It is frustrating to observe congregations repeatedly making the same errors regarding their "professed goals" of growing their local congregations. 

It is frustrating to observe congregations repeatedly making the same errors regarding their "professed goals" of growing their local congregations. All outreach ministries of any kind will inevitably suffer because of these fundamental errors.

The errors I am referring to will cause evangelism, external missions, personal discipleship and passionate worship to suffer. Even though the symptoms are plainly obvious, far too many congregations have awakened to their predicament and wonder why their pews are empty and the passion and enthusiasm for God's kingdom and the cause of Christ is all but absent.

The Bible warns very strongly about failing to accomplish the primary mission of the church; assertively, publicly, boldly and intentionally sharing the call of God through the life and self-sacrificing mission of Jesus. Our message never changes. Our commitment to the message should never lessen.

However, we are to constantly reflect on our effectiveness to reach whatever potential audience that may be available to us. (Matt. 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37-38).

If a local congregation, much less a denomination, has determined ''strategic church growth'' is not only a biblical requirement but also an essential means to practical survival, they must then deal with some tough questions regarding what to do, why they haven't done it already, and what specific corrective actions and commitments may be necessary to complete the spiritual task ahead of them.

Not to be misunderstood, let me state clearly that if any church or growing Christian soul is not consistently and genuinely looking for opportunities to share how good God is through the life, death and mission of Jesus, they are drastically eluding a foundational principle and purpose for our very existence.

Each church and each Christian must reach out to others under the banner of a loving and gracious God. Weak evangelism equates to failed Christian mission. Failed Christian mission equates to a loveless faith. Loveless faith equates to a bastardized religious expression. A bastardized religious expression is absolute evidence of the sacred covenant between God and His people being broken.

Evangelism is important; however, it is only one tool in the divine toolbox of strategic and intentional church growth. There are approximately 400,000 U.S. churches, and somewhere between eight and nine out of every 10 are ineffective at the mission assigned to them. Even though that sounds terrible -- and it is -- that also means that there are between 30,000 and 50,000 highly effective churches.

The question then arises, "What can we learn from those churches that are accomplishing much for the building up of God's kingdom?" Here are five important realities that successful kingdom-building churches have in common concerning "strategic church growth."

1. Honesty: There must be a firm commitment to the "integrity" of the primary mission of the church. Common beliefs and goals are essential. If each Christian and each church is not on the same page or moving in the same direction regarding what they are doing and why they are doing it, there can be no hope of integrity of mission. If a group of souls have decided upon the "what" and "why" of their purpose of existing and then move in another direction of focus, then most assuredly their corporate integrity has to be in jeopardy of outright failure.

2. Vision: The Bible says, "My people are destroyed because of a lack of vision." That was true then and it is true today. Assuming that church folk can agree on the "what" and "why" of a divinely directed mission, there needs to follow a vibrant, intentional, strategic and aggressive vision or plan of action attached to that understanding. You must have a preplanned strategic vision on how to arrive at your goals.

 3. Decisive Action: Lay leadership must be identified, encouraged, trained and empowered to take decisive action for the cause of Christ. One of the more frustrating realities of failing churches is they are filled with timid, fearful and non-committed Christians who are constantly making excuses about why they can't do something or they feel inept or inadequately prepared to approach or accomplish the mission of the church. Beloved, this is an indictment on the institutional church -- not the individual Christian. The church has an important and primary role in providing an environment for discipleship growth and leadership development. When we don't take this responsibility seriously we greatly contribute to the eventual collapse of local congregations.

4. Empowerment: For the most part, decision making has to be greatly decentralized if forward movement and issues of empowerment and urgency are going to be addressed honestly. With the exception of larger congregational issues, organizational or group decisions have to quickly move away from the stagnant and crippling affect of assumptive monolithic authoritarianism. Quit waiting around for someone else or some other group to jump in to get the job done. As long as you are working in the same direction and for the same purpose -- somebody please make a decision and move forward.

 5. Relationships: The main reason why any person joins a local congregation has little to do with the choir, the carpet, the denomination or the preacher. In the vast majority of instances, people will decide to join a local church based on a personal relationship or contact with someone who already is connected with the location. Personal evangelism, mission and generic church growth begins and ends with relationship building that is sincere, loving, passionate and not contrived or manipulative.

Beloved, providing an environment that is foundationally based on transforming lives, empowering families and uplifting others who are in need while powerfully and passionately displaying our faith in a God who is not only able but willing to reach down into a 3-day-old grave and bring back to life that which was assumed to be dead is what we are called to proclaim and demonstrate.

I don't know about you, but that sounds like really Good News. Now, how about we get to work showing others we actually believe that message.

Peace.

The Rev. Ed Schneider, a minister and pastor of 30 years with two theological degrees, has been ordained in both the Baptist and Methodist churches. He's a contributor to the Oak Ridger in Oak Ridge, Tenn.