Church Growth – Church is a Hospital
The word church can refer to either a local church (Acts 15:4 & Matthew 18:17) or the universal church founded by Christ (Ephesians 2:21-22 & Acts 20:28). Jesus in Matthew 16:18 announced to Peter and the other apostles that “on this rock, he would build his church, and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it“.
In the Christian world, church growth is fundamental. Today we talk about natural growth, healthy growth, biological growth. What are the reasons why some churches grow more than others? How can I help my congregation grow? What other aspects should I know about church growth? Here we will see in the following article.
The church is Jesus. He is its head and we are only the body (1 Corinthians 11:3 & Ephesians 1:22 & Colossians 1:18). God alone gives growth to His church. God’s Word gives a series of tips that you can employ to help your community grow.
Evangelizing and bringing the Good News to others is the ultimate method to help grow the church. You can evangelize anytime and anywhere. Beyond sharing an image on social media, you can tell your close friends and neighbors about Christ and His Word. You will find that you are already evangelizing others. Evangelism will bring persecution, but this, in turn, will foster unity and bring growth to the church. A church that does not evangelize will eventually decline.
Jesus Himself commands us to be disciplined (Matthew 18:15-20), for lack of discipline corrupts the Church. The biblical and significant growth of the faithful occurs under proper biblical discipline, which allows it to be used by God to bring the Gentiles to repentance. Therefore, your first step should be to be used by God to save souls. Your goal should be to bring people to Christ to save them, not only to increase the number of members of the community or for economic favors and interests.
Recall that the term “growth” is a relative term. There are different kinds of growth, some of which have nothing to do with numbers.
When someone finds or decides to open a church in a community, regardless of the circumstances, it is natural for it to grow. If it does not grow in the right direction, then it is said that there is an error or an impediment that does not allow the growth of that membership.
It is the internal growth of the community of faith, the strengthening of relationships among its members (which includes the governance of the church, its leaders, finances, and its liturgical celebration). See Colossians 2:16-19.
This is about the functioning of the whole body, one part in relation to the other, all of which must be well cared for, nourished and healthy.
This movement originated within the evangelical church in California, USA, in the mid-1960s, when Donald McGavran and C. Peter Wagner, along with other leaders, began to write and preach more deeply about church growth. Peter Wagner, along with other leaders, began to write and preach more deeply about church growth.
It was born out of a passion for the Great Commission described in Matthew 28:19 and a desire to see people come to the knowledge of Christ. It was proclaimed that growth should be based on research, sociology, statistical analysis, and other sources of support.
The movement gained momentum with the publication of McGavran’s book The Bridges of God & How Churches Grow, where he went from typical theological discussions to discerning sociological factors affecting Christian evangelism among non-believers. McGavran himself expressed “It is God’s will that men and women become disciples of Jesus Christ and responsible members of the Church of Christ”.
In general, these men were relatively successful, although it also caused some confusion, since some of them considered that the success of a church could be measured by the attendance of the faithful. That is to say: if the church is not full at every sermon or on every Sunday, the church is failing.
Numerical growth is the recruitment of people to the kingdom of God, inviting them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives, their incorporation into a local community of people who have made a similar decision, who obey, worship, and give a collective and personal testimony of God’s redemptive action to the world around them.
It is given by the increase in the number of members experienced by the church, through the proclamation and witness of the gospel, as well as the incorporation of those who respond to the local congregation (Acts 2:41 & 4:4).
This development, because of the number of faithful, needs new cells to maintain its vitality, both to follow up the older members and to accept and follow up the new believers, as well as to train them in the biblical discipline.
The body of Christ needs to be constantly nourished in order to grow healthily. But also, this growth needs to be supervised and improved in certain aspects in order to lead the church in the right order. Some of these essential points are:
- Adequately train evangelists: They must handle the Word of God, know how to preach and carry the message of Christ to the unconverted, be prudent and wise in answering while being humble to let the testimony of Christ also speak for them.
