4 Keys to Grow Plants and Churches

The Soil of Ministry


“Listen, a farmer went out to plant some seeds.” Matthew 13:3

A more modern illustration could be a pastor went out to plant a church or a leader went out to start a small group. And just like in the parable of the sower, I believe that the success of that church or group or ministry depends on the environment its people are planted in. People need a healthy environment in order to grow. The great news is we get to decide what that environment looks like.

We get to control whether the seed is planted along the footpath, or on rocky soil, or among thorns, or in fertile soil. We get to control the environment the seed is planted in. If you want healthy things to grow, you need to make sure they’re in a healthy environment. How do we find out what makes a healthy environment? By studying the ingredients that fuel plant growth.

4 Keys for Growth in Plants & People

  1. Water & Nutrients – Water, as well as nutrients, is normally taken up through the roots of the soil. This is why it’s important to water plants when the soil becomes dry.

I believe water is like encouragement; they both are used to spur on growth. If you have a plant that’s starting to wilt, give it a little water. The same with people, they need encouragement. Keep in mind some people may need to be watered more than others. Some need very little water. I call these people cactuses.

  1. Air & Soil – Dirty air caused by smoke, gases, and other pollutants can be harmful to plants. It can also block out sunlight, which is also necessary for healthy plant growth. Healthy soil is extremely vital to plants. In addition to essential nutrients found in soil, soil provides an anchor for plant roots and helps support the plants.

How’s the air within your ministry? Is it filled with encouraging words or gossip? Do people genuinely love one another, or do they just tolerate each other? Is your church providing an anchor for new believers? Are others coming alongside of them to help support them as they grow?

  1. Light & Temperature – Plants also need sunlight to grow. Too little light can make plants weak and leggy looking.

The people within your church or ministry need the Son. I know that may sound corny, but it’s true. Your people need a daily dose of Jesus. What are you doing to help them cultivate spiritual disciplines in their lives? There are far too many weak-legged Christians walking out of our churches each week.

  1. Space & Time – Finally, plants require time. They do not grow overnight. It takes time and patience to grow plants, some more so than others. Most plants require a particular number of days, months, or even years to produce flowers and fruit.

People, just like plants, require patience. They grow at different rates. Some may jump in and start participating within the first couple of weeks at your church. Others may take years. Are you showing patience to those within your ministry?

These four things sound simple, but if you have ever maintained a garden, you know that couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes a lot of work. But if we can get these four things right, I believe we’ll see people who produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.

In what other ways do you think ministry is a lot like maintaining a garden?


Numbers that Count

The Basics - Numbers

Every Monday I post one of The Basics. The Basics are simple steps every church can take to grow. They are the same steps that led my church from 87 people in attendance to over 700. These steps have helped my church see hundreds of people saved and baptized in just a few short years. Most of these steps you can take this week without even having a board meeting. These are The Basics.


If you’re interested in seeing your church grow numerically and spiritually, there are some numbers you’re going to need to track. By tracking the following numbers year after year, you will be able to measure your success. This allows you to celebrate areas of growth and make changes in areas of decline. These are the eight main areas we track each year.

  • Worship Attendance – Almost every church I know of tracks worship attendance. Keep it simple. Count every man, woman, and child who attends your church each Sunday.
  • Giving – These are the tithes and offerings given each week. These numbers can be key indicators for growth or decline in a church.
  • First Time Guests – Your church grows one guest at a time. The more first time guests you have, the more likely your church will grow. On average, between 10-20 percent of first time guests will become active members of your church.
  • Second Time Guests – Once a guest visits your church for a second time, the likelihood of he/she becoming an active member jumps to 20-40 percent.
  • Salvations – One of the main goals of the church should be to add people to God’s Kingdom. It’s important to know how well you’re doing that. If you see salvation numbers decreasing, it may be time to teach more on evangelism.
  • Baptisms – We would like to see everyone who makes a decision to follow Christ follow through in baptism. Obviously, this doesn’t always happen, but by tracking it we can follow up with people who need to take their next step.
  • Volunteers – It’s great to know how many people are coming to your church, but a more important number is how many people are serving. We believe you’re never more like Jesus than when you’re serving others.
  • Small Group Attendance – We believe biblical community is important. It was a huge part of the early church (Acts 2:44-47), so it should be a huge part of the church today.

These are the eight areas we track in our church. The numbers you track may look a little different depending on what you believe is most important. The important thing is keeping track of them.

A tool we’ve used for several years now is ChurchMetrics. It’s a free online software that will track many of the numbers we’ve discussed, as well as allow you to run reports. For the areas it doesn’t track we’ve used a simple Excel spreadsheet.

I’d love to hear about the numbers your church tracks, and what tools you’re using. Let me know in the comments below.

Exceeding Expectations

A Disney Story


This weekend the Stephens family will be packing our suitcases, and hopping a plane to the most magical place on Earth. That’s right, we’re going to Disneyworld. This will be our third trip to see the mouse since 2012.

Why do we keep going back? Because it’s the single best experience my family has ever had. Is it worth the cost? Absolutely. You can’t put a price on pure joy, which is what my girls’ experience each time we go.

The first time we went my daughter Layla was 2 years old, and my youngest Presley was still in the womb. Florida may be the Sunshine State, but not that week. That week Tropical Storm Debbie decided to visit Orlando as well. Yet, despite the weather, Disney still exceeded our expectations.

A perfect example is the picture above. On our last morning there we decided to get in a couple hours at Epcot before we had to catch our flight home. But we didn’t have time to wait in line for Layla to see Mickey and Minnie one last time. So, Layla had to settle for peering through the windows at the other kids getting their pictures taken with Minnie.

You can imagine how devastating this could be for a two year old, yet Minnie Mouse turned it into a positive. Every time Minnie got just a little break from the other families who had waited in line, she would come over to the window to interact with Layla. She didn’t have to do it, we didn’t deserve it, yet she went above and beyond to make our vacation special. It’s a moment our family will never forget.

What if your church did the same? What if every week you looked for opportunities to exceed people’s expectations? What if you went out of your way to make guests feel special? What could that look like in your church?

Here’s what it looks like in my church.

  • People expect someone to greet them at the door, we exceed expectations by greeting them in the parking lot.
  • People expect a free cup of coffee, we exceed expectations by giving them a free doughnut as well.
  • People expect us to care for their babies, we exceed expectations by making sure every child in our nursery gets a diaper change whether they need it or not.
  • People expect us to babysit their kids, we exceed expectations by having games, songs, and live acting that teaches them about Jesus on their level.
  • People expect to be greeted with a smile, we exceed expectations by giving them a handshake or a hug.
  • People expect for their kids to be safe, we exceed expectations by having a check-in system for kids, as well as background checks for all volunteers.
  • People who visit us for the first time don’t know what to expect, we exceed expectations by making them feel welcome, giving them a gift, and sending them a letter thanking them for visiting.

Are you currently exceeding expectations at your church? What are some of the things you’re doing?