Church Growth

Problem Stated

Christians today have become discouraged.  In our classes, we read the book of Acts.  We see how rapidly the church expanded during this period of time.  Then we turn, examine ourselves, and want to know why similar results do not occur in this present age.  Certainly, our labors are not without efforts.  Certainly, we desire the church to grow.  Yet, the dynamic and exciting growth of the first century never seems to occur.  Why, we ask, why?

False solutions

As a result of this troubling question, church growth seminars tend to emphasize method rather than message.  Symbolism is placed over substance.  Many of these seminars have changed Gospel preachers into warmed over motivational speakers (Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins) cheerleaders and clowns.

Many members have misplaced emphasis.  This shift in value has caused some to make statements such as follows: “If only  we could procure on to lead us in song that has a voice like Elvis Presley – then we would grow”…  “If only  we hired a preacher that was a great orator like Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, or Martin Luther King Jr. – then we would really see growth”… “If only we could find a preacher with a voice like Orson Welles, James Earl Jones, or Morgan Freeman”…”If only the preacher looked like Burt Lancaster, or Brad Pitt”…”If only  we had a nicer auditorium then people would come.”

This writer understands the importance of presenting ourselves in an attractive way. However, this mentality has gone to an extreme that is leading us down a very dangerous path.

Several false assumptions have developed as a result of this current thinking.  Today, members honestly believe that if the preacher presented himself in proper fashion and worked hard, the church would grow.  They also assume that if the church does not grow the preacher must not be doing something right, and therefore, must be relieved of duty.  Though most would never explicitly state it, they believe it is no longer the Gospel that saves (Romans 1:16) but growth is the result of having proper programs and pleasing personalities in place.

How does this reasoning fit with Bible teaching?  First, it would imply that Jesus needed to attend a church growth seminar (John 6:53-6:66).  Many rejected Jesus (John 1:10, 11).  It would imply Noah did something wrong (2 Peter 2:5).  It implies the same of Abraham (Genesis 18:24-32), Jeremiah or Ezekiel would also be guilty of being poor preachers by implication (Jeremiah 5:1-ff;Ezekiel 23:30).

How should we view the situation Biblically?

First, the Bible clearly affirms that few will make it (Luke 13:23, 24; 1 Corinthians 1:26).  In Mark 4 only one of the four soil types received the seed the way  it should be received.  We must not set our expectation level too high or we will become discouraged and give up.

Second, we must never put method and style ahead of message and substance.  Paul was not the best pulpit preacher (2 Corinthians 10:10; 1 Corinthians 2:3-5).  Nevertheless, He is our proper model (1 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:9).  Members and elders should demand that the preacher preach the truth, and the whole truth (2 Timothy 4:1-2; Acts 20:20,27).

Third, we must remember God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).  If the seed is being sown both publicly and house to house by the preacher and members and numbers are not being converted, then, it is not the fault of the local church or the preacher. The fault is in the hearers. {Note: This assumes that the work is actually being done. This also assumes that the truth is being preached in love (Ephesian 4:15). In many cases the work is not being done, and it is not being done with love.}

Fourth, we must realize evangelism is only part of our purpose as a church.  We are first and foremost here to bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 4:11).

Fifth, let us realistically look at reasons accelerated, rapid growth occurs.  Sometimes growth occurs simply because the area is growing in population.  We have little control of this.  Rapid growth also occurs because of a watered-down message (2 Timothy 4:3).  This is not the kind of growth for which we should strive. Growth sometimes comes from sister churches having problems. This is not really growth, but a shifting of numbers. The last reason growth occurs is because of fertile soil (Acts 2; Matthew 13).  This is the kind of growth we desire, but we must realize we can’t control this either.  Some parts of the world are ready and hungry for the Gospel. Other parts are not. These things sometimes change over time. {Note: I have preached in places where dozens of baptism per year occurred. I have preached in places where few baptism a year occurred. I have held meetings which resulted in many baptism. I have held meetings in which no one was baptized. I have done mission trips which have resulted in hundreds of baptisms. I have done mission trips with hardly any responses. Yet, the same message was preached. The message did not change. Further, I have seen different responses, and different levels of interest even in the same place at different times}

Let us simple continue to sow the seed where ever we are, and whenever we have opportunity. This pleases God.  Let us seek to magnify Him in this life. Don’t get discouraged. Preach the word! Live for Him! Do so whether others choose to follow Him or not.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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One Response to Church Growth

  1. Bill Schooley says:

    Good article Bryan. Sadly only a few understand that it takes all of us working (not just talking about it) before God will give the increase. We must sow the seed in love and take advantage of every opportunity to do so (not just inside the building). Nice facilities and talented preachers/teachers are good, but the message spoken in love and lived in the lives of the individual members of a congregation will please God. He will bless that congregation and if that message falls on good soil/hearts there will be numerical and spiritual results that can be seen. It will happen at His pace, not at our pace. Thanks for the good message & I hope your trip home is not too tiring. I have made that trip several times and it seems like it will never end. Bill

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