By Jimmy Tuten
Preachers, elders and brethren are talking a great deal about the present lack of growth among churches of the Lord. Some nostalgically remember that less than forty years ago we were the fastest growing religious body in America. Now, with some exceptions, we are hardly making a dent within the ranks of our population explosion. We are going to have to do more than talk. Satan is happy as long as we talk. We must do something, and do it quickly! We need to turn our talk into plans and our plans into action. We cannot turn the present situation around overnight. But if we do not start right now with reference to reaching the lost the next twenty years are going to be more tragic. “Prophet of Doom,” you say? Why then are so many saying so much about our lack of growth? I am not alone in the conviction that the problem is the greatest that brethren of the eighties face. It can be rectified for it is not a hopeless situation. We can do something about it. Hopefully, something can be said in this writing and in others to follow (as time and space permits) to stimulate us toward a more positive attitude in church growth.
We can do exactly what the Lord expects us to do. We can grow! The early church grew. If we are faithful we can too (Acts 2:41,47; 4:4; 5:14; 9:31,35; 11:20-21). Faithfulness naturally causes us to go out into the harvest and fill the barn fuller (Matt. 9:36-38). Faithful brethren cannot but help being filled with compassion for the lost who are fainting and scattered. The Great Commission and its command, “go ye into all the world . . .,” will then take on new meaning for many of our present generation of preachers who seem to have missed the duration of “I will be with you alway” (Matt. 28:19-20). If our Lord teaches us anything in the parable of the sheep, it is deep concern for the lost. We cannot be content with the ninety-nine until even the one lost sheep is brought back into the fold. Are all hundred sheep in the fold where you worship (Gal. 6: 1)? How can we gain the lost of the world and the church?
Plan For Expansion
God Almighty Himself did not bring into being the Kingdom without a purpose or plan. How long has it been since you studied the church in purpose (Eph. 3: 10-11), prophecy (Isa. 2:2-3), preparation (Matt. 3:1-2), establishment (Acts 2) and in existence (Acts 2:47)? We will not expand or grow until we plan to do so! All successful organizations have projections for growth, goals or plans for expanding. If projections work in human organizations, will they not work in our efforts to carry out the great commission? How long has it been since you have been involved in an actual plan or projection for growth where you worship? I suggest that this is the main reason we generally are not growing. While what follows does deal with numbers (numerical growth), in this writing I am not talking about a “numbers game” (which is about all some think of when they think in terms of evangelism). There are three areas of growth that I am calling the “three measurements of growth.” We must resolve to grow in three directions: numerically, spiritually and organically. Important also is the fact that in order for the increase of the body to be what God intended for it to be, growth in all three areas must be simultaneous in nature. We witness among the liberals a swelling that is coming from their many man-made projects and gimmicks. I say, “swelling,” because this is not the “increase” my Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. The “numbers game” has resulted in a number of congregations who are lukewarm if not dead. You simply do not see the spirituality that was once so evident because it is not there! I repeat: there must be a simultaneous growth spiritually and numerically.
Plan To Grow Numerically
Churches that grow numerically must plan to grow in numbers. When the book of Acts speaks of the Jerusalem church growing in thousands and then multitudes, it is talking about increase in numbers (Acts 2:41,47; 4:4; 5:14; 9:3 1). “Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations” is a commission that involves numerical growth (Matt. 28:18). This growth comes about from both private and public efforts But I have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). This involves gospel meetings, special studies, vacation Bible schools, home study courses and reactivating of the lost art of “personal evangelism.”
Suppose though that growth in numbers is all that is happening. Is God pleased with only numerical growth? It just may be that some of our brethren’s apparent lack of desire for church growth stems from too much association with the “numbers game.” Wherever there is growth only in numbers you usually witness a watered down, weak body of half-converted people who do nothing but fuss and squabble. Some growth is not good for a church. What happens, for example, when you add another hundred people to an already argumentative group? This writer does not want to write about it. Its contemplation is mind-boggling! There has to be growth in numbers, but neglect in other areas of growth is disastrous.
Plan To Grow Spiritually
When Peter said, “make every effort to add to your faith . . . . he was speaking of a deliberate, purposeful spiritual growth (2 Pet. 1:5)., We must plan to grow spiritually. As each new level of growth in this area is achieved we must look to another area of spiritual increase. We keep planning and re-planning, teaching and re-teaching. Churches that grow in spirituality keep on planning for further growth. The past twenty years alone demonstrate that “conservative” churches who thought they had it “made” during the sixties, and who “coasted along,” have gone downhill. Among us we have too many “mentally retired” brethren who have to be re-challenged. “Ain I become your enemy because I tell you the truth” (Gal. 4:16)?
In the book of Acts (and the whole New Testament) one finds growth emphasis in this area. The record in Acts tells us of three thousand obeying the gospel on Pentecost (Acts 2). The record then says that “they were continuing daily . . . and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). Their continued spiritual growth was obvious to those with whom they came into contact (Acts 2:42). The Apostle Paul speaks of “the body by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered” (Eph. 2:19). It is obvious, therefore, that where there is no growth in quality as well as quantity, the church is ineffective and unproductive. When growth in these two areas is combined and balanced, a powerful, strong body exists. Such a congregation is prepared by offensively (in carrying out the great commission) and defensively waging war against Satan.
Plan To Grow Organically
The church must plan to grow organically. By this I mean that each member in the body must grow individually, and with this function in the body by fulfilling the special role each member has in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-20). The principle is like that of the physical body. As each part of the physical body has its own special role and function’ so each member of the church (the body of Christ) is to have his own special role and function. The summation of I Corinthians 12 is found in verse 25: “that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. ” Even those in the body of Christ “which seem to be more feeble, are necessary” (1 Cor. 12:22). Unless we are planning for a congregation of God’s people where each member stands in his or her place and functions, therels a malfunctioning body. Each must do his or her part, whether it is cutting the grass on church property or preaching, cleaning the building or preparing the Lord’s Supper, or replacing burned out light bulbs or ordering the class material. Each elder, each deacon and each member (yes, even preachers) must know their place, stand and be countedl Where this exists there will be no need for divisive substitutes that are unauthorized in the first place (i.e., Pulpit Ministers, Youth Ministers, Ministers of Education, Family Life Centers, etc.). Growing organically involves arrangement or procedure (please do not confuse this with institutionalism). It necessitates goal-setting in order that things might be done decently and in order. There is so much to be done within the local body, in every city of our great nation and so few doing anything.
So you want the church to grow? Then brethren you will have to realize that individuals, not groups, achieve goals. That each-Christian must have a personal development plan that involves thinking constantly of desired accomplishments. The church will grow when this occurs. The whole business of church growth begins with you and me. The only alternative to this is the fact that one feels that the church is big enough, that our pews are full enough and that the parking lot has enough cars in it. Too many are at ease in spiritual Zion. This is not what God wants. He wants us to grow in numbers and increasing daily in all areas. He wants us to grow into a loving, caring people, and He wants us to function according to our ability. When we do this our influence will cover each city in each state where the cause of Christ exists like the mist of the early morning. Yea, “the knowledge of the glory of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
Brethren, we have rested on our laurels long enough and those who have been along for the ride had better get busy. There is a challenge out there and how we meet it could well be the difference between heaven or hell. The fields are more white unto harvest than ever. For churches who are content to coast along, there is only one direction to go downhill! Keep challenging yourself brethren, keep planning if you want the church to grow. When growth stops, decay begins. This makes you uncomfortable, does it not? It should! Souls are at stake.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 2, pp. 44-45
January 19, 1984