Offers a perspective on chruch growth and its affect on congregations.
J. I Packer. Knowing God
In this paper I shall address two questions. First, "Is church growth good and even essential?" and secondly "Is numerical growth something to be tracked and used as a measure of ministry effectiveness?" Before I start I would just like to say that I do not find much controversy in the evangelical community surrounding the idea that God wants the body of Christ, his Church, to grow. However I do see a lot of anguish and arguing over the methods of ministry that are attributed to producing growth in local congregations. It seems many people want to be apart of a group that is growing and want to find the methods that achieve it. Yet there are also an abundance of believers who feel these new methods of ministry create numerical growth instead of spiritual growth. They often see them as compromise based and therefore worldly. I wonder, perhaps both are needed.
Relative to the question, "Is church growth good and even essential?", I have often found it interesting that certain more controversial spiritual gifts are just not seen at all in some churches and denominations. Some may point out that this is because they are not real gifts and are therefore only seen where falsehood abounds, but I believe differently. I believe that God only enables them where their exercise will not generate conflict. I think that the Spirit enables them where they will not damage unity while building up the body. In places where the gift's use will became more of an issue then it's purpose, we seldom see the real thing. Ephesians chapter 4 begins with a call to unity and then and only then broadens into a discussion of the purpose of gifts, their diversity and their ultimate purpose to enable growth in the body of Christ. Now this paper is not about spiritual gifts but I think the principle illustrated here is important when thinking about the methods of ministry that enable evangelism and local congregational growth. The way I read Ephesians 4:1-15, God wants the people to grow within the Body of Christ on all fronts that we might all be built up "unity" and "maturity" in the faith. I also think that God knows that people begin their Christian growth in immaturity and that their rate of internal spiritual growth depends on their growth settings. If this were not true then why would Paul admonish us who are more mature in Rom.15:1 to be careful in how we exercise our freedom lest we cause a brother to stumble. For some, a church must be large for them to grow, for others it must be small. I know many men who thrive on a Promise Keepers convention, but I shun them for I dislike being in large crowds. I much prefer a small Bible study and a small church setting where I can serve, yet my wife finds the polish of a large church organization key to her growth and worship. I think people have different needs to when it comes to church size and growth rate for them to grow spiritually. They need a church setting and size that is relevant to them and meets them "where they are" too. When asked why one should have a certain gift as compared to another, a good friend of mine once responded, "Some do better with it and others do better without it.". Is think this is also why some churches grow and others don't. Is church growth good and even essential? I think the better questions are, "Is your church about to destroy unity over growth?" or "Does your church need to grow for the sake of the growth of those in it?". I one heard it preached that in his old age the Apostle John seemed to settle into a single pattern of preaching simply encouraging the believers to love one another. While this seemed "simple" and "aged" to me as a young man, the older I grow the more I see John having simply reached a "maturity" in the faith. I believe Church growth is only essential when those in the congregation need it to grow themselves.
Before I state my conclusions on whether numerical growth something to be tracked and used as a measure of ministry effectiveness, I feel it necessary to share what I believe about the nature of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. I believe that evangelism and discipleship are key missions of the corporate church and I also believe we as individual members of the body of Christ are given commission by our Lord Jesus to spread the gospel and use our God given gifts to do it. Two parables, the Parable of the Talents in Matthew chapter 25 and the Parable of the Shrewd Manager from Luke chapter 16 are two of my favorites. While Matthew chapter 25 clearly enjoins us to invest or spiritual gifts for the growth of the kingdom Luke 16 additionally makes it clear that God wants people to be forgiven. It further points out that if we are shrewd, we will recognize that in applying ourselves to helping people find forgiveness we are building for ourselves for the future. 1 Corinthians 3 even tells us about rewards associated with building on the foundation of JesusChrist. However I also believe that all ministry, all conversions and all growth within the body are by the actions and power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:28-29 tells me that not one of the Lord's elect will be lost because we foul up a program, an outreach or a message. Were it not for the Holy Spirit, there would be no followers of Christ save those who met Him personally (John 16:7-15). Were it not for the Holy Spirit, there would be no scripture (2 Tim 3:16). And were it not for the Holy Spirit, none would believe. There would be no faith.(John 6:65) J.I. Packer writes "It is not for us to imagine that we can prove the truth of Christianity by our own arguments. It is the sovereign prerogative of the Holy Spirit to convince men's consciences of the truth of the Gospel."2. I believe the "full number" of Gentiles mentioned in Romans 11:25 will "come in" before the Lord returns. Perhaps by our willingness we can make it take more or less time, but I even wonder about that. Now these two biblical principles combine to answer the question, "Is numerical growth something to be tracked and used as a measure of ministry effectiveness?". I believe the answer is no. I believe we are called to go to the lost and to give testimony to Christ , but it is the Holy spirit that is responsible for all conviction and the one that enables belief. It seems we are simply called to go and vibrate the air with the message of Christ. This is clear in Matthew 10:14 where Jesus tells his disciples to speak and then leave if none will listen. It seems obedience to the call is what the Lord wants, yet it is He who owns the results, He who is responsible for the growth. For should we grow and our methods are found to be the cause we will put on pride. And if we fail and our methods are found to be the cause we will put on shame. Both of these are sin.
Is numerical growth something to be tracked and used as a measure of ministry effectiveness? I believe we should not measure effectiveness of outreach with numbers of conversions or by growth of church members. We should only evaluate whether we are going and proclaiming. If we need to measure our health as a church I think we should be measuring our performance to Christ in terms of obedience not in terms of results. Are we going to the lost? Are we proclaiming the gospel message of forgiveness in Christ, and do we love. These I find a better metric of church health against the Great Commission. For with these as goals we should not find ourselves arguing so much about our methods.
* * *
J. I Packer. Knowing God
Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973