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
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."¹
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
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.
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.
(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
The percentage of people shown below attended for
the following reasons:
2.0% ..... Due to a special Need
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.³ 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
¹ Leading Your Church To Growth, C. Peter