- Pray constantly: Make prayer a daily habit and ask God for the continued growth and evangelism of the church, as well as adding to the church each day those who are to be saved. Also ask for the brothers who carry the message, especially in difficult areas or areas devastated by disasters.
- Support evangelistic ministry: This support consists of more than organizing events and meetings. You can participate as a volunteer in missions, giving to bring aid to missionaries in inaccessible areas, or you can help in the field.
- Commit to the work: Be disciplined and lead in order and respect, always putting God and His Word first, before our whims and desires, without expecting anything in return.
So that by following these initial steps, we may perfect the saints and become deeply committed to enhancing church growth.
Some of these ways to attract new members are:
- Use people’s strengths and interests: Try to build a relationship based on people’s needs and strengths. Build an understanding of how to reach them without neglecting the message of Christ. You can use sporting events, community plays, musical events, and speak informally about Christ to them. You can insist on inviting them to some need or eventuality in their lives.
- Involve the youth: A church that does not pay attention to youth ministry, not only decreases, but is also doomed to failure. Organize sporting events, musical events, youth evenings or friendship cells with recreational activities for them, without neglecting or losing sight of the Christ-centered and evangelistic focus of the message.
- Build on biblical foundation: Church leaders should move forward on the basis of Scripture, not on a movement or marketing strategies to reach people. Romans 12 gives guidelines for establishing relationships with new believers.
- Visit the people: This not only includes evangelizing on the streets. It also involves going to the homes of those who have fallen away from the church or have become lost again in the world. Take the opportunity to turn a lost soul back to Christ.
- Put up posters: Distribute signs, posters, brochures in the streets, in the yards of the homes of the faithful, in the school, where the invitation and the call to attend church is made. Start by inviting people to events, then be more formal and invite them to listen to the message of Christ.
The goal should be that people become established in the church and become integrated into the different ministries of service and contribute to the work of evangelization, in order to attract more people.
Jesus promised his apostles that they would be the delivery system of the gospel to the whole world, just as it happened in Acts. We can take some ideas to grow the local church or a smaller church.
- Establish a committee of evangelists, focused on ways to grow the church.
- Establish a specific and sensitive growth objective, attached to the Word of God and committed to the testimony of Christ.
- Create a communication plan to reach the public. Not necessarily adults, also involve young people, children and the elderly.
- Organize, as far as possible, well-publicized meetings and events to attract the public.
- Encourage and promote among parishioners a simple but sustainable short-term goal: to invite a friend to the next meeting. And insist on the fulfillment of this goal.
- Do not try to use marketing methods or earthly pleasures to win souls. Ask God to enable you to preach the message of Christ boldly and fearlessly.
- Do not instill false promises of prosperity or fear and terror. Simply convince with the truth. Do not change the message. Preach the love of Christ.
May your daily and annual goal be the growth of your church in the short or long term and wait with patience on God, who gives the growth.
The Bible itself does not specifically address the subject of church growth, although it is assumed that the principle of growth is the understanding of what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18. Paul, on the other hand, confirmed that the church has its foundation in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11) and that He is also the head of the church (Ephesians 1:18-23), as well as the one who gives it life (John 10:10).
The only hint of church growth is given in Acts 2:47, where it is described that the church grew as God added to those who were being saved each day. Throughout the New Testament, the main focus is not so much on the increase in the number of people, but also on the type of person the faithful are becoming.
This means growing in all aspects of Christ, as described by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16. So, Christ grows his church to the extent that the members speak the truth to each other in love so that they become more like him.
If we make an analysis between the growth of the primitive church and the present church, we observe that the present church has benefits that the faithful of the primitive church did not have, such as the proliferation of mass media, advances in transportation, health, education, among others, which have allowed the propagation of the gospel to be much more practical, comfortable and versatile. Let’s see:
- Written media: after the invention of the printing press, the transmission of the message in the local language was facilitated, which facilitated the publication of books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, among others…
- Radio: it grew at an accelerated rate, as it could reach thousands of people at a distance. The church ended up buying the rights to transmit the message, as well as opening its own radio stations to preach the message.
