This article presents the concept of ‘church growth’ alongside evangelism primarily in the book of Acts. While the Old Testament describes evangelism as people coming to God, Luke’s perspective shows that God’s servants will go to his people. Blauw’s thesis is that “a centripetal missionary consciousness becomes in fact a centrifugal missionary activity…” (1974, 34). In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pigs looked from pig to man and back, but couldn’t tell the difference on the last page of the text which, by extension, shows what might happen if the church wants to imitate the world. One cannot replace the methods or principles that brought about the growth of the New Testament church in our own era.
TYPES OF CHURCH GROWTH
1. Internal: This is the spiritual growth of Christians. A right relationship with God and man is established. Many Christians quote John 3:16 which demonstrates God’s love for man without considering I John 3:16 which focuses on man’s love for his neighbor.
2. Expansion: This is accomplished by evangelizing non-Christians within the area of operation of the church or ministry.
3. Extension: This is the growth of the church by the establishment of daughter churches within the same general homogeneous group and geographic area.
4. Bridge: This focuses on planting churches in different cultural and geographic areas.
CHURCH GROWTH: WAYS TO INCREASE
1. Biological growth: children of existing members entering the church.
2. Transfer the growth of members of a church that unites with another church.
3. Conversion growth: the entry into the church of people from around the world who are converted by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Evangelism: Evangelism in Acts is the communication of the good news of Jesus Christ through verbal proclamation and lifestyle witness, with the intent of leading a person or group to salvation in Christ.
Church Growth: This is the quantitative and qualitative development of the church. It is different from the ‘bloating’ that is common and dangerous in the contemporary church. The African Church is dismissed as one mile wide and one inch deep, implying that parameters other than numbers account for church growth. Church growth could also be seen as an application of biblical, anthropological, and sociological principles to congregations, denominations, and their communities in an effort to disciple the greatest number of people for Jesus Christ. Believing that it is God’s will that His Church grow and His lost children be found, Church Growth strives to formulate strategies, develop goals, and apply proven growth principles to individual congregations, denominations, and the worldwide body of Christ.
Church Growth Eyes: This is a characteristic of Christians who have achieved the ability to see growth possibilities and apply appropriate strategies to obtain maximum results for Christ and his church.
Church Growth Principle: According to McGavran and Ann, this is “a universal truth that, when correctly interpreted and applied, contributes significantly to the growth of churches and denominations. It is a truth from God that leads his church to spread his Good News, plant church after church, and increase its body” (1977, p.15).
1. Prayer or Spiritual Warfare
Prayer is essential for the growth of the church. John Stott comments that after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples’ prayers had two characteristics that “are two essential elements of true prayer, namely, that they persevered and were of one mind” (1990, 10). The principle of unified prayer, or prayer with one mind and purpose, is a common thread throughout Acts. Luke’s initial description of the 120 (1:5) shows that they followed Christ’s command to wait for the Holy Spirit by obediently praying as a group WITH ONE MIND. See also Acts 4:18 (Sanhedrin); Acts 12:5 (Herod); Acts 11:11 (Peter’s rescue).
2. A clear and unique vision
In the King James Version, Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The vision is God’s dream of what he wants to accomplish in and through our lives and the lives of our churches. Many churches have vision statements that they never use. What God blesses with success in one place is not necessarily his plan for any other. Every growing church has a unique sense of vision and purpose, a clear sense of direction. The church planter and the milkman share a common vision of what God wants that church to accomplish. In most cases, the church planter and the people can clearly describe and articulate their vision. This gives people a sense of direction. They are moving towards a goal. They are not simply existent.
A vigorous, growing church is catalyzed by dynamic leadership that draws the entire church into action. In order for the church planter to function as a good leader, he must have certain specific character qualities and carry out certain specific leadership responsibilities. The church planter must truly desire church growth and must be willing to pay the price with hard work. Leadership must lead the work to organize the mission, set goals, develop plans, and mobilize people for achievement. He must be creative, innovative and assertive regarding the vision and mission that God has for his work.
4. The recognition and importance of milk
People at work must be equipped to discover and use their gifts. They must be ready to take on new responsibilities and willingly hand over various leadership positions to other new people as the church continues to grow or expand.
5. Strategic Planning
The idea is to develop ongoing strategies that help achieve the mission of the church. These should move the church toward realizing the achievement of its vision. With specific instructions from the Savior, the Apostles established a strategy to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Nehemiah positioned his people in areas of interest. Paul went to the synagogue and then to the agora, which was both a market place and a center of public life (Acts 7:17). A good church website can help your church grow. Unfortunately, there is a war going on in this technological age: Technophilia vs. Technophobia. Many Rip Van wrinkles exist in contemporary times. Many church leaders have not yet realized the potential of a website for church growth. However, a church website designed specifically to reach outsiders, integrated with other appropriate outreach strategies, could be an important key to attracting non-Christians to your church.
6. Life Development Groups
This could be stated as the principle of assimilation. Perhaps the most important aspect of this principle is that the church should be structured in a way that develops an organizational foundation for growth. The larger the base, the greater the possibilities for growth. Life development groups provide a critical function in facilitating the growth of a church, eg Sunday school groups, youth fellowship, ministries (men, women, youth, children), etc.
Paul and Barnabas left the indigenous churches with a leadership that would provide direction after the departure of the apostles. Although the forms of government of the church vary in the New Testament, they appointed elders to continue their leadership functions. The elders were inside the church (“in every church” Acts 14:23) completing the indigenization process.
8. Open Gospel
In the early church, some viewed Christians as Jews who had received Jesus as the promised Savior. Consequently, any Gentile who wishes to become a Christian must first become a Jew. This ‘closed’ gospel was a great concern for Christians like Paul. The Jerusalem Council became a turning point in the history of the early church. Neither circumcision nor adaptation to the Jewish community would be a requirement. Christians today must discover the same attitude toward the unbelieving world. Is the gospel open today, or does it carry the baggage of cultural expectations, the idolatry of tradition, etc.? One does not necessarily have to become a member of his tribe before being a Christian.
9. Follow up
The mission of the church is to win souls. Therefore, evangelism is not treated as a single principle since that is the primary mission of the church. The related concept of ‘following’ is crucial for young Christians. According to Acts 15:36, “some days later, Paul said to Barnabas: Let us go again and visit our brothers in all the cities where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do it.” The following could be considered as a maternal instinct. It is a deliberate focus on young and new believers for the purpose of spiritual guidance and counseling.
According to John Wesley, leading souls to Christ without a discipleship program is begetting children for the devil. Church growth increases when each member becomes part of the body (Ephesians 4:16; Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:12-22, etc.) and is in danger when they do not identify with the body . . What we have learned must be entrusted to the faithful in order to teach others as well. The importance of Bible study, Sunday school classes, etc. cannot be overstated.
11. Sovereignty (Supreme Authority of God)
Despite the abundance of conflicts and setbacks in the early church, Luke clearly communicates that God is the ultimate victor. Acts, in one perspective, is a narrative of God’s sovereign work in the midst of external and internal forces that would thwart any ‘normal’ movement. Although we are the vehicles for communicating the Gospel, our strength and power come from God. He gives the growth after ‘planting’ and ‘watering’, He makes everything beautiful, not in our time, but in his time. One sows, another waters but God gives the growth. The clay does not matter the intention of the Potter.
Blauw, J. The Missionary Nature of the Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1974.
McGavran Donald A. and Winfield C. Arn. Ten steps to church growth. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
Stot, John. The Spirit, the Church and the World. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity, 1990.
Wagner, Peter C., editor. Church growth: the state of the art. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986.