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Fall 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 2 · pp. 121–24 

Church Growth Consultation: Findings

Gerald Ediger et al.

THE SPIRIT

The papers and responses were presented clearly and, for the most part, well understood. Our discussion, in both the plenary sessions and smaller groups, was focused, free and open. At times we expressed strong and even divergent convictions but these too were discussed in a generally constructive manner.

OUR POINTS OF AGREEMENT

On the Need for Changed Attitudes

We re-affirm our vision for spiritual renewal and discipline. Disciplines such as prayer and fasting are essential to the evangelization of our communities and the world.

We must plan for and welcome change. While change is threatening we must accept the fact that change is a prerequisite for growth. Younger more activist leaders, and older, wiser, more experienced leaders must take from each others’ strengths and lead the process of change together. This change should be guided by a clear vision of mission which is understood and owned by the local congregation.

We must become more inclusive. We need to shift from a mono-ethnic to a multi-ethnic perspective. Our conference leadership should also reflect our growing multi-ethnic character. {122}

On a Strategy for Growing Congregations

Making Disciples. Evangelism is vital to our mission. We want to be a missionary church. We leave this consultation as renewed witnesses of the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment are one and cannot be separated.

Growing and multiplying congregations are essential to our vision. We affirm the goals of the General Conference. We must grow to 550 churches and 65,000 members by the end of the century, and we commit ourselves and our churches to pray and work toward the achievement of these goals. To achieve this we must give freedom for diversity. We want to use various means in evangelism and church planting. We want to discern the positive and the negative in all church growth methods, including the Church Growth Movement; church leaders must model evangelism and the multiplication of churches; and both congregations and leaders must take risks.

Diversity in the size of our congregations is good. God is building his church in different forms and cultures. He is present wherever his people gather in his name.

Being Good Leaders. We affirm strong leadership in our congregations and conferences. We believe leaders are gifts of God to the church. We agree that: leaders must be people called by God and legitimized by the discernment and affirmation of the church; diverse models and styles of leadership are valid; and that all leaders must promote the mission of the church and conduct themselves as servants. They must also adapt their leadership to the setting of their congregations.

Leadership and accountability can go hand in hand. Leaders are accountable to God, their congregations, and the conference. Accountability is also mutual. Pastors and congregations, congregations and the conference, and our denomination and the larger Christian community are all mutually accountable.

We need continuing leadership development. Too often we stop growing and developing as leaders after we leave school. Senior leaders from our conference and schools should come alongside younger less experienced leaders to mentor them more systematically. {123}

Confronting Our Culture

We are in the world and the world is in us. The world also seeks to conform us to its ideologies and values. Therefore, we must discern how to be both counter-cultural and missionary. Biblical faithfulness calls us to confront our culture, evangelize pagan people, and disciple authentic Christian men and women.

CONCERNS WE NEED TO WORK ON

Managing Healthy Conflict in the Church. Many of us seem to fear conflict and dissent. Others of us believe that disagreements can be healthy and should be managed openly and honestly.

Using the Social Sciences in the Church. Some of us use the methods and data of the social sciences freely. Others believe we should use the social sciences carefully because these sciences are built on assumptions and worldviews that can be in conflict with our theology. We need to discern the use of these sciences in a way that is appropriate to the church.

Understanding Our Church Polity. We are confused about what a Mennonite Brethren “modified-presbyterian” polity looks like. Some of us are not certain that such a polity represents historic Mennonite Brethren practice. There are a variety of polities at the congregational level and we have mixed thoughts about this diversity.

Relating as Local Congregations to the Conference. How do we build congregations which simultaneously show vigorous growth and strong conference loyalty?

Understanding the Nature and Use of Power. Some of us are fearful of power. Some congregations and some pastors either distrust the use of power or have experienced the abuse of power. All of us use our power in different ways. How do we exercise power in the church and still remain servants?

Managing our Financial Resources Responsibly. Some believe conference structures are too expensive and are becoming too powerful. More should be spent on the needs of promoting grass-roots growth with less interference “from the top.” Others say the conference seems too distant, and local congregations have difficulty seeing and understanding the need for and importance of larger conference ministries and boards. {124}

Calling Out Leaders. We recognize that in recent years the church has not given itself to prayerfully discerning leaders. We need to give ourselves to prayer and fasting for the discernment of persons with leadership gifts in our congregations.

Understanding Different WorldViews. We have people and congregations with very different worldviews: pre-modern, modern, post-modern. We need help to understand these different worldviews and how they impact our evangelism and experience in the church.

Stopping the Attrition of Our Pastors. We see many pastors who leave the ministry or who remain with a congregation for only a short time. We must understand the reasons for this and find ways to help pastors have longer, more fruitful ministries.

Bringing “Practitioners” and “Theoreticians” Together. “Practitioners” and “theoreticians” have difficulty understanding and appreciating each others’ diversity of gifts, perspectives and analyses of what it takes to develop biblically based, growing congregations.

The Committee: Gerry Ediger, Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, Lynn Jost, Peter Nikkel, and John E. Toews, with the assistance of Harold Fehderau.

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