— 10 —
Why do many churches place an
emphasis on church growth?

There is no purer motive for a church than to want its pews filled with people who hunger for God. After all, the primary purpose of the church is to reach the masses with the saving message of Christ, "...not desiring any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).

However, a Biblical mandate for church growth is probably best associated with Jesus' commission for His church to go and "...make disciples" (Matt. 28:19). Not only does God want persons to be saved, but He wants them to be discipled into spiritually mature believers who will carry on His ministry — and it requires the environment of the church to do this. There, the believer is taught the word, has the guidance and correction of spiritual authority, and through worship and fellowship, will develop spiritual virtues, including a deeper love for God and others. Consequently, the Lord not only wants people to get saved, He wants them joined to a local body of believers, just as they were in the early church. "...the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

One of the prominent authorities on church growth, Dr. C. Peter Wagner, views this as the strongest motive for a growing congregation. He says "Evangelism is not only reaching people with the Gospel message and bringing them to a decision for Christ, it is making them disciples... To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit that men and women shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church. This ties commitment to Christ with commitment to the church. God's will is clear... He wants men and women everywhere to come to Him and into the church of Jesus Christ."

A desire for a growing church is one thing — but actually experiencing it is another. Despite the great emphasis of the American church growth movement, with scores of how-to books, tapes and seminars, the majority of churches are still not growing. Perhaps the reason for this lies with misdirected priorities — "getting the cart before the horse."

To illustrate this, some years ago a pastor described his prolonged struggle to get his church to grow. He tried many of the popular strategies and methods with little success. He finally withdrew from this emphasis, deciding instead to refocus his ministry toward the spiritual discipleship of his small flock. He determined that Christ would be the core of the ministry in every way possible. He personally rededicated his life to Christ's example of godliness, prayer and the Word — more than ever, Jesus became the center of his preaching — he constantly taught people to follow the love, character and example of Christ. To his surprise, the church began to do what it wouldn't previously... it started to grow. And as he continued his Christ-centered ministry, the church eventually grew to considerable size. Without realizing, he stumbled across important priorities that relate to church growth.

First, we must remember, Jesus is the one who builds His church, not us. He said, "...I will build My church..." (Matt. 16:18). There are numerous philosophies and methods of church growth being circulated today, but Jesus must always be at the center. Pastors and leaders need to use caution lest they find themselves trying to substitute man's wisdom and methodology in the place of the Lord. The Bible says, "Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it..." (Psa. 127:1).

Secondly, the church needs to concentrate on its main objective, to live Jesus and preach Jesus. During His earthly ministry, Christ never had a problem drawing a crowd. Therefore, if Jesus is effectively personified in the church, by being lifted up in our message and lifestyle, His presence will have the same drawing power to bring souls to His church. Growth is not really the primary goal, but is the natural derivative of lifting up Jesus Christ. "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (John 12:32).

With Jesus in the center stage of our philosophy, there are many concepts, authored by many outstanding leaders, which may be helpful to the church growth process. Without attempting to list them all, there are three basic issues that every church should take in consideration:

(1) The Profile of a Growing Church — It has been said that when a church begins to absorb and emulate the character of Jesus, it will exhibit the qualities and climate that naturally lend toward growth.

My personal, pastoral philosophy has always been that "the seeds for growth are in the fruit." In other words, it is a fact of nature that within the fruit of each species (such as apples, peaches or grapes), there are seeds that will yield the offspring of future harvests. Similarly, the character of spiritual fruit in the church bears spiritual seed that contributes toward the harvest of souls. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). Spiritual fruit is the loving, sweet personality of Jesus that warms the heart. Therefore, development of the spiritual character of the church contributes toward church growth.

Below are listed the statistical traits of a growing congregation, each of which can be related to spiritual fruit and a mature relationship with Christ.

    (a) Love — a genuine care for other people.
    (b) Commitment — a deep sense of direction and purpose.
    (c) Openness — to new people and new ideas.
    (d) Unity — respect for, and harmony with the team.
    (e) Flexibility — willingness to make changes when needed.
    (f) Vision — an attitude and expectancy for growth.

(2) The Primary Agent of Church Growth — There is the frequent misconception that church growth comes as a result of the wonderful preaching and warm personality of the pastor, or because of the visitation programs, or by conducting great crusades with well-known speakers. All these things have their value, however statistics show that the reason for increased numbers originates elsewhere. The Institute for American Church Growth interviewed 10,000 church attenders to learn how they came into their church.

    The percentage of people shown below attended for the following reasons:

    2.0% ..... Due to a special Need
    3.0% ..... Just walked in
    6.0% ..... Because of the Pastor's influence
    1.0% ..... In response to visitation from the church
    5.0% ..... Due to interest in Sunday School
    0.5% ..... In response to a special crusade
    3.0% ..... Because of interest in a particular program
    79.0% ..... From the influence of a friend or relative

It may come as a surprise that the most potent agent of church growth is the person in the pew — and the majority of those who will come into the church consist of their own family or friends. The church begins to grow when Christ's body identify themselves with His great commission, to "go into their world" and reach out to the persons they already know (Mark 16:15).

(3) The Glue of Church Growth — It's one thing to get people to come to church, and it's quite another to get them to stay. The assimilation of individuals into the church is probably the most important element to growth. Generally speaking, the two great reasons why persons stick in a church are (1) relationship bonds, and (2) a task or role of service that provides a sense of purpose. Finding ways to help people develop relationships in the church, and getting them involved in its ministries will help to stop the revolving door tendency, and result in a growing adherence to the church.

It is believed that these two church adhesives are best developed in the environment of a condensed sub group, sometimes referred to as a "cell." The smaller climate better enables people to get to know each other and develop "relationship bonds," something that's not very easy in a larger setting. And in the smaller group, everyone is able to be used in their gift or a special "role of service," something not always possible when there are many gifted people in a large church. In some churches, Sunday School classes or other specific groups for youth, men or women fulfill the need for such cell groups. Other churches use a concept of home groups, where small gatherings meet for fellowship and ministry. It is a truth that for a church to grow larger, it must also grow smaller at the same time.

Leading Your Church To Growth, C. Peter Wagner
Growing the Small Church, C. Wayne Zunkel
Winning the Backdoor War, Johnathon Gainsbrugh

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.