Church Growth And Why Churches Die
Concepts of Growth
There are actually two ways a church can grow. Generally, when people speak of the growth of a church, they are talking about numerical growth. The reason for this is that numerical growth can be easily observed, and this type of growth is usually looked upon as the most important kind. But, another important kind of growth is spiritual growth. It might be said that numerical growth pertains to quantity; spiritual growth pertains to quality. Actually, both types of growth are extremely important.
Consider the importance of numerical growth. Without this kind of growth, a congregation eventually will cease to exist. In the days of the early church, numerical growth was documented which would indicate the importance of this kind of growth.
Consider a few reasons why numerical growth is important. Usually, it takes a larger congregation for there to be men qualified to be elders. Further, more people in a church will generally result in a larger contribution which can result in more money being available to spread God’s Word. Also, the more people in a church, the greater the chances are there will be more who zealously work for the Lord in teaching others.
Have you ever considered the fact that for a church to maintain the same number of people, it must grow? In time, some people in the congregation will die; some will move away; some will become unfaithful; some will get mad or dissatisfied about something and start attending another congregation. Actually, a church can lose numerous people at one time due to a split (friendly or otherwise). Any church which stays the same over a period of time (even as little as five years) has probably been experiencing some growth. The problem is they have not had enough growth to produce any net gains.
Spiritual growth is also essential. Someone once asked a fellow Christian if the congregation where he attended had grown any. He responded by saying "yes." But, he then added, “We have not grown numerically, but we have grown spiritually.” He was saying they had in fact grown, but this was probably not the sense the questioner had to mind.
Many passages speak of the importance of spiritual growth for the individual Christian. Peter, for example, commands (I Pet. 3:18) we are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. Thus, we do not have a choice about spiritual growth. Further, the writer of Hebrews says (6:1), “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” Again in Hebrews the writer rebukes these early Christians for a lack of growth as he said, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” There are also a number of passages which speak of the need for Christians to be “perfect,” i.e., complete and full grown (Mk. 5:48, II Cor. 13:9-11).
However, it is clear the strength of a congregation is not always determined by numbers as spiritual strength must be taken into consideration. For example, in this way, a congregation of 50 people (to the surprise of many) may be stronger than a congregation of 200. For instance, the church at Philadelphia (of the seven churches of Asia) had only good things said about it by Christ. Yet, Jesus said that they only had a “little strength” (Rev. 3:8). Clearly, this expression does not refer to their spiritual strength as they were strong in that respect. Most likely, Jesus spoke of their small numbers. They were much stronger than the church at Laodicea which was probably a large, prestigious, and wealthy congregation (Rev. 3:17). But, Christ wanted to spew this lukewarm church out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16) while having only praise for the little church at Philadelphia.
Some may say they prefer a small congregation. Generally, when people say this they mean they like the closeness of a small church; they can get to know everyone, and there is a close family atmosphere which exists. This view is common and is understandable. But, we must not use this concept as an excuse for failing to go out and teach God’s Word or for being satisfied with a lack of growth. There are advantages of a small group, but we should want the church where we are a member to grow, and we should be willing to work to covert people to Christ so more are brought into the Lord’s Kingdom.
It has been said when a church is growing spiritually, the numbers will take care of themselves. This is not always the case as a number of factors can result in a lack of growth in a congregation but, generally, this is true. When individuals in the church are growing, they will follow the path which will produce numerical growth!
Is the congregation where you are a member growing? The answer may be “yes” and “no” at the same time. Remember, there are two ways a church can grow — numerically and spiritually. We have more control over our spiritual growth than we have over the numerical growth, but both are important and need to be achieved. Are you doing your part in helping the congregation grow where you are a member?
By Mike Johnson
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