All living things grow. Growth is evidence of life. If a child doesn't grow up, that's a tragedy. If a believer never grows to spiritual maturity, that's a tragedy.
God wants your congregation to grow as well, not just numerically but spiritually. And for the people of your church to grow, you've got to be intentional.
As a pastor, I think about the spiritual maturity of my congregation all of the time. I grew up in church as a pastor's son. I knew people who had been in church all of their lives and were still spiritually immature. They were self-righteous, critical, unloving, and jealous. They had been taught the Bible all of their lives, and it hadn't changed their lives.
It bothers me to see that in my church today. I am accountable to God for leading the spiritual growth of my church. I don't take that responsibility lightly. Peter tells pastors, "Just as shepherds watch over their sheep, you must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. Do it willingly in order to please God, and not simply because you think you must. Let it be something you want to do, instead of something you do merely to make money" (1 Peter 5:2 CEV). The spiritual growth of your congregation should matter greatly to you.
Many people think that the Purpose Driven paradigm is all about church growth. But really it's about personal growth. It's a paradigm we designed to help people grow spiritually. It's not about building attendance; it's about building an army of people serving God. It's not just about building hearers of the Word; it's about building doers of the Word.
If you want to build doers of the Word in your church, you've got to be intentional about growing people spiritually. Your people will grow spiritually when they make commitments to spiritual maturity.
Saddleback Church is built on people who have made deeper and deeper commitments to Jesus Christ. We encourage people to make these commitments in three ways.
First, we encourage people to move through six levels of spiritual commitment.
We put everybody in our community in one of these levels of spiritual commitment. The first level actually takes no commitment at all. Called the Community, it's everyone within driving distance of our church.
We expect nothing from the people in this group – although we hope they will come to our weekend worship services. That's the first step of commitment a person makes at Saddleback. When they do that, they move into the Crowd.
Once someone starts attending Saddleback, we encourage them to come to our membership class, C.L.A.S.S. 101. That's where they learn what it means to be a member and get a chance to make a commitment to church membership by signing a covenant. When they do that, they become part of the Congregation, a part of our church family.
To be honest, we don't care if a person joins our church or another church. We just want people to make a commitment to a local church.
Then, once they join the church, we encourage them to take C.L.A.S.S. 201, where they learn about how to grow as a Christian. We focus on the great habits of the Christian life – prayer, quiet time, giving, and attending a small group. Then, just like we did in C.L.A.S.S. 101, we ask people to sign a covenant committing to practice these disciplines. Once they make that decision, they move into the circle we call the Committed.
Once they've made a commitment to grow spiritually, we ask them to take C.L.A.S.S. 301 and learn more about how God has shaped them for ministry. They learn a lot about themselves during this class. They also get a chance to meet with a guide who helps them find ministries that fit their unique spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences (S.H.A.P.E.).
At the end of the class, everyone is encouraged to sign a ministry covenant committing to use their S.H.A.P.E. in ministry. That moves the person from the Committed to the Core. Saddleback is built on thousands of lay leaders who've made a commitment to ministry. They really do form the core of our church!
If you've read The Purpose Driven Church or attended one of our conferences at Saddleback, you've already heard about the first five levels of commitment. Now we've added a new one – the Commissioned. These people are committed to being a part of the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. We've had more than 7,700 people at Saddleback participate in either local or global P.E.A.C.E. trips. These are people who take the Great Commission seriously.
Another way we spur commitment at Saddleback is the weekly commitment card.
Each week we encourage attendees to fill out a simple card, and thousands of lives have been changed through it. Why? Writing down a commitment makes it real. We encourage people to write down how God has spoken to them during the service, to write down prayer requests, and often we'll ask for specific commitments in relation to the message – like a commitment to take a particular class or help out in a project. You won't see your congregation make spiritual commitments unless you ask them for commitments. And you have to offer them an opportunity to make their commitments real by writing them down.
A third tool we use is our weekend message notes.
We provide fill-ins for weekend messages each week. Why? People forget 95 percent of everything they hear within 72 hours, according to the U.S. Air Force. That's a statistic that'll depress a pastor!
How will your people grow if they forget everything you teach them? You need to encourage them to write it down. The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.
Think about it. You're studying all week to prepare a message that speaks to your people. You're throwing out spiritual gems. But if they aren't writing those gems down, they're just bouncing off the heads of your congregation. The only way they catch those gems is if they write them down.
These three tools have played a crucial part in Saddleback becoming a more spiritually mature congregation. I encourage you to try them in your church as well. It's a goal with eternal implications.
One day everybody in your church is going to die. They'll stand before God and have to give an account for what they've done with what God has given them. Part of our job is to help get them ready for that test.
How will your church do?
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.