In the last couple of months I’ve talked about some of the ways and means of spiritual growth. Certainly more can be said about this and probably will be over the course of this year (Lord willing). But another important type of growth is the numerical growth of the church, and that’s what I’d like to write about today.
There is a whole specialty of ministry and study in the religious world known as “Church Growth”. There are tons of books, college courses, and seminars that attempt to hawk just about every idea that you can imagine about how to grow the number of one’s church. Some of the ideas are really quite useful and some of them are — well just plain bad. Among one of the more popular bad ideas lately has been the notion that if your worship services has enough “flash” and “bang” (my terms, not theirs, but you get the idea) that your assembly will grow. The rationale is that people are staying away from church attendance, because the church has ceased to be culturally relevant and speak the same language of the current world — that is to say, we’re boring them.
There are two problems with this assumption: 1) the early church didn’t speak the same language of their cultural world (competing with the extravagant pagan pageantry and “miracles” of the day), yet they grew tremendously, and 2) people stay away from church for entirely different reasons than boredom. Mostly they stay away because of one or more of the following reasons…
- they don’t want to change their lives
- they aren’t really interested in the truth
- they are primarily interested in this world and its sensuous experiences
- they’re angry at God
- they’ve been deceived by the philosophies, empty deceptions, traditions of men, or elementary principles of the world (Col. 2:8)
“Flash bang” worship may bring some in for the show, but as soon as it might begin to touch these sore points they will not come anymore. “Flash bang” worship has historically not produced much more than televangelists and their fan-base.
Biblically speaking, Christian worship assemblies, not unlike the Temple worship, were never primarily designed for the Gentile, the seeker, the outsider; they were primarily focused on God’s people, the saved, the insider. Of course, the assembly, in both Old and New Testaments, included outsiders (1 Kings 8:41-43 and 1 Cor. 14:23,24); but the New Testament is clear on the purpose of the assembly, the edification of the saved (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:3,12,26). And edification for the church, according to the inspired apostle Paul, includes:
- 1 Timothy 4:13 “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”
- 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
Please notice that entertainment, “experiences”, and non-boredom were not in the list.
So what’s the solution? We dare not compromise and dumb-down the truths of Scripture. But what else would work? Maybe something tried through the centuries and found to be true? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20 ). The short answer: “Go!”
“Going” is God’s command. Like wandering sheep or wayward children, the lost seldom come, so we must go. If you try to lure them with “candy” to get them to come, you will always have to lure them with candy to get them to come. Although “going” is more trouble, more effort, more challenging, it is always more effective. We must resist the non-biblical notion that “if you entertain them, they will come” is an appropriate substitute for “going”. The truth is that, for the most part, if we don’t go, they won’t come — to Christ.
If the church is not growing numerically as much as it should, let us put the blame where it really belongs — not on the biblical message about sin, salvation, and the teachings; not on our insistence on conforming to the biblical pattern for worship; but on a failure to go.