Church Growth And Why Churches Die
Improper Methods of Growth
For some congregations, numerical growth is the most important issue. They will do almost anything to obtain new members or to retain those whom they already have. They take great pride in the size of their congregation, showing little concern about whether their methods of growth are pleasing to God. Consider now some improper methods.
The “Come As You Are” Method
This method of growth is very popular today in denominationalism. Slogans such as “God loves you no matter what” or “We don’t judge your life” are usually associated with groups using this method of growth. The idea is, “You don’t have to make any changes in your life; you can continue in what you are doing; you can continue in your sin.” Thus, people can continue with adulterous marriages, living together with their “significant other,” social drinking, dishonest business practices, bad language, and even homosexuality. Recently, a book was advertised by quoting the author who explained “God loves us rags and all.” God, according to the ad, accepts us for what we are, not for what we do. This attitude is adopted by many, and it can help achieve significant numbers for a congregation.
This “come as you are” philosophy is not taught in the Word of God. Instead, the Bible teaches God will not save man in his sins, and He requires a change of heart and life. At Corinth, for example, there was an immoral man in the congregation, and Paul told the Corinthians to withdraw from the individual, delivering him to Satan (I Cor. 5, II Thess. 3:6,10). Paul also told the Corinthians that the unrighteous would not be able to inherit the kingdom of God. He said (I Cor. 6:9-11), “. . . Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (NASB). Also, in Galatians 5:19-22, we are told that people who engage in the “works of the flesh;” practicing such sins as adultery, fornication, and drunkenness; will not inherit the kingdom of God. Further, Ephesians 5:11 says, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” II Timothy 4:2 points out we are to, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Why “reprove” and “rebuke” with our preaching if God just accepts everyone the way they are?
Jesus died for all men (Jn. 3:16, Rom. 5:6-8), God loves us, and He wants everybody to be saved (II Pet. 3:9). But, for our sins to be forgiven, we must repent (Acts 2:38, 17:30-31) which involves an attitude which will cause us to turn away from our sins. We cannot continue in our sins and still be pleasing to God. Thus, the fornicator, the homosexual, the adulterer, and the thief must stop their sins. The “come as you are” method of growth, practiced by so many, is not pleasing to God and is an improper method of growth.
The “Believe As You Please” Method
This method of growth does not require any conviction on doctrinal matters. As long as a person believes in Jesus, (or perhaps even some supreme being) everything is OK. The philosophy is "it is not necessary for us to all believe the same thing or to press for purity of doctrine."
Consider the teaching of II John 9-11, which says, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” Do these verses sound as if false doctrine is acceptable and those who believe, practice, and teach it ought to be fellowshipped? Does it sound as if a person can just believe anything he wants to and be acceptable to God? Clearly, one cannot.
It is very interesting to note how many times Paul emphasized the importance of “doctrine” or “sound doctrine” in his letters to Timothy and Titus. Paul told Titus, for example, to “. . . speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1). He told Timothy (I Tim. 4:13), “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” (Also note I Tim. 1:10, 4:16, 6:3; II Tim. 4:13; Tit. 1:9, 2:1.)
The “believe as you please” method may in fact produce a lot of growth in a congregation, but this does not change the fact that this method is unscriptural and is not pleasing to God.
The “Have Fun” MethodThe concept of the “social gospel,” which involves taking care of the needs of the whole man, is frequently employed by most religious groups to increase their numbers. Among these needs are recreational activities and social events. Churches today usually provide, if they can afford it, facilities for “fun” which may be better than the local community center. Sometimes this facility is called a “fellowship hall” or a “family life center.” Such facilities as basketball/volleyball courts, walking/jogging tracks, weight rooms, dining facilities, and game rooms are provided. Also, busses and vans are purchased to transport people to social events. The church sometimes advertises itself as the “fun place” to attend. Parents looking for a congregation often seek a place with numerous social activities for young people. By “activities,” such endeavors as Bible classes are not usually on their minds.
The use of carnal means to attract people to Christ is unscriptural. The Bible teaches the “gospel” is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Further, when Jesus was experiencing a great deal of popularity, He rebuked the people because, as He said, “. . . Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled” (Jn. 6:26). If the use of carnal means to get people interested is proper, then Jesus should have just kept performing miracles and serving more food. Soon after this, many disciples left Him because they said that His teaching was “hard” (Jn. 6:60).
The Bible also teaches that the church has a specified mission, which is primarily spiritual in nature (I Tim. 3:15). Its mission is to teach God’s Word (I Thess. 1:8, Eph. 4:11-12). It also has a responsibility to care for needy saints (Acts 11:26-30). The church can use means and methods to carry out this work. Yet, the Bible nowhere says the church has as its mission the providing of recreation and social affairs. Since this is the case, it has no authority to provide facilities for such.
The “have fun” method of growth, even though it may bring in numbers, is unscriptural.
The “Sheep Stealing” Method
This method of growth, at best, can be described as unethical. Sometimes church members are not content with the growth which can come from teaching the lost or from Christians moving into the community. They try to induce members from other sound congregations to leave the congregation where they are members to place membership with them. Members of a small congregation might engage in this practice to gain members from a large congregation. Surprisingly, however, it has happen that members of a very large congregation will try and “rob” members from a small group in their quest to become an even larger congregation (II Sam. 12:1-4).
Growth is good but it cannot be obtained through unscriptural means. As we learn from the incident of Saul being told by God to utterly destroy the Amalekites (I Sam. 15), the ends do not justify the means. Growth is important, but it must be accomplished by Scriptural means.
By Mike Johnson
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