Chinese Bamboo and Church Growth

Have you heard the story of the Chinese bamboo tree? There’s some debate to the validity of the claim, but the story is powerful nonetheless. Besides aren’t all good preacher stories a mix of truth and fiction?


The story goes like this, somewhere in the jungles of China there exists a bamboo tree. This tree is said to be remarkable because it doesn’t grow like most trees. Most trees grow steadily year after year.

The bamboo tree once the seed is planted, barely gets out of the ground within the first five years of it’s life. Yet, it has to be watered each and every day or it will die.

Then in the fifth year, something extraordinary happens, the tree begins to grow at an astonishing rate. Some people say it can grow up to 90 feet during just six weeks.

How is that possible?

Because even though growth wasn’t happening above the ground, something was happening below the surface. Under the ground the tree was developing roots. Roots that would be able to sustain the tree once this incredible growth occurred.

Now, you may be serving in a church where you’re not seeing any growth. This can be disheartening for anybody, no matter how strong your faith is.

Many of us have been tempted to give up in this situation, to stop watering the soil God has given us. To be honest, it feels like we’re wasting our time.

But maybe, God is wanting to do something beneath the surface. Maybe God is testing our faith. Maybe God is waiting for us to put the right systems in place, before sending us the growth we so desperately seek.

You see all of us get really excited about growth, but the pastors who experience growth, are the one’s who put in the work weeks, months, and years, before that growth ever occurs.

What’s your favorite preacher story? The Chinese bamboo tree is it fact or fiction? Please let us know by leaving a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Two Ways Student Pastors Can Prepare for Fall

Guest Post: Will Riddle

I love the summer. When the summer season rolls around, it means a return to one of my favorite pastimes… surfing. While I’m still, very much, a novice surfer, I love to surf. Throughout the summer, I often travel to Folly Beach in Charleston, SC for day trips just to surf. There’s nothing that allows me to truly disconnect from the grind of life like paddling out into the waves. Sitting on a surfboard waiting on a perfect wave ensures that there’s no email to read, there’s no text message to send, there’s no phone call to answer, and there’s no social media to check. Surfing, for me, is peaceful. It’s restful.

While paddling into the waves does bring some peace and rest during the summer season, I can’t say that it’s a good picture of what the majority of summer is for my family. Summer means that my kids out of school while I still have to work. Summer is getting my son to his baseball practices. Summer is planning a family vacation (and we all know the feeling of needing a vacation after a vacation). Summer is great on so many levels for my family, but it’s a chaotic season that can cause the months of June and July to feel like a full out sprint to August and the start of the fall semester.

The fall, for us, means a return to normal. Because summer can feel like a sprint, there’s a need for my family to hit reset as we head into the fall season. The travel slows down, kids return to school and the hectic nature that summer can cause is traded for a more routine and predictable pace. Slowing down and developing a consistent and sustainable routine is a high priority as we come out of a busy season.

Student Ministry is no different. Summer consists of mission trips, camps, and conferences and various other events to plan all while still executing the day in and day out of ministry. It’s a breakneck pace. Students are out of school with a lot of free time and we all feel the pressure to keep them engaged with the ministry and the church until the return of fall. Summer for ministry is just as chaotic as it is for my family. And just as with my family, there’s a need to hit reset in ministry as well.

Understanding the need to hit reset for my family and ministry has really shaped how our student ministry prepares for the fall season. At the close of every summer I want to ensure that we do two things above everything.


Although summer takes place at breakneck pace, the trips, camps, conferences and other events always generate excitement and are fun for everyone involved. As summer comes to a close and the pace slows down, I always plan a volunteer meeting to recast vision and refocus our team on the why behind what we do.

While the trip and event side of ministry is exciting, it’s not our main focus. Our focus as a ministry is relationship. Everything we do is done for one reason and one reason alone, to put us in a position to build a relationship with a student. We are called to lead, pastor, encourage and support students through healthy relationships that model and demonstrate the love of Jesus.

This seems like an obvious aspect of ministry that should go without saying, but in my experience, even the simplest concepts can be lost in the busyness of doing and executing ministry.

As you and your team head into the fall, make time to remind them and yourself of the why behind the what.


Just as my family hits reset in the fall and trades the hectic nature of summer for an even paced routine, other families do the same. Your ministry should help them do that as well.

Families are stepping out of the chaos of summer and they are looking for the fall to create a consistent and manageable pace and schedule. The fall schedule for your ministry doesn’t need to fight against what families are fighting for.

This doesn’t mean that ministry all of a sudden becomes boring or mundane. It does mean that you need to work to create a fall schedule that doesn’t keep families guessing or on the go. You can do this very simply with a couple things.

  • Create a calendar for the fall that’s posted to your church’s website. Also, have a hard copy available for parents to pick up at the welcome desk on Sunday or whenever you may host your regular student gathering.

This seems so simple, yet many of us in student ministry fail to follow through on some the most obvious and simple tools that best serve families.

  • Don’t plan extra activities outside of your regularly scheduled student gatherings. Students and families have spent an entire summer managing a schedule that kept them on the go and away from home. Your fall schedule doesn’t need to offer more of the same. Rather than creating extra events, maximize your regularly scheduled student gatherings to incorporate everything you’d like students to experience. For our ministry, we made the decision that we weren’t going to allow our lack of preparation to be an inconvenience for families.

As you prepare for the fall, gather your team, remind them of the why behind the what and help them enter the season with a clear focus. For families, meet them where they are. Embrace consistency that helps families engage with your ministry rather than avoid it.

Will is the Student Pastor at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Ga. He’s served in ministry for the past 17 years and joined the staff at Stevens Creek in 2011. He stepped into student ministry in 2013 and has seen the ministry grow from 30 students to 300 and volunteer teams grow from 15 people to 100 in less than three years. He loves what he does and loves working with other Student Pastors to help reach the students within their community. He lives across the Savannah River in North Augusta, SC with his wife Suzanne and their three children Aiden (9), Silas (7) and London (2).

Five Priorities of the Senior Pastor

If you’re the senior pastor of a small town church, your job description normally comes in one of two forms. The first is a long list of duties including everything from preaching to landscaping. And the second is similar except that nothing is actually written down, you just do whatever the congregation demands of you.


It would be funny, if it weren’t true. I’ve learned in ministry sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Yet, these are the expectations many churches place on their senior pastor. It’s no wonder less than fifteen percent of pastors will last long enough to retire from ministry.

Those who don’t burn out, end up wore out trying to live up to this impossible role. Many of them lose their passion, their effectiveness, and even their families.

What if there was a better way to look at the role of senior pastor, a more effective way? What if the senior pastor could accomplish more by doing less?

What if we narrowed the senior pastor’s job description to these five priorities?

  1. Be the primary weekend communicator.

Concentrate on preparing and delivering between 40-45 sermons a year that are unique, creative, and applicable.

  1. Be the chief vision-caster.

Spend time capturing the vision for your church and communicating it to the congregation.

  1. Be the primary fundraiser.

Raise money for the ongoing ministry of the church through speaking with large groups, small groups, and one on one conversations.

  1. Be a ministries’ champion.

Be outspoken about the amazing ministries within the church in order to create excitement and involvement.

  1. Be a person of integrity who is faithful to their spouse and family.

Most importantly, love your spouse and kids more than you love the church, and live a life of integrity.

I have no doubt that if we all adopted a similar job description for senior pastors that we would see a healthier more vibrant church, because we would have healthier more passionate pastors.

Is there anything else that a senior pastor must do? What did I forget? Please let me know by leaving a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, strategy, and more delivered to your inbox each week.