Wells and Fences

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man hangs feet overr the edge of a well thinking about growing his church

Growing your church is all about Wells & Fences.

Do you ever feel like your church has a revolving door? When I pastored in San Francisco, we clocked a 30-percent turnover rate every year without any problems. The turnover was due to the transient nature of an urban area.  A pastor once told me that the key to growing your church is making sure every church has a big front door and a small back door. Over my decades of ministry, I’ve heard dozens of pastors talking about ways to close the back door to keep people from moving on.

Freedom, Not Control

John Wimber had an interesting approach to this concept. He said every church has a front door and a back door. If you try to close the back door, people sense the controlling nature of your church at the front door! This will shut down your growth. Wimber said, “I keep my back door as large and open as my front door. My primary goal is to lengthen the distance between the two.” 

To close the back door, many churches resort to subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle control. They use guilt, shame and manipulation to keep people in their church, not realizing that those tools actually poison the culture of the congregation. That poison actually keeps you from growing your church.

Draw Them Near

One time I heard a rancher say that there are two ways of keeping your cattle nearby. You can build a very big fence—or dig a very deep well. Fences keep your flock in the church, but unfortunately, they send the wrong message and can trigger reluctance, resentment and ultimately rebellion in the members of your flock. Duty-driven discipleship almost never works well for long.

However, if you dig a deep well that taps into the living waters of the Holy Spirit, people always come back for more. If you pull the water from the well and deliver it to the mouths of your members, the satisfaction they feel will generate a commitment that no pressure could ever produce. This is one of the building blocks you need to establish in order to start growing your church.

If you satisfy the thirst of their hearts, you will have no lack of people who want to stay close and drink. In other words, if you provide enough Presence, enough power, enough truth and enough love in between the front door and the back door, you will never be in danger of people trying to sneak out.

Three Keys to Digging a Flowing Well-

Fill Your Well

As a leader, your personal “well” needs to overflow with living waters. When you live in the satisfaction of close intimacy with Jesus, everything you think and say and do will be flavored with the waters of Heaven. Every interaction with you will bring satisfaction and thirst-quenching joy to those you relate to. Make sure your leadership is healthy.

Bury Your Dead

Look at the things you’re doing in your church that produce life and foster those things. At the same time, notice the things in your ministry that aren’t producing life, maybe even becoming a drudgery for the people you lead. I recommend that those ministries be put out of their misery and given a decent burial. If you have to prop up a ministry or small group or some other kind of program, it will suck the life out of your church and produce duty-driven disciples. Friend, just let it go…

Clear the Air

Finally, I recommend that you purify the motivational tools you use to mobilize your members to service. Make sure you lead by inspiration and never manipulation. Make sure you lead with vision, not with need. Make sure you match your workers to ministry tasks according to their God-given designs with respect to their ultimate destinies.

In these ways, the well of living waters will always bring your people back for more. Take some time to honestly assess your leadership style. Are you giving your people fences? Or are you giving them a deep well?


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