Five rules of prospering churches:
- A prospering church is always willing to try new models for ministry in an effort to serve the prime mission of the church, which is to make disciples of Christ.
- A prospering church always gives permission to persons within the church to conduct ministry and even make mistakes for the sake of the prime mission of the church.
- A prospering church always encourages full participation in ministry by any and all in the congregation while recognizing that the primary role of the pastor is for leadership, teaching, and enabling such ministry.
- A prospering church never allows controllers to hold the attention of the church and/or pastor for any longer than possible.
- A prospering church never allows any program of the church or church related group to restrict or interfere with the prime mission of the church, which is to bring persons to Christ.
Any church whose prime mission is anything other than to make disciples of Christ is not really a church at all. Many churches start out with such a mission. However, as time passes, as the original founders of the church age and die, as the church begins to flourish and become more organized, as the church develops structure, it may begin to lose sight of this prime mission. As time goes on such a church may begin to focus upon itself, its building, its own survival, its finances, ministry to its own members, and to the functioning of its systems. When it begins to do this, its eyes focus less and less on Jesus and more and more on itself.
Thus, it is important at every step of a church's life for a church to reaffirm its prime mission. It does this in the way it forms it's leadership structure, in how it empowers for ministry, to whom it ministers, and how it spends its resources.
The seven last words of a dying church is this well known and often said phrase: "We've never done it that way before." (A variation of this is, "We tried that once ten years ago and it didn't work.") The opposite is true for the prospering church: a church that is always looking for new and better ways to minister in an always changing and evolving world.
To encourage persons to be creative in ministry, the prospering church gives its members permission to minister under the guidance of a mission statement. Essentially, such a statement contains no more than 25 words, is constantly presented to the congregation in a variety of forms, and is prayerfully reviewed periodically by those in a church's leadership so that the ministries of the church may stay on target. Often, those given charge over ministries are simply given a short list of what not to do as they do their work.
The role of the pastor in a prospering church is not to have control over the ministry of the church. The role of the pastor is never to monopolize ministry. Ministry, rather, must be and shall always be the role of the laity. The pastor's role is simply to organize, teach, prepare, and enable the laity for ministry. Rather than doing all the visitation, it is the role of the pastor to organize, teach, prepare, and enable the laity to be engaged in the ministry of visitation, to members' homes, shut-ins, new-comers, and in hospitals, as well. Rather than conducting all the worship and worship planning, it is the role of the pastor to organize, teach, prepare, and enable the laity to plan and conduct worship. Unless the pastor is the only member of the church, never should "calling," "visiting the sick," or "leading and planning worship," appear as main ingredients in the pastor's role in a prospering, Christ centered church.
- If the pastor does home visitations or hospital calls, members of the church should take turns going with the pastor so that they may receive training in how to do these things. The creation of such a cadre of lay-pastors should be the first thing any church must do if it wants to be a prospering church. Never ever should this calling be done with the goal of raising money for the church.
- If the pastor does worship planning, it should never be done without a room full of church members there to learn how to do it, offer suggestions, ask questions, and be a part of a process wherein they will be able to take over this role with only the guidance and participation of the pastor.
When laity are thus empowered to bring persons to Christ then power within the church is broad and never focused within a few individuals. While there may be a few significant church leaders, these leaders always use their leadership to share ministry with others and encourage others to lead and participate. Thus, controllers (persons who usurp the prime ministry of the church by holding power for personal glory) in a prospering church are not tolerated, are relieved of their burdens of leadership, allowed prayerful opportunities for personal spiritual growth, yet may be asked to leave the church if their addiction to power and control continues to usurp the prime ministry of the church and cannot be overcome.
It is the prospering, Christ centered church whose programs focus on bringing persons to Christ before they do anything else.
- If a church's program is to grow flowers in the front of the church, everything about that program will be designed to bring persons to Christ. Persons involved with the planting of the flowers will engage in an inclusive, prayerful fellowship. Children and others within the community will be encouraged to participate. The design of the flower bed may be one that actually spells out an invitation to those who drive by the church. Participants may go home with a flower in a container with an invitation to come back, both written and verbal. If such a flower planting program results in no flowers being planted, but that persons are brought to a relationship with Jesus Christ, then the program was a glittering success. If all the program does is plant flowers, then the church has accomplished little.
- If a church's program is to bake Christmas cookies and sell them to the community, everything in that program will be designed to bring persons to Christ. As members go through the community obtaining orders for their cookies, they will take with them written and verbal information about their church, providing worship times, information about upcoming events, etc., but most importantly, promoting Christ and the Christian faith as they take their orders. The baking, decorating, and sale of the cookies (or any other activities such as this) will be seen primarily as an opportunity for Christian fellowship, Christian education, evangelism, and outreach. If the result of such a cookie sale is that no cookies are baked, decorated, or sold, but that persons are brought to Christ, then the cookie sale was an unadulterated success. But, if all the church did was bake, decorate, and sell cookies, the result would be a dismal failure and an insult to the Body of Christ.
The prime mission of the church is to bring persons to Christ. It is the prospering church that focuses on Christ. Such a church may only have four formal meetings a year. The rest of the "meetings" are more informal, done in members' houses, over the telephone, over backyard fences, or down at the local cafe. Yet, even these do not take place without each participant fully informed of the church's mission statement and the prime mission of the church.
-- Paul G. Donelson