- Television: It allowed mankind to visualize both the sender of the message, as well as texts on the screen. Currently there is an incessant growth of Christian programming, both preaching, movies and Christian news.
- The Internet: It has grown vertiginously in the 21st century, making it possible to cut distances even more, virtually erasing the frontiers of space and time, which is why it has become the medium par excellence for the transmission of the message of Christ, both in social networks and in Christian websites and blogs.
The present church has used the means at its disposal, as well as the early church, to preach the message of salvation to non-believers, but this has also brought disunity and competition, as well as the so-called “stealing of the faithful” phenomenon.
There are even congregations that have cooled down, becoming comfortable with preaching and have stopped giving testimony, as well as losing the meaning of personal evangelism, the testimony of change, and the passion for preaching the gospel.
It is the growth that is produced by the birth or death of people in a congregation. This type of growth is very elemental: people who raise their children in the way of the Lord make the church grow biologically. A church full of young couples has a great future in this type of growth. It is usually seen in most developing countries.
The danger lies when the church depends exclusively on this type of growth, especially those that are not concerned about evangelizing new members and reaching out to others because the problem arises with older couples. The church decreases when members die, both more in number and more rapidly than the number of births.
It is considered that the greater the average age of the congregation, the greater the possibility of decreasing due to death.
Current statistics show that churches in the West are in multigenerational decline, although a more globalized and analytical approach allows us to deduce that this IS NOT entirely true in other regions.
Churches in the developing world have experienced extraordinary and sustained growth for decades. Places such as Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and Eastern Europe are going through a period of growth and revitalization. In Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Christian membership is estimated to have grown from 94 million in 1900 to 1390 million in 2010. And it is expected to continue to grow to 2290 million by 2050.
In the last century, Christianity moved from being concentrated in Europe and some other white nations to focus on Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Many of the world’s largest Christian communities are now found in these regions.
It has been observed that in certain regions where the church faces persecution, there is a greater expansion of evangelism. For example, in China, during the next decades, an increase in the number of Christians is expected as a result of this movement.
As mentioned above, the term growth is relative. There are many types of growth, depending on its meaning. When we speak of church growth, we speak of increasing or growing that which lives naturally or spiritually. It means to enlarge the effect of God’s work, according to the analogy of His operations in nature. Growth is the fundamental characteristic of the nature of the church.
With the Bible as the fundamental basis of understanding, extensive work has been done to define concepts related to “Church Growth”.
A more practical definition than the above may be: “All that is involved in bringing men and women who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ into fellowship with Him and into responsible membership in the congregation“. Here the emphasis is on the task of evangelism, the work of reconciliation, a personal relationship that produces communion with Christ, as well as the incorporation into membership of brothers and sisters also related to Christ, who is responsible and faithful to God.
There is even a science, church growth, which studies the planting, multiplication, functioning, and health of Christian churches, specifically as it relates to the implementation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). It is simultaneously a theological conviction and applied science, seeking to combine the eternal principles of the Word of God with contemporary insights from the social sciences and human behavior.
Paul was in the habit of praying for the churches every day (Ephesians 1:15-17 & Colossians 1:9-12). There is a close correlation between the quality and quantity of prayer and church growth. Some of the points for which we can pray are:
- Pray that God will continue to draw sinful souls to himself.
- That God may continually add to the church, whether numerically, physically or spiritually.
- Pray that new believers will be established in the church and have a personal encounter with Christ.
- To confirm God’s word in the life of each member.
- To feed the flock with wisdom and knowledge through the preaching of the Word of God.
- For the answer given to each prayer, both those of the congregation and those of each soul.
- For the growth achieved during a given period of time, as well as for what is to come and to receive it with joy and rejoicing.
- For ridding us of every obstacle and hindrance from the enemy and from all those who oppose the growth of the church.
- To grant peace inside and outside the church, as well as in the regions where missionary works are carried out or preaching for the conversion of souls takes place.
Constant prayer with faith is needed to move the hand of God and to ask to continue with the Great Commission that has been entrusted to us.
