It has barely been a month since being inducted into my new charge and I am already thinking about “church growth”. For me, experiencing growth within a congregation is not something that happens because I “perform” well, or because I successfully implemented some creative “outreach” initiatives. No, my expectation for congregational growth comes largely from two things:
1) Jesus promises growth
2) Growth was the normal experience of the Early Church
While I recognize that growth occurs at different rates, and often over a long period of time, my confidence comes from the declaration of Jesus who promises, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
This does not mean that I can sit idly by, and expect the Lord to grow the congregation I serve. I’m mindful of the call for us to “pray to the Lord of the harvest” (Luke 10:2), and the need for us to actively pursue those living apart from the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 15). What the promise of Jesus (Mt. 16:18) does is it assures us that such efforts will not be in vain.
It delights me to read about the experience of growth in the Early Church. I note that they did not have a state-of-the-art facility or a “cutting edge”, culturally relevant, strategy. What I observe is their genuine, earnest, devotion to the Lord evidenced in their attentiveness to the Scriptures, to prayer, and to one another (Acts 2:42-46). I also note that their community gathering was not a weekly thing, but an every day thing. Even their “personal possessions” were not off limits—selfless generosity carried the day.
And the result? “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
We are nearly 2000 years removed from the Early Church. It is common to cite how dramatically things have changed in the world since then, and it is tempting to suggest that we can no longer expect such growth in our present day. And yet, I do not think that the promise of Jesus has an expiry date. Accordingly, I am compelled to believe the congregation growth should be the normal experience of the 21st Century Church.
There is work to be done. We must pray. We must engage our not-yet-Christian friends. We must proclaim Christ with our words and with our lifestyle, but we should do so encouraged by the promise of Christ to build His Church.
At St. Andrew’s Kirk, on Sunday, June 27, I exhorted (audio message below) the congregation here to actively pursue those living apart from Christ. Some have already begun that work. I pray that this continues and that eventually we too will experience what is commonly referred to as “church growth”.