Ed Stetzer: Strategy Matters in Fast-Growing Churches

“Church which are rapidly growing, and which maintain that growth, place a premium on intentional and strategic leadership.” Here’s what that looks like.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never met anyone who became a pastor so that they could spend their time worrying about strategy.

Those of us who are pastors and church leaders generally invest in ministry because we love people, not because we love spreadsheets and flowcharts. We love ministry because we want to see people move from where they are to where God wants them to be. There are very few things in life more powerful.

Seeing broken people become whole in and through Jesus really is amazing. However, church leaders do themselves—and the churches they lead—a huge disservice when they neglect strategy because they are not naturally inclined to it. Many pastors and church leaders are not necessarily strategically inclined, and because of that they ignore it or intentionally neglect it.

In our research on the Fastest-Growing and Largest churches in America, however, we have found that strategy really matters. Churches which are rapidly growing, and which maintain that growth, place a premium on intentional and strategic leadership.

A Strategic Approach

Each year, LifeWay Research, in association with Outreach magazine, pulls together data from churches across the country. We collate the data in two ways; the country’s fastest-growing churches, and the largest. This research is usually among the more talked about research we do each year.

Some think we publish this research because we are trying to exalt the large church as the best model for doing church. This simply isn’t true. Remember, God used the megachurch to reach Korea and the house church to reach China. Models should be held loosely, and Jesus should be held tightly. We are not convinced the bigger the church is, the better it is.

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We believe that any church God uses is a great church. With that said, we also believe that facts are our friends. We want to regularly evaluate what God is doing in churches across the country, and one of the ways we do that is through this research.

As we comb through the research each year, we look to see if there are trends that stand out, or similar experiences that are shared by many of the churches which are seeing exciting growth.

Each year we find one or two areas that are unique and, we think, potentially helpful to other pastors and church leaders. This year is no exception. As we looked through the surveys and interviewed a number of church leaders, we saw a common theme of intentional strategy beginning to emerge. This is more than just strategy, however, it is strategy in a couple very specific areas—areas which might have received a bit less emphasis in the past.

We noticed that churches were intentionally investing greater strategic energy in group ministries and in sermon prep this year, in a way that seems to be growing in popularity. This matters, because strategy is sorely lacking from many American churches. In a recent LifeWay Research study, among the pastors we surveyed, only 42 percent believed that their groups have a well-defined approach. Even worse than that, over half of all pastors we surveyed have no intentional plan for discipling all ages in their church.

This lack of consistent strategy in our churches is killing our disciple-making.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach magazine, and a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He currently serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois.

He is also regional director for Lausanne North America, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by and writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, and his national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.