Recycling is a positive strategy for the ecology movement because it promotes environmentally sound growth. But is recycling good for the growth-oriented church?

Recycling occurs in the Christian community when saved and baptized Christians leave one church to join another church. But is this really growth in the fullest sense of the Great Commission? God’s kingdom has not expanded; no new Christians have been baptized.

Although nothing is wrong with the church membership-reaffiliation process, the leaders of a church must be careful not to rely on this as the primary means for their congregation’s growth. We must make a major distinction between membership growth and kingdom growth. Christ’s Great Commission is all about kingdom growth.


Recycling is a tempting growth strategy in today’s culture of "church hoppers," especially for congregations blessed with great facilities and programs. They can function as a magnet to attract members of other churches who are looking for greener pastures.

Recycled Christians are welcome additions to most churches because they generally fit right in like "round pegs in round holes." Chances are they already know several people in the church, are accustomed to service responsibilities, and already have made financial stewardship a habit.

Recycled Christians generally absorb less time from the staff and church leaders and typically are spiritually mature enough to fit into an existing Sunday School class or fellowship group. They know what church is all about and understand Christian traditions and expectations.


Churches that pursue kingdom growth (through baptisms) face a real uphill climb. Winning new converts and integrating them into the church body is tough work. It requires visitation, dogged follow-up, and the congregation’s willingness to import diversity--new members from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

New converts, though a special joy and blessing, can disrupt the ingrained routines and smooth administration of the church. They sometimes are like "square pegs in round holes." They need discipling attention, special classes, and often personalized accountability.

New Christians may have rough edges that require patient polishing. They may bring personal or life-style problems with them into the church.

The difference between recycled Christians and new Christians in many respects is like the difference between fully functioning adults and toddlers. No wonder so many churches gravitate toward recycling.

The real challenges and potential frustrations of seeking church growth through new Christians rather than through recycled church members can be summarized:


    1. Aggressive visitation and systematic follow-up programs are necessary.
    2. The congregation must be receptive to a diverse variety of visitors and to new members who may not fit in smoothly.
    3. Many of those new members are "baby" Christians, who need personalized attention, discipling, and loving accountability.


One of the toughest challenges of growth by new additions rather than by recycling is finding a good spot to "fish" for the unsaved. That is where the inverse principle of outreach comes into play.

The principle refers to the inverse (or opposite) relationship between an unsaved person’s level of material (or life-style) comfort and his or her openness to the gospel and spiritual matters. Unsaved people who become comfortable in life (who have job security, nice homes, marital stability, and so forth) tend to be less spiritually responsive than those burdened with personal problems, family concerns, or other crises.

The most fertile harvest field for kingdom work today is with people whose lives are not comfortable. The number of such burdened people in our society is growing by leaps and bounds: single parents, children from fractured families, the poverty-stricken, the incarcerated, the abused, unmarried mothers, and so forth.

But it is a trying harvest field in which to labor because progress is an uphill battle. Churches that seek to grow in this way must labor long and hard and really want to carry out the Great Commission.

The temptation to revert to growth by membership recycling is difficult to resist when the evangelism and discipling battle gets tough.


What does it take for a church to break out of the recycling syndrome and to pursue kingdom growth? Changes are needed in three basic areas: priorities, attitude, and life-style. They can be remembered easily by the simple acronym PAL.

Priorities.  Kingdom-growth churches emphasize home missions as much as foreign missions. "Every Christian a missionary" is their motto. Kingdom-growth churches never lose sight of the strategic importance of baptisms. Good attendance in Sunday School and worship is not viewed as the sole measure of church health and progress.

Attitude. The members of kingdom-growth churches show their genuine love for the lost with walking feet, discerning eyes, listening ears, and rehearsed tongues. Their motivation to be part of the Great Commission is founded on a three-part winning attitude: (1) love for the lost, (2) willingness to work, and (3) diversity (taking the gospel to people of different backgrounds, life-styles, and cultures).

Life-style.  Kingdom-growth churches make evangelism and discipling a congregational life-style that is programmed into the daily life and operation of the church. The staff and members promote open-door ministry through programs such as neighborhood visitation, Backyard Bible Clubs, Big Brother and Big Sister programs, crisis counseling, day-car services, and prison evangelism.

Evangelism is programmed consciously into the church, and members show a true willingness to make modest sacrifices to make room for new Christians who unintentionally may cause disruptions in the congregation’s comfortable routine.

Nothing helps the church to keep its priorities straight like the Great Commission. Our congregations begin to drift when we lose our focus on kingdom growth. The chart below compares and contrasts two different sets of priorities. Let us set our sights on both columns:

Do not limit your church to being a:

  • Museum of the saints
  • Full-service shopping mall for its members
  • Graduate school for mature Christians only
  • Gathering place for the got-it-together successful crowd.
  • Institution run by paid professionals.

Help your church also to become a:

  • Hospital for sinners.
  • Outreach organization concerned with reaching nonmembers.
  • Grammar school for new Christians.
  • Finishing school for struggling toddlers learning to walk.
  • Adoptive family where the work is shared.

Kingdom-growth churches make the Great Commission--not facilities, programs, budgets, or membership size--their bottom line. The Lord has promised to provide us with all those other things if we take care of His work.

Kingdom growth is an adventure not to be missed by any Christian or church. Let us all get to work.