2007-05-30 / Religion

Essentials Of True Growth

by: Rev. Benjamin Miller

I think all of us as Christians have contemplated church growth at some point. Pastors are particularly susceptible to this as our evaluations are often determined by the numbers added to our congregation. You cannot walk into a Christian bookstore without seeing any number of books related to the question of church growth. I will not claim to have figured out the secret of church growth. Lord knows, I struggle as much as anyone else. However, it seems clear to me that the Bible ought to be the final authority on the matter. What it says regarding church growth ought to be what is implemented in all churches. And, as a matter of fact, it has been proven to work.

As we begin this discussion, let me address what church growth is not. Church growth is not measured by the number of people we shift from one church to another. This is not church growth. I illustrate this by separating five apples into two groups: a group of three apples and a group of two apples. If you take one apple from either group and place it in the other group, how many apples do you have? You still have five apples. The total number has not increased at all. But, what happens if we bring in an orange? Suddenly you have six pieces of fruit; growth has taken place. Churches do not have to worry about getting members from other churches. There are plenty of people in the world, even in Colquitt, who have never accepted the Lord or been a part of a local church. Where then should our focus be?

Having climbed off that soapbox, I want to suggest a few things that should be practiced in the church to promote true, spiritual growth in our local assemblies. First, notice the emphasis that is placed upon the doctrine of the apostles. The men are not the center of attention, but it is the message they speak. They have become the New Testament version of the prophets of old, preaching the message of God to those who desperately need to hear it. It is this Word that has framed the world and created everything from nothing. This Word was essential to their fellowship. Why then is the Word such an unimportant part in our worship today? Dare we think we can neglect God's Word and still flourish as God's people?

Secondly, they practiced personal fellowship. In the present reality, this is a lost art. Our lives as a church do not reach beyond our association at the church building. The church of Acts knew of no boundaries between their corporate lives and their private lives. They were first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ, joint-heirs with Him for all eternity. They gave freely to those who had need (v. 44), met together in table fellowship in their homes (v. 46), and worshiped together as a people of God. Their expression of fellowship was preparation for an eternity of fellowship. So it should be today. The present is a proving ground for eternity. We ought to care for the lives of those around us and allow them to be a part of our lives.

Thirdly, the early church practiced the ordinances. These ordinances were those events commanded by God to be observed for perpetuity in the church. Specifically mentioned here are the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper (lit. the breaking of the bread). These spiritual events were not done sheepishly, but proudly as they were visible reminders of the truth of Christianity. They conveyed spiritual truth to all those who experienced them. Today, though, we avoid those ordinances as being uncomfortable or embarrassing. These services often draw the least of our attendance. How far we have come from what the early church of Acts was! Can we recapture the importance of the ordinances in our present churches?

Finally, the believers prayed for one another. Communication with God was real to them. It was not a meaningless ritual without feeling or passion. They spoke with God as if He were in their midst. In truth, He was. Their needs for forgiveness and provision were recognized as only being provided for by God Himself. Based on Christ's finished work on the cross, they presented these requests to God unabashedly and boldly sought God's activity on their behalf. Oh, that God's people would pray today as they did then. Imagine the fervor of a church who found a way to recapture the lost art of communication with God. Imagine the answers God would bestow on His people if we would but ask His help.

What is clear in this passage is the principle of numerical growth through spiritual growth. The responsibility is a corporate one, binding upon the greatest to least. If we desire to see our churches grow, we ourselves must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must implement His teachings as we seek to love one another with His love and compassion. What is the outcome of this? The Lord added to their church daily (v. 47). What could He do in ours if we practiced what He preached?

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