It is manifestly evident that some churches are growing. Why?
The church which our Lord Jesus Christ established on the day of Pentecost following His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, is a completely spiritual institution. There are no earthly head or headquarters and no universal organization. The church of Christ is simply the body made up of all who have been saved by the grace of God through the blood of Christ upon their obedience to the gospel. The Lord knows who are His. The only organizational units that God has authorized on earth are the local, autonomous congregations which do their own work independently under their own leadership (elders) with their own funds. These congregations are to follow the Scriptural pattern that God has laid down in the New Testament for their activities.
In a preceding article entitled, "Why Churches Dwindle," in which I note, "It is painfully apparent that many local churches are not growing." However, it is definitely not true that all, or perhaps even most, congregations of God's people are not growing. In fact, it is manifestly evident that some are growing. Why? What distinguishes those churches which are growing from those which are dwindling? As I stated in the previous article, there are many different reasons why churches dwindle, not all of which can be helped. However, there are some things that we do which sometimes set the stage for experiencing losses. In like manner, there are some things that we can do which, while not guaranteeing growth, will make it far more likely.
Plan To Grow: -- Our heavenly Father did not leave redemption of mankind to chance but devised, even before the foundation of the world, a purpose or plan by which to accomplish His goal. He acted "according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:11; also see 2 Tim. 1: 9). There are many things that a local church can do as part of its collective work to promote evangelism and growth. However, if such things are not planned, they will probably not get done. For example, one thing that many churches do as part of their evangelistic work is to have gospel meetings. Sometimes when it is suggested that a church plan its gospel meetings more than a year in advance, someone objects, "But we do not know what might happen in the future." That is true, but if we do not plan for something in the future, we can pretty will conclude that nothing will happen! Obviously, judgment will have to be exercised in this area, but the old saying is that for any enterprise to succeed, we need to "plan our work and work our plan."
Demand Sound Preaching And Teaching: -- God's plan for the growth of His spiritual kingdom is based upon the preaching and teaching of His Word (Acts 8:4). Therefore, a congregation must demand that those who do the preaching and teaching within the ranks "Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). Oh yes, a church might "grow" by offering food, fun, frolic, recreation, entertainment, and a watered-down message so as not to offend anyone. However, that is not really growth in the Biblical sense, but merely a swelling in numbers. When the Word is preached, growth will result. Sometimes, it will be "in season" and the growth will occur rapidly. Other times, it will be "out of season," so we may have to work a lot harder. Yet, we do not need to turn to "The Purpose Driven Church" to find the principles by which a congregation of God's people can grow. All we need to do is get back to preaching the Word!
Work Together To Save Souls: -- The Biblical concept of growth, at least so far as numbers are concerned, is that souls are saved, because the Lord adds to the church those who are being saved (Acts 2:47). Therefore, as Christians, we need to understand that our number one priority in this world is to work for the salvation of lost souls. Too many churches think that the way to grow is to "hire" a preacher and expect him, pretty much on his own, to find, teach, and convert prospects. That is not God's way. "From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:16). Most of the faithful churches that I know to be experiencing growth are not those which rely solely on the preacher but those in which all the members are talking to others -- relatives, friends, neighbors, and other acquaintances -- about the gospel and striving to lead them to Christ. In fact, in many instances, the preacher does not meet many of these people until he receives a call from some of the members that they are bringing someone over to be baptized.
Provide Encouragement: -- An atmosphere that promotes growth is an atmosphere that provides encouragement. When new souls are saved and brought into the local church, they need to be encouraged. "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thes. 5:14). "But exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 4:13). In many congregations, the "old timers" have developed such a habit of standing around before or after services and talking only with each other that newcomers can often feel left out. Many have become discouraged and fallen away quickly because of this. The more we get to know new members, the more we can learn what their needs are and how we can meet them. We should invite them into our homes, visit in theirs, perhaps even provide special classes for them to encourage them.
Have An Atmosphere Of Love: -- If you joined some sort of civic club or community organization and when you attended the first meeting you found everyone arguing, bickering, feuding, fussing, and fighting, you would probably think, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" How do you think a new member of the Lord's church would feel when he begins attending a local church and finds that there are hard feelings, ill will, spiteful attitudes, and other unresolved problems that exist among the members? "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that your are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jno. 13:34,35). Jesus said that one of the ways by which others will know that we are His disciples is the love that we have one for another. He did not say that the only way by which others will know is that we love, but certainly if we do not love one another, that is a pretty good sign that we are not true disciples. While I am not opposed to any outward expressions of affection among brethren (hugging, etc.), the kind of love that Jesus is talking about is more. It is shown in the kind and considerate way that we treat one another. It does not take long for people to see whether we do that or not.
Take Every Available Opportunity To Spread The Word: -- The church at Thessalonica was evidently active in spreading the Word. "For from you the Word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything" (1 Thes. 1:8). There are many things that churches can do to spread the Word. Once gospel meetings were very effective. They are still good things, but they probably do not obtain the kind of results they formerly did. Many churches have grown as the result of organized personal work programs, whereas they did not work as well in others. Radio programs, especially call-in ones, have accomplished a lot of good, but in many places they do not have the kind of audiences they one did. The same is true for broadcast or cable television programs. Telephone answering machine messages have been useful, but perhaps they have run their course; and that may be the case for correspondence courses too. A lot of churches today are using websites on the Internet and having good success. Most of these activities involve some cost in money or time, so choices have to be made. However, in addition to the work of individual Christians in seeking and saving the lost, each local church which wants to grow according to God's plan should be doing whatever is available and reasonable to spread the Word.
By Wayne S. Walker in Biblical Insights, Vol. 4, No. 9, Sept. 2004.
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