Church growth means that attendance/membership numbers are on the rise. An increase in numbers however does not necessarily indicate genuine church growth. By genuine church growth I mean an increase resulting from the addition of truly regenerate, saved sinners. Please allow me to explain.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Those are Jesus’ words, to Peter of course, and I ‘m convinced that those few words speak volumes about genuine church growth. I just want to share a few thoughts.
First of all we are told that there is a “rock” that is the foundation of the church. What is that “rock”? To understand “the rock” we need only examine the immediate context and a couple of other passages in the New Testament.
“He said to them (his disciples), "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:15-18)
With his words, Jesus was replying to what Peter had answered to the question he had posed to them “Who do you say that I am?”. Peter correctly responded by identifying Jesus as Christ, the Messiah (deliverer) they had been looking for throughout Jewish history, and that Jesus was the Son of God. Because the Greek name ‘Peter’ is similar to the Greek word ‘rock’ there are those who will say that Peter himself was that rock of which Jesus spoke. Was he?
“So then you (believers) are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20) (Emphasis mine)
I assume we will all agree that the ‘household of God’ refers to the church on earth. Note that the apostles and prophets form the foundation of the church, and that Jesus himself is the chief cornerstone of the foundation. Peter was one of the apostles in the foundation, not ‘the rock’ of which Jesus spoke. The rock was Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the one identified by the Apostle Paul (also part of the foundation) as the Chief Cornerstone.
What does that mean in terms of genuine church growth? Thanks for asking! Here’s the critical phrase from our beginning passage, Jesus’ words:
”. . .on this rock (Jesus is the Messiah) I will build my church.”
No rocket science here. Jesus claims ownership of the church and it is built on the truth that He is the Christ, the One who delivers us from our sins, who was crucified in our place. It is when a lost sinner makes the same confession as Peter, calls on the name of the Lord for salvation, that a new member is added to the church, the body of Christ. And just how does anyone come t the point of calling on the name of the Lord for salvation? We have the answer in Paul’s words to the church in Rome
“For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" “(Romans 10:13-15)
Genuine church growth begins with the ‘preaching’ of the gospel by ‘sent’ ones,. equipped with Holy Spirit power. At least that was the pattern during the infancy of the church. When Stephen was stoned to death by an angry Jewish mob, great persecution arose and believers scattered from Jerusalem fulfilling what was spoken by the resurrected Christ to his disciples in Jerusalem:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
Then came Pentecost. The rest is history.
Does that mean numbers being added to a local church somewhere? Of course it does! The new birth generates a desire for fellowship with other believers. When lost souls are added to the universal church, the body of all believers, local churches grow. The numbers are a natural result of preaching the gospel to God-opened hearts. Numbers added to a local church are merely a by-product, and should never be the main goal of man-made schemes and methods. Jesus said “I will build my church.”
That being said, when I look around today’s evangelical landscape, I keep seeing all sorts of church growth conversations in which numbers themselves seem to be the main focus. I was at another site just recently that had a post titled “8 Reasons Your Church Won’t Get Past The 200 Mark.”While I’m convinced the author of that blog post genuinely wants to see unsaved people saved, I am equally convinced that creating a church that the ‘unchurched’ (euphemism for lost, in bondage to sin, spiritually dead folks) love to attend is NOT the way Jesus intended HIS church to be built.
I think I pretty much explained Jesus’ method for church growth. I probably should say ‘non-model’. In Jesus’ ‘non-model’ there are no Peter Drucker management techniques being used, no state of the art entertainment productions that mimic Guns and Roses or AC/DC, no cheerleaders posing as worship teams to get folks all worked up (not all worship teams are like that), no Barna style surveys to isolate certain demographic segments for the church’s target audience, no leaving out the issues of sin and repentance. And the list goes on, and on, and on.
Genuine church growth comes from the preaching of the gospel – the one that Paul was not ashamed of, that “Christ died, was buried, and rose again for OUR sins for out sins” (See I Cor 15:1-4). That preaching can happen just about anywhere, in fact should happen more outside the church building than inside it, as believers are equipped to being ‘scattered’, and just like the N.T. believers, they preach the gospel wherever they are! (See Acts 8:4)
So what is the goal of genuine church growth, if not numbers?
Dear friends and fellow believers, the goal of church growth is to bring the ‘unchurched’ to the foot of the cross of Christ, NOT through the doors of our church!
On another note, as I’m pastoring right now, I’m also surprised and find it horrifying when non-believers enter the church and want to be members when they aren’t saved…you have to be careful as bible believers because often these people have an agenda, ranging from wanting to make some kind of “spiritual” impact (that they really can’t have since they need to be born again) to wanting to rise up in leadership…we can’t be naive and I think the tragedy of church growth types is their lack of spiritual discernment…
I pray for great blessing on your pastorate, my friend! That non-believers are doing what they are doing in your church is not surprising in today’s misguided church growth environment. I knew at least one chaplain who said he would welcome unbelieving but good musicians be part of his worship team. That is not an uncommon practice. A lady from out of town visited our Chapel for a couple of weeks and shared that her musician husband knew that it was common knowledge among unbelieving musicians that a ‘gig’ at a church was a good deal, but sadly because of good money, not the gospel.