Interview

Why Churches Grow

Dr. Joseph K i d d e r is a professor of Church Growth and Leadership at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Two interesting aspects of his biography are that he was born in the city of Nineveh (in Iraq) and that he was converted at a young age in that country. He suffered severe religious persecution within his own family, yet because of his testimony, his mother, brother, and cousin joined the church. In fact, his cousin is now the church pastor at the Baghdad Seventh-day Adventist Church. Kidder and his wife Denise have two college age children. Besides holding a doctorate in theology, Dr. Kidder also studied engineering. He’s been an Adventist pastor for 28 years and has been teaching for the last eight years.

TELL US BRIEFLY ABOUT YOUR CONVERSION EXPERIENCE.

I was born in Nineveh, now called Mosul, in northern Iraq. I was part of a Greek Christian Orthodox family until I was 19, when I decided to become a member of the Seventhday Adventist Church. When my father learned of my conversion, he called my entire family together and humiliated me before them. I was beaten nearly to death and cast out of my home. I was then helped by an Adventist family who led me to our college in Lebanon. Later, I came to the United States and studied engineering and theology. 

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST?

Because of the truth. Jesus said He is the truth, and if we follow Jesus, we have to accept the whole truth He represents.

FROM THEN ON, HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN WITH GOD?

It gives me a lot of joy. I’m always enthusiastic about knowing Him more and more and walking with Him. I didn’t have a passion for God before; I had a passion for the truth. It was the truth that made me leave my family and friends to become an Adventist. However, later on I dedicated more time to being with God. Every day, I “walk” with God for one or more hours when I commune with Him in prayer and Bible study. I also like to hold spiritual retreats. I like to share God with other people. In the Seminary, I’m trying to create a new evangelism culture. I encourage my students to pray among themselves. I like to meet people who invite me to pray. I believe something wonderful happens when we are in communion with God.

WHAT METHOD DO YOU FEEL JESUS USED TO ATTRACT PEOPLE?

The book The Ministry of Healing describes Jesus’ method: “The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, and ministered to their needs and, and won their confidence” (p. 142). It is only in following Christ’s methods that we will have true success in evangelism.

WHY DO SOME CHURCHES GROW WHILE OTHERS DON’T?

There are several factors that contribute to a church’s growth. The first factor is leadership. The church grows when leaders point the members’ vision in the right direction. At the Seminary, we did a study to discover the differences between growing churches and non-growing churches. One of the things we discovered is the leader’s influence. The growing church has leaders (pastors, elders, deacons, and other leaders) who desire to see its growth and are willing to pay the price of growth.

The second factor is the members’ enthusiasm about God. They are enthusiastic about the idea of growth; they talk about it and have an attitude that says that God will make wonderful things happen among them.

The third factor we discovered is sharing. When members are enthusiastic about their experience with God, they tend to share it with other people.

The fourth factor in church growth lies in the involvement of members, not only through their enthusiasm but through their involvement in church activities, especially in community activities. Members make a difference. They witness at work, in their neighborhoods, and at home.

The fifth factor is worship. Liturgy is very important; growing churches tend to have an inspiring and vibrant liturgy. Their worship services are occasions where people are connected to God and feel His presence in a very intense way.

The sixth factor we discovered in growing churches is that the leadership is involved in training other people. The church cannot grow if the members are not trained in church ministries and evangelism. Our research has shown that growing churches spend at least 10 percent of their budget on training. They also spend about one third of their time training people. That means the pastor and other leaders invest one third of their time empowering others. On the other hand, non-growing churches spend little or no time on training.

IS THERE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH GROWTH AND APOSTASY RATES?

Yes. Growing churches tend to retain more of their members because there is enthusiasm. Growing churches give members a sense of belonging. Church is a place where something is happening. Another factor that keeps members in the church is having a cause. Members are involved in an undertaking. These churches have a clear mission and a focused program. Churches that accomplish little or nothing lose members because there is no enthusiasm, no cause, no vision, no training, and no challenges.

WHY DO PEOPLE LEAVE THE CHURCH?

I believe that the number one reason people leave the church is because they don’t feel that they belong. Church members usually belong to groups of family and friends. I call them “church structures.” When a new member arrives, he or she needs to be helped to become part of a new circle of friends. But if new members find it hard to join one of these older structures, they may leave the church. Another reason people leave is the lack of a ministry for them. This was very clear in our study. Growing churches always involve new members in advancing God’s cause, both inside and outside the church.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF A STRONG CHURCH LEADER?

First, the church leader needs to be wise, spiritual, and committed to God; when deacons were being chosen in the apostolic church, this was the criteria used. Today God wants strong spiritual leaders in His churches, people who are fully committed and connected to Him.

The second characteristic is being full of hope and enthusiasm. Leaders must believe that God can do the impossible. They need to believe that the impossible is going to happen because we serve a powerful God.

Third, leaders need to have a “growth vision.” They must believe that every church can have a better future. They must be able to envision what that future will look like for their church and be able to share this vision clearly with the members.

Fourth, strong leaders are always training, empowering, and preparing other people to become leaders.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THE WORD “VISION”?

“Vision” is the ideal God has for us and for our churches.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR A LEADER TO HAVE VISION?

If leaders do not know where they are going, how can they lead? The Bible says that “people perish without vision.” Vision includes direction and a better future; it’s where we are going from here. Without vision, a church becomes stagnant and dies.

WHAT IS ONE CHALLENGE ELDERS FACE TODAY?

One priority is the challenge of creating a place where people can grow spiritually in a receptive, loving, and joyful environment. It is important that each church becomes a place where people who visit for the first time feel welcome and say with enthusiasm, “I like being here, and I intend to come back!” The church needs to be a loving community, and we need to be patient with visitors and new members. Let’s not judge them because they are not exactly the way we would like them to be. New members need time to become more like Jesus. In the meantime, they need our support, love, and patient encouragement.


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