I watched in horror as the televised explosion of the space shuttle Challenger played again and again on the special news report. Only moments after Challenger’s apparently successful launch, something went terribly wrong. It started out as just a little problem, but the results of that problem mushroomed into a tragedy.
What went wrong? A simple 0-ring gasket on the solid-fuel rocket booster failed. All of the expertise, planning, money, and manpower that went into that mission came to less than nothing.
Unfortunately, there are churches and ministries that experience failure much like that Challenger mission. They take off like a powerful rocket—all systems go and on target—and then something goes wrong. Some little problem occurs, and the next thing anyone knows a promising ministry has exploded and crashed in utter ruin.
As a young pastor, I wanted to lead a successful, growing church. But how could I be sure of success? I didn’t want to overlook some little problem that could lead my ministry to ruin. I had never pastored a church before; I wondered what to do. How could I be certain that no “0-ring” would be neglected as my church began to “lift off.”
I heard advice from self-appointed, shoot-from-the-hip advisors who eagerly offered unsolicited opinions. From this I learned advice is cheap.
I wasn’t interested in counsel from unqualified advisors. I was, however, interested in counsel from those experiencing success and those who were leading thriving churches and growing ministries. So, I sat about studying the most successful ministries I could find.
I started by taking twenty of the nation’s greatest churches and ministries and studying them with reasonable concentration. I read their publications, sent for their media, attended their seminars, asked questions, conducted research, took notes, and compiled data. My research revealed that each successful ministry shared 12 common threads.
In my mind, these 12 principles seemed like the rocket engines that lift a ministry off the launching pad and push it into successful orbit. I call them The 12 Rocket Engines of Successful Ministry.
Picture your ministry as a rocket with 12 engines. The success depends on igniting all 12 rocket engines and checking to make sure they continue to operate effectively.
Prayer | Engine 1
“Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it,” (Psalm 127:1). To grow, ministries must embrace the certainty that only Jesus Christ builds his church. Without his involvement, failure is certain.
Prayer brings power, anointing, and revival. It is better to spend one-hour laboring in prayer, thereby experiencing success, than to spend ten hours laboring in the natural without success. Work is never a substitute for prayer!
Attitude | Engine 2
A ministry or church that has a desire and attitude to grow, will grow. An analysis of 50 churches found a distinct relationship between growth and the members’ attitudes toward growth. Attitude is the key.
As a pastor, I felt responsible to inspire the congregation with a corporate desire for growth. I continually highlighted the benefits of a growing church. Like a plant, if a church doesn’t grow, it will die. Solomon said, “The desire of the righteous shall be granted,” (Proverbs 10:24). The effective ministries that are growing today have a united attitude and desire for growth.
Vision | Engine 3
Mountains will move aside for the leader who embraces a God-given vision. Conversely, a ministry without a vision will flounder like a car stuck in the mud. Though church members may be expending vast quantities of energy pushing for growth, without a vision they will just be spinning their wheels.
It is my conviction that the pastor of the church, or the leader of a ministry, has a vested duty to seek the Lord for his or her vision for that ministry and then to share that vision with the people. When I began to share the vision God gave me with the congregation, the effect was immediate and overwhelming. The additional benefit of sharing God’s vision allowed people to identify where they could fit into the big plan that God had given.
Atmosphere | Engine 4
A warm, exciting, non-judgmental atmosphere is indispensable to church growth and effective ministry. Friendly greeters should meet everyone as they come through the doors. Smiling staff with helpful attitudes should minister to the needs of the regular attendee and visitor alike. There are so many ways to show people they are loved and welcomed. Attractive, well-landscaped grounds, clean bathrooms, clear direction signs, and helpful ushers are just a part of what it takes to provide a welcoming atmosphere. You want people to feel enveloped in God’s love the moment they step into your facilities.
Teaching | Engine 5
Bible truths must be expressed in fresh and practical ways. Clear, direct, easy-to-understand teaching and preaching is the best. The Bible says, “A wise teacher makes learning a joy,” (Proverbs 15:2a TLB).
Delegation | Engine 6
Christian education should always focus on a desired end result. The desired result of Christian education is to equip the saints “for the work of the ministry,” (Ephesians 4:12). Recognizing their own limitations, pastors of growing churches must educate and delegate qualified, reliable individuals to share in ministerial duties. Read Exodus 18:13–26 for God’s solution for Moses when his ministry overwhelmed him.
Visibility | Engine 7
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel,” (Matthew 5:15). When something special is happening at your church, don’t keep it a secret; let the community know. Newspapers, radio, and television stations are happy to make public service announcements. Also invest in quality advertising and make good use of the internet and social media. Using all these methods to get the word out pays off in increased attendance.
Missions | Engine 8
There is a direct relationship between missions giving and church growth—both in numbers and in finances. When I was pastor, the church board tithed ten percent to missions on all money donated to the church, as well as matching every dollar directed as offerings to missions by the congregation. This practice resulted in phenomenal growth. Over the years, the church I used to pastor sent away over $43 million dollars into missions! As our missions giving grew, every aspect of the ministry grew as well. The goal was to expand our outreach at home and abroad.
Goals | Engine 9
Without specific short-term and long-term goals, there is no way to measure progress. Setting goals is the way to bring God’s vision for the church to reality. Each department leader should be responsible for setting goals and deadlines within the framework of God’s overall vision. Each month, progress should be evaluated and recorded. This provides a vital means for measuring progress and assuring you stay on target.
Evangelism | Engine 10
You can practice evangelism in three ways. First, encourage every member to be a soul-winner through friendship evangelism. Second, during every service, offer an opportunity for people to respond to an invitation for salvation. Finally, reach out to your community with healing teams, sidewalk evangelism, tracts, giveaways, special productions, and the myriad other ways that bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people.
Priorities | Engine 11
When you are hunting for quail, don’t shoot at rabbits. Making sure that every aspect of your ministry is bringing about the desired result will lead to success. No matter how good an idea or program sounds, if it doesn’t bear fruit, it should be ruthlessly eliminated. Don’t substitute “busyness” for high-priority involvement.
Service | Engine 12
If people flock to a local church, it is because they are receiving ministry that meets their needs. Great churches and ministries search for ways to better serve the Lord, the congregation, and the community.
A church with a service-hearted attitude will be a church that draws the lost and needy to it. Read Mark 10:43–44.
What causes churches to grow and ministries to succeed?
The answer is summed up in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop,” (Luke 8:15 NIV). Big churches don’t get that way overnight. As you persevere in applying these 12 principles, you will find that little by little your ministry will grow and produce abundant fruit. Your rocket will be successfully launched and orbiting!
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture is taken from the King James Version.
Dr. Dave Williams is a popular speaker at camps, rallies, minister’s conferences, churches, civic group meetings, business training sessions, colleges, and Bible Schools. He hosted the Pacesetter’s Path telecast for nineteen years, seen worldwide over four satellite systems. Dave was awarded an honorary doctorate from Canada School of Theological Studies.