By Hoyt H. Houchen
The above question is often asked by members of the church. Those who are sound in the faith will ponder upon this question, not from the standpoint of numbers alone, but as to what will make the church grow spiritually what will make a strong church, one that will be pleasing in the eyes of God. While we are interested in seeing as many souls in the church as possible, if we shall center our attention upon the following points that will be considered, and make a sincere effort to see that they are accomplished, the numbers will take care of themselves. What are some of the things that will make the church grow?
The church is the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:10-11). It is a spiritual institution with a spiritual message (Jn. 18:36; Rom. 14:17; 1 Tim. 3:15). The church is the agency through which God’s will is preached, and in the accomplishment of this work it makes known “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3: 10). God’s many-sided wisdom is seen in the church, its arrangement, its all-sufficiency to do the work that God requires it to do.
The local church, then, with Christ as its head, elders as its overseers, deacons as its servants, evangelists and saints (Phil. 1:1), is assigned the task of preaching the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15), caring for the needs of its saints (Acts 6:1-6), and edifying (Eph. 4:11-13). When the congregation, the local church, meets these responsibilities, it is faithful to the Lord in these matters. A church that will not discharge its obligation to teach the truth, or any other duty that God has enjoined upon it, cannot be considered a faithful church.
When a congregation fails to teach the truth upon any subject, the disastrous results will soon be seen. Its elders, preacher, and all others who are placed in the position of responsibility in teaching must someday stand before God and give an account for not “declaring the whole counsel of God.” The Lord said to the church at Sardis, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead” (Rev. 3:1).
A growing church is one that is faithful in its teaching.
A growing church is one whose members are devoted to prayer.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers (Acts 2:42).
The Jerusalem church was a praying church. When Peter was released from prison, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John “where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12). The Lord’s people should be a praying people. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Prayer is essential to the growth of the church.
Numbers have too often become the center of attraction. Elders, preachers, and many other members of the local church are too often influenced by the flashy appearance of numbers. It is supposed too often that numbers reflect bigness, popularity, and prestige. Elders are too often absorbed by the material building improvements, details and errands that can be assigned to others, than by their main line of work, which is watching in behalf of souls (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; Heb. 13:17). When the work of benevolence had been assigned by the apostles, they said, “But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The material did not deter the apostles from their main line of work.
Preachers may be so absorbed by clerical work, social activities, and details in general, that they do not take the time to study, read, meditate, and “preach the word,” the real work of an evangelist (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2-5). Members in general are too often so swayed by the world, television, pleasure trips, business, and other enterprises, until they become disinterested in spiritual things and become unfaithful in attendance at services. Worldliness is the attitude that is basically responsible for our problems within the church; it destroys spirituality (see Col. 3:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:17). Spiritual emphasis is necessary for the growth of the church.
Perseverance in Persecution
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Members of the church who stand for the truth “shall” suffer persecution. It is not “maybe” or “perhaps,” but “shall.” Persecution defined is “the act of persecuting; cruel oppression. Any period of systematic oppression, infliction of torture, death, etc., on account of religious belief. Persistent petty annoyance. A persecution” (Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary).
Who would be better qualified to know that the godly shall be persecuted than the apostle Paul? In verse eleven, preceding the verse quoted above, Paul refers to some of his hardships when he writes of “persecutions, sufferings; what things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: and out of them all the Lord delivered me.”
There are different ways by which the godly are persecuted. (1) By being inflicted with injury personally and even bodily. It has always been true that if a man’s message cannot be answered, then destroy the man. (2) By being placed in some unfavorable circumstance or light. This is illustrated today when brethren are charged with not believing in caring for the orphans, not believing in cooperation, and in being opposed to “mission work.” These accusations are made for the purpose of placing us in an unfavorable position so that the unscriptural projects can be better perpetrated. (3) By being shunned, isolated, and boycotted. As was true in the battle over mechanical instruments of music in worship and the missionary society, ways and means are found to limit the influence of those who oppose the innovations today. These are but a few of the many ways persecutions come to those who stand up for the truth and live godly.
Persecution is certain to come upon those who will fight to maintain the right. Since it is to be expected, we are not to pull out the “crying towel,” but rather to rejoice that we can be “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). Jesus said in Matthew 5:11,12,
Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.
Perseverance in persecution will make the church grow. Following the stoning of Stephen, “there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8: 1). We are told in verse four, “They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word. ” Persecution will weed out the weak, and it will make the strong stronger. Indeed, it will separate the “men” from the “boys.”
Liberality in Giving
The early church was liberal in its giving. Possessions were sold by the early Christians in order that needy saints could be relieved (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35)., Such liberality was manifested, as in another case of such, because “first they gave their own selves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5). God’s people have been taught to give by God their Father, who sent and gave his only begotten Son, that through him the world might be redeemed (Jn. 3:16). The world’s redeemer and the Christian’s advocate gave himself.
When people are truly converted to the Lord, they will give. They know that the Bible teaches them to give, and they are happy because they are able to give. Paul wrote:
Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).
When the Lord’s people give their money, their time, their service, and all that they can toward the advancement of the Lord’s cause, the gospel will be preached, souls will be saved, and more work will be done that the Lord expects the church to accomplish, than by all of the promotional schemes that man can devise.
Liberality in giving will make the church grow.
Purity in Living
It is not enough to know the truth, believe the truth, and preach the truth. Living pure lives is also essential to the growth of the church. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 5:13-16,
Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Niether do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
A few years ago, a preacher was in a Japanese compound, telling a little Japanese girl about Jesus and how his disciples are the salt of the earth. The little girl looked up into the eyes of the preacher, and, with tears in her eyes and with an expression of confidence, said, “I know why Jesus said that his disciples are the salt of the earth.” The preacher asked her why. She replied, “So the world will be thirsty for Jesus! “
The old adage, “I had rather see a sermon than hear one any day,” still remains true. Paul wrote to Titus that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12).
These are six things that will make the church grow. The church that will please the Lord is the one that is sound in the faith, its members following the teaching of Jesus Christ, and living out the principles that he taught. A church of this kind will grow, and will grow in the way that the Lord wants it to grow.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 4, pp. 97, 119-120
February 16, 1989