Okay, this may not be the most powerful principle ever, but it has got to be near the top. I was recently talking with a couple of churches about PowerUP, which is one of our best growth small group and Sunday School strategies. A pastor asked me, "So is this guaranteed to work?"
For those of you unfamiliar with PowerUP, it is based on four principles:
The Power of Prayer (especially for the lost)
The Power of Community (discipleship happens better in small groups)
The Power of 10 (every new class you start increases attendance by 10)
The Power of One (it takes leaders)
So how do I answer this guys question? Honestly, that's how. No, it's not guaranteed to work. Over the course of resourcing almost 3,000 churches (Anglo and Hispanics) in PowerUP and at least 100 PowerUP training sessions (plus plus numerous other strategies that I'm familiar with and endorse), I've learned something. In fact, if I could re-write PowerUP now, I would add a fifth principle.
The four principles in PowerUP, like most other church growth strategies and discipleship plans, can be done mechanically. I have found that this principle trumps the other four. In fact, this principle is so powerful it has exponential influence on just about everything else the church does.
Read Philippians 2:3-11. This passage talks about what Christ gave up when He was incarnated as a human being on this planet. In essence, this is what Jesus surrendered for you and me. He surrendered His dignity; His spot at the right hand of power; and, importantly, He surrendered His preferences.
This fifth principle is the power of surrender. It is what happens when we choose to surrender our rights, our dignity, our pride, and yes… even our preferences to God. I am discovering that until a church surrenders, both personally and corporately, there is really very little that they can do to grow their church. My church, my class, my group, and my life just don't fit into the surrendered lifestyle that Christ has called us to.
But there is more. Almost 100 years ago, my denomination discovered a formula for growing a church called "Flake's Formula". This formula has been the gold standard for a century. But I believe that there is an "ancient/future" part of surrender that is the building block of any other growth formula around.
Surrender + Transformation = Fulfillment
Surrender is what we do. It is our part of the formula. Surrender is about giving up our preferences for the sake of the gospel. Let's face it, one of the main reasons churches do not grow is because they are unwilling to give up their preferences. Our preferences is why we have adults sitting in Sunday School classes for years while the children's departments operate with skeleton crews. Our preferences is why we refuse to start new groups and new churches. We know we ought to start new classes. We know new groups reach people faster and grow faster. But most of us would rather stay where we are.Our preferences are why we have worship wars.
But when we surrender, something incredible happens. Transformation begins to take place. Transformation is God's work. It is what He does. Only God can transform the human heart. Only God can bring healing to houses of worship. God alone breathes transformative life into the human soul. It's just that God prefers to do His transformative work through surrendered, broken vessels instead of people full of pride and arrogance.
Surrender plus transformation brings fulfillment. For many of us, we are eager for the fulfillment, we are either impatient or unwilling to go through the first two steps of the formula. Ask most people what their favorite Bible verse is and more than likely it will be a verse linked with fulfillment. Verses like Philippians 4:13 that Tim Tebow made famous. Fewer Christians have surrender as the topic for their favorite verse. Surrender and transformation are to fulfillment what discipline and exercise are to muscle growth. They are painful but necessary.
So that's the down-low. No, I won't promise you that PowerUP, or 40 Days of Community, or any other church growth, church health analysis, or missional conference will grow your church. But I am confident that a church that has placed its preferences on the altar will have better and more fertile soil for God to work with. I suppose that this is a reason why "I Surrender All" was a favorite hymn in our churches.