For many years, the style of the church itself has remained constant. The changes observed today are very recent, taking place after much deliberation and exploration, with a timid opening already at the end of the 20th century. Of course, at the beginning of the 21st century, these changes have been accentuated at lightning speed.
The modern church is defined as a charitable society, which promotes a liberalized Christian theology in aspects such as gender, sexuality, relationships between believers, religion, and science, as well as biblical interpretation and teaching, the role of secularism, and the role of women as pastors, among other aspects.
The modern church is more focused on community and social concerns and tends to deliver the message of God and His Word through entertainment. In other words, sermons are now delivered in a more personalized and stylized way.
His style is more open and appealing, in close relationship with traditions and accepting new customs from unknown sources. Understand this as an opposition between theological liberalism and dogmatism. Modernity has affected solidarity and spirituality even in the most dedicated and conservative groups, which have been exchanged for individuality and technological dependence.
There are many paths to take when wanting to grow the church. What does the Bible say? From the moment the church was established, be it the universal church or its local congregation, God’s purpose has been its constant growth. This is the instrument through which the Kingdom of God is extended. It is here to proclaim the testimony of Christ and to announce to the world by miraculous signs the truth of God’s message.
The apostle Paul, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, knew exactly that the growth of the church is made up of growing Christians. That is why he took the time to pray (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13) and instruct (1 Thessalonians 4:2-12) in his epistles addressed to the communities he had visited on his missionary journeys, which enabled the early church to grow and survive beyond his death.
Growth comes from God, but while it provides numerical growth, it also provides spiritual growth for the proper edification and maturity of believers, as we read in Ephesians 4:16 & Colossians 2:19 & 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, as well as explaining that this growth, besides being a slow and gradual process, is a dynamic and definite progression, not something static, as we read in Ephesians 2:21.
Beyond marketing strategies or promotion of the local congregation, growth is given by God, since Acts reveals that it is God who adds to those who are saved every day, just as Paul also defined that growth is given only by God. Let us consider what is the practical way to achieve true church growth by briefly analyzing the history of the early church described in the book of Acts.
An essential aspect of growth is to consider the mental attitude and willingness of the faithful to expand the community. We can deduce that an essential pillar is a brotherly love, not just rigid and inflexible authority in the church.
Another essential factor is the proclamation of the gospel in spite of difficulties and persecutions. In spite of adversity, the saints of the early church did not cease to proclaim the gospel of Christ.
Another essential pillar was the building of the church on the Word of God. Unlike today’s world, which relies on the written Word, the early Christians relied only on the teachings of the apostles and the constant revelation of the Holy Spirit. They did not even have the Internet, or radio and television, or writings beyond the Old Testament. In spite of this, the brethren complemented each other’s deficiencies and corrected each other when they were wrong.
As a decisive factor, prayer and communion with the Holy Spirit, beyond the authority of the apostles, allowed for extraordinary growth, both internally and numerically. It was in this way that the early church achieved growth and maturity, leaving an indelible legacy that endures to this day. Churches today need to be united in prayer and living in communion with the Holy Spirit, maintaining brotherly love and courageously preaching the truth in order to strengthen and grow.
We can understand growth as the extension of the community of the faithful of the church, both in numbers and within the congregation itself. This growth can be of various types, although the most common and most studied today are numerical growth and internal growth.
The church growth movement is relatively young. Born in 1965 with the publication of writings by McGavran, who encouraged other writers and theologians to focus on church growth, all of which led to a phenomenon of a massive expansion of the movement, which eventually became a congregation and a reference for other churches.
Although the Bible does not speak much about church growth, we can understand that the book of Acts provides details about how the early church grew and organized itself, just as the Apostle Paul, in his epistles to Ephesians, Thessalonians, and Colossians, wrote and paid special attention to instructing about the internal growth and maturity of the faithful, beyond the numerical growth of the congregation.
There are many ways to make the church grow: organizing massive events, distributing advertisements, setting goals for the parishioners that lead to new members…
It should be noted that growth is also conditioned by living in brotherly love, attachment to the Word of God, courageous and bold preaching of the Gospel in the midst of adversity, and constant prayer and communion with the Holy Spirit.