Thursday, September 26, 2013

Church Growth 101

When we talk about church growth in the 21st century we are almost exclusively speaking of how many people attend the local church gathering on a weekly basis, predominately Sunday morning.  Mega churches seem to be the pinnacle of achievement in the ministry with the idea that larger is better and larger is the margin by which we measure success.  I think we would agree, there is nothing inherently wrong with a numerically large church.  A lot of ministry can be accomplished in the name of Jesus when a large number of believer’s pool God’s resources and spiritual gifts.  However, is numerical achievement really the biblical measure of success?  Is a church with 600 attendees on Sunday morning more successful than the church with 300, or 200, or 100?  Is the mega church paradigm what every pastor and church staff should be reaching for?  Let’s think about it.

There are three ways a church today grows numerically.  The first way is when born again believers from one church move to another church.  If a local church becomes the most attractive to believers in the community, there is a strong likelihood that Christians will move from surrounding congregations and the church will experience numerical growth.  There are local churches that take this approach, they desire to be the most dynamic church around, the happening place.  I actually heard of a Christian who chose the church he and his family would attend based on the fact the church seemed to be “happening” (whatever that means).  This type of growth is not really growth at all, it is just moving sheep from one pasture to another. 
The second way a church grows numerically is to be as attractive to as many people as possible, saved and lost.  This is the seeker sensitive model of ministry.  The idea is, let’s get as many lost people as possible to attend the Sunday morning service with the hope they will get saved.  The inherent problem with this model of church growth is twofold; (1) We have to use methods that appeal to the sinful flesh of lost people if we are going to get them to like church, i.e., we have to entertain and wow them, and (2) The biblical model of church (the ecclesia) is a gathering of saints, the redeemed of Christ, for fellowship, worship, and instruction in God’s Word.  Lost people cannot worship God because they are lost, they don’t care about Bible study, and fellowship will be superficial and fleshly.  The lost are not going to like church unless they get saved and if they like church without being saved there is a problem with what’s going on at the gathering of the saints, the ecclesia.  Before someone takes issue with this statement, it has nothing to do with being kind, welcoming, or showing the lost the love of Christ.  It has to do with the fact that truth is always confrontational, particularly when we speak truth into the life of one who is lost.  I pastor a church and it has been my experience that when a lost person is presented with a clear explanation of their sin and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are immediately put on the horns of a dilemma.  Believing on Jesus by faith unto salvation or rejecting Him is a definitive decision.  Most lost people don’t enjoy being confronted with that decision every week.  The most likely reason a lost person would enjoy attending a particular church is they are never confronted with the seriousness of sin and their desperate need to be saved.  If a lost person continues to attend a church because they are hearing the truth, that means God is working in their heart and sooner or later they will most likely come to Christ and be saved.
The third way a church grows is by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and seeing lost men and women, young people, boys and girls come to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  This is the biblical pattern of church growth.  We find the model in Acts 2.  Pentecost marked the birth of the church.  The Holy Spirit came and filled the  believers as they met together.  Some Jews who saw the effect of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers accused the believers of being drunk on wine.  Peter took the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the naysayers, giving a dynamic exposition of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When Peter finished his sermon, the people were convicted and “pricked in their heart” (Acts 2.37).  They asked Peter what they should do?  Peter told them to repent of their sins, believe on Jesus by faith unto salvation, and be baptized as an outward testimony to their salvation by faith.  That day some 3,000 souls were saved and added to the kingdom (Acts 2.41).  That is church growth.
To summarize, healthy church growth, biblical church growth, must be centered on the Word of God.  If a Christian moves from one church to another, the clear teaching of God’s Word at the new church should be a major consideration.  Evangelism, actively sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, should be a cornerstone of any local church ministry.  The church will grow if lost people are coming to know Jesus.  We are infatuated today with numbers.  The goal seems to be, how many people can we pursued to attend the church service on Sunday morning.  Perhaps we might focus on the Word of God, sharing the Gospel, and being the church Jesus created us to be.  Church growth is really not about the numbers, the numbers are secondary and will be what God wants them to be in the church where we each serve.  Jesus is still the Lord of His Church and He is still in charge of its growth, not us.


  1. I agree with the third method.

  2. I think the goal is church my opinion this will lead to church growth. In some cases it may result in a mega church, in others a small but vital congregation. The goal in this model is to be as close to the Lord as possible knowing that reaching the lost will be a vital part.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  3. Terry,
    Well said. Thank you for contributing.