40th Anniversary! The Issues Today Church Growth

By Don Willis

The church of the New Testament era was a growing church! About 3,000 individuals obeyed the gospel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). As truth was preached, the Lord added additional souls on a daily basis (Acts 2:47). Multitudes were added to the Lord (Acts 5:14). Later, “the number of the disciples was multiplied” (Acts 6:1).

Jewish persecution brought havoc to the church; thus, disciples were scattered. Everywhere they went, they carried the message of salvation (Acts 8:4). This is reminiscent of the scattering of the nations at the tower of Babel. In order to accomplish God’s purposes, mankind needed to scatter across the continents of the world. Thus, God con-fused their language. In order for Christians to go carry the message, persecution drove them from Jerusalem. “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21).

Jesus commanded the apostles to go preach the gospel to every creature (Matt.28:19; Mark 16:15-16), with the further command to teach them to observe that which Jesus commanded the apostles (Matt.28:20). “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers…” (Heb. 5:12).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Rom.1:16). We are not to be ashamed of this gospel, and are debtors to share this great truth with others (Romans I context). Christians are to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:18). We are to seek individuals to teach and turn to the Lord.

Christians live in cities, communities, and subdivisions. We are here for a purpose: that Christ may be seen living in us! Early Christians were “praising God, and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3:2). In our communities, Christians are a “sweet savour of Christ,” an example of godliness, a beacon of the Lord’s light. Truly, we are the “savour of death to death, and life unto life” (2 Cor. 2:14-17). We dare not fail!

Ezekiel was God’s “watchman” unto Israel. “But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand” (Ezek. 33:6, my emphasis, DW). The only way God’s word can be taken unto the lost is by God’s people! We are “debtors” to the lost.

The diminishing number of baptisms must be laid at our feet! The gospel is still powerful. There are growing numbers of people in our communities. All of these have souls. These can and must be reached with the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. God does not save people by miraculous intervention! His only means to reach the lost is by his people  you and me!

Nehemiah told his people to be ready to fight and work (Neh. 4:17)! We must fight the good fight of faith, we must content earnestly for the faith, we must stand like men. And, we need to commend those who are able and ready to publicly defend the truth of God. This is a time in which work must be done! One cannot fight with his brethren and work at the same time. We cannot fight among our-selves! We are workers “together.” As each individual performs the work of Christ as he is capable, the church will be built up (Eph. 4:16). The church is not one member, but many. Each member has different talents to be utilized for the growth of the Lord’s work (read 1 Cor.12).

For the church to grow now and in the 21st century, we need to renew some attitudes.

A Desire to Grow

We cannot be satisfied with the status-quo! A church may have 100-500 members and think of the great work that is being done; when in reality all we are doing is meeting to worship (and meeting for worship is required of God). In order to please God, the lost must hear the truth! We are the instrument!

A Plan To Grow

Nothing planned, nothing accomplished! First, the attitude within the congregation will need to be fine tuned to the lost. Paul said he became all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:19-23) and so must we. We must provide the atmosphere in which to learn: love that cares, patience and long suffering in reaching out to the lost. One is not seeking to “skin the sectarians,” but to win souls to Jesus Christ! “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God…. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-25).

Second, pettiness must be put aside. The Devil raises internal issues that will consume all the time of the elders and preachers. The Devil will win  because he will divert us from the task of God: converting lost individuals unto the Lord. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15).

An Effort To Grow

Invite people! An attitude must be born within the congregation of mutual love and appreciation. When this love is present, and brethren enjoy the assembling, effort will be expanded to invite the lost into the midst. As long as we are bickering, biting, fussing, and fighting one another, it is useless to invite the lost.

Give challenges to the membership to grow! Set some goals! Try a little harder! Each new individual that is encouraged to attend represents one very precious soul, worth more than all the treasures of the earth (Matt. 16:26).

You invite people! Canvas your own street, subdivision, office staff, fellow workers! Talk about Jesus when you fill the auto gas tank. Direct the discussion at the grocery store. Always tell others that you are a Christian, and offer to pick them up and bring them to worship.

Set up a Bible study in your home or in the home of a friend. Invite others about the same age. Enjoy the study and point people to the Lord! Possibly, use the Jule Miller video series. These have been used (when they were only slides) most of my preaching life with tremendous success! Carry gospel tracts in your purse. Some churches are using a first principle tape a month. Carry one in your possession at all times, and offer to let some have it. Do something, quit bellyaching!

A Recognition of Growth

Introduce new members, restored members, plus those who are new in the congregation. Plan sermons that will strengthen new Christians (the older members have forgot-ten some of that same material). Stabilize faith. It would be practical to think back to sermons preached in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Do not be deceived into “Dale Carnegie” soft preaching. Our duty is to “preach the truth” (2 Tim. 4:2). We need to get excited with baptizing people, and quit complaining that no one will listen anymore!

A Maturing and Training of Christians

Jesus sent disciples out in two’s. Training takes place by doing. Work with one another! Be patient in going over points again and again. Be careful that “older” Christians not discourage what is being done. They will often complain: “Too much first principle preaching; not enough meat.” Most of-ten this is done by members who only frequently attend, are not involved, are not teaching other individuals.


Brethren, if we are not reaching the lost with the gospel, we are failing in the Great Commission! Why are denominational churches growing  if no one is interested?! “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-7). God’s word will not return void, but will accomplish its purpose (Isa. 55:11; Acts 11:21). But, it must be taught.

If we fail to “sound the warning” (Ezek. 33:6), God will hold us responsible. The people of the world is our goal!

Guardian of Truth XLI: 1 p. 20-21
January 2, 1997