The Truth About Church Growth

Acts 16:5, “So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.

Sorry. Just can’t seem to stop myself these days…

Many of you don’t know me. I am a total stranger to you. That being the case, let me give you a little bit of necessary background. I spent about 18 years as a “professional” minister. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not using the word in a negative sense. I have nothing against pastors, evangelists, missionaries, etc. In fact, if God should ever open the door for us to enter full-time ministry again, I am so there. My bags are already packed. I’m just waiting on the Lord, waiting here on the backside of the desert. Just waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Okay…I use the word “professional” as a descriptive word. It was my full-time calling and source of living for almost two decades. As a result, I understand the pressure that most pastors and church leaders face. It’s not easy. Particularly in a day and age when success is so often defined by the size of your church.

Numbers. Why the fascination with numbers? I still have vivid memories of the annual meetings. Pastors from around the state would meet for 3 days of business and inspiration. Between sessions we would roam the hallways, reconnecting with old friends and meeting fellow laborers in the Lord. Without fail one question always came up within the first 5 minutes. “So, brother, how many are you running these days?” And with that one question the doors were flung wide open. From that point forward we took turns trying to impress one another with exaggerated numbers and fanciful church growth programs that we had recently incorporated. All in an effort to validate our callings, hoping the whole while that we could impress everyone else. I have nothing against big churches. The problem is when we become sidetracked and lose sight of true kingdom priorities. Church growth as we teach it these days is not always real church growth.

In the book of Acts you find a repeated pattern. You find it in places like 6:7 and 9:31. And you find it again in this passage. Luke, in recounting for us the early days of the church, makes a clear correlation between the internal growth in the lives of the believers and the external growth of the church at large. Think of it in these terms. The church was growing both with regard to QUALITY and QUANTITY. The people were being strengthened. They were maturing in the faith, growing into a more personal and vibrant relationship with the Lord. The natural outcome was that the church was growing numerically. These people were deeply passionate about Jesus, even to the point that they were willing to publicly proclaim the Gospel even though it meant the threat of very real persecution. That type of passion, that type of faith is incredibly contagious. Filled with the Holy Spirit, trusting in His Word, committed to the spread of the message of the cross, it’s really little wonder that the church was growing on a daily basis. True fire is hard to extinguish.

I wonder about much of the church growth these days. A lot of numbers but not much substance in the lives of our people. You’re not going to like this but I’m going to say it anyways. We tend to be shallow. We tend to be superficial. We tend to be selfish. So many are looking for an experience when what they need is a life-changing encounter. So many want their ears tickled with feel good stories rather than the sword of the Spirit. We would rather play than pray, feast than fast, and entertain than worship. (Told you that you wouldn’t like this.) We are certainly growing our churches in terms of quantity. But I wonder if we are really growing them much in terms of quality. Just because we are growing doesn’t mean we are really growing.

Now, one final word before we all jump on the bandwagon. I don’t blame the pastors. I don’t blame church leadership. If I will be honest, I need to recognize my own role in the problem. I cannot point the finger of blame at anyone unless I am willing to admit that three fingers are pointing back at me. See, I am shallow. I am superficial. I am selfish. I would rather play than pray, feast than fast, and be entertained than invest the time and energy into true worship. I am the problem. The question is not whether my church is growing. The question is whether or not I am growing. I cannot be responsible for the person who sits next to me in the pew. I cannot complain about a need for revival fire when my own wood is soaking wet. In His Word and through the power of His Spirit I have access to all that is necessary for my own growth. If I am not growing, it’s not the pastor’s fault. It’s not the church’s fault. It’s my fault. It’s my choice. And it’s my responsiblity.

Want your church to grow? Then, start with yourself. Take a good look in the mirror of His Word. Check the quality of the soil in your life. How much time do you really invest in disciplines that foster real change? When was the last time you prayed? I can only speak for myself but there is some definite room for improvment in my life. I need to avail myself of His grace, to place myself more fully in His hands, and to open myself to His life-changing power. I need to grow. You know, His word tells me that I am His temple. I am His body. I am the dwelling place for His Spirit here in this world. If the church is going to grow, it has to start with me. I am the church.