbers look better than last year’s numbers.  And if you can’t, maybe you don’t participate in the top 100 list. Of course, this is just a theory.  It could be that some of these churches are just taking the more noble approach as Kent suggests, or that they simply forgot to report their numbers. I respect the people who do the research on the list.  I know them, and they are honest researchers and publishers.  Unfortunately for them though, having a top 100 list where a growing number of churches refuse to participate does not help their cause.  You simply can’t have a top 100 list when part of the 100 is not included. What do you think?  Do you look at the top 100 lists?  Are they helpful?  Do you think they’ve run their course?  And do they lose any credibility when not everyone is included? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Todd