When you read or hear the words “church growth,” what comes to mind? Let us first define a couple of terms. When we speak about “the church,” we have reference to the church which Jesus Himself built (Matthew 16:18), and of which He is the Head (Ephesians 5:23). Do not confuse the Lord’s church with man-made denominations. For me personally, I have no interest in the “growth” of denominations, unless that “growth” in some fashion hinders the work or influence of Jesus’ blood-bought church (Acts 20:28). In such a case, it gets my attention. If we are interested in God’s church growing, then we need to learn about that from the New Testament, which is our only standard, correct?
What is the meaning of the word “growth?” It means increase, development, or expansion; similarly, the verb “grow” means to spring up and develop to maturity [www.yourdictionary.com]. The growth or increase of the church can take place in at least three general categories: numerical growth, internal (spiritual) growth, and geographic growth. Let us look at these one by one.
(1) Numerical growth – God and all those who love His Kingdom want to see this happen. God adds saved people to the church (Acts 2:47). That is how numerical growth takes place: God’s people teach the gospel, lost people hear it, believe it, and obey it. That is the only way for one to be born again, and that is the only way for citizenship in the Kingdom to increase in number (John 3:3,5).
In the Book of Acts, we often read specific references to the church’s numerical growth. After the initial 3000 souls on Pentecost (Acts 2:41), we later read of about 5000 men (4:4), that “believers were increasingly added to the Lord” (5:14), “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” in Jerusalem (6:7), “a great many people were added to the Lord” in Antioch (11:24), and many other similar statements.
If we want the church to experience numerical growth today, then we must work. Indeed, we must work, and work, and then work some more. We need to sow the seed diligently, always