The Secret to Church Growth Lies in This

Keep sowing and reaping. (Flickr )

I like secrets, and I like growing the kingdom, so this verse recently grabbed my attention, "To you is given the secret of the kingdom of God" (Mark 4:11).

What pastor or church leader wants to overlook the secret sauce of church growth? LifeWay publishes a lot of good authors, but who knows better about kingdom growth than the King?

"[Jesus] said, 'The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he does not know how. For the earth bears fruit by itself: first the blade, then the head, then the full seed in the head. But when the grain is ripe, immediately he applies the sickle because the harvest has come'" (Mark 4:26-29).

Sometimes the Holy Spirit hits our rewind button to a specific word or passage that he wants us to further meditate on. This happened to me with these poignant words of Jesus:

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"[T]he seed sprouts and grows; he [the farmer] doesn't know how" (Mark 4:27b).

This parabolic farmer/sower had to follow three simple instructions in order to have a successful harvest.

1. Sow the seed.

2. Harvest the crop.

3. Repeat.

These simple instructions are also our blueprint for spreading the gospel and advancing the kingdom. The principle of sowing and reaping is familiar to pastors. I was blessed to pastor three growing churches in the last 30 years and can attest to this timeless truth.

What I could not easily digest was the idea that I never really understood the real secret to church growth.

Apparently, neither did the first-century farmer. There was a mystery to what happened in the sower's seed between the time it was sown and the time it was harvested. His job was not a secret, but the miracle of the harvest sure was.

Since this parable is about the kingdom, I think we can assume that the secret to church growth is still shrouded in mystery and accepted by faith.

The secret to church growth is that only God can truly make a Christian or church grow. He is behind the scenes doing what only He can do. What, then, can we do? Our role is pretty straightforward:

1. Sow.

2. Harvest.

3. Repeat.

Jesus explains that receptive hearts (fertile soil) produce an exponential harvest, as opposed to resistant hearts that are like rocks, thorns or pavement. But the sower's understanding of a successful harvest under even the best conditions remains somewhat of a mystery.

Perhaps, if I could explain the mystery of the harvest away, I could replicate it, sell it and retire early. But even trying to explain the inexplicable mystery of church growth might rob God of his glory and rob you of the thrill of pastoring by raw faith.

I want to encourage you to keep sowing and reaping, but do so without serving under the weight of figuring it all out. The secret to church growth is that there will be a lot of mystery to your ministry because real growth depends more on God than on you.

Mark Dance serves as director of LifeWay Pastors. Mark serves pastors by hosting date nights and roundtables, as well as speaking at retreats, conferences and seminars. Prior to LifeWay, Mark pastored churches for 27 years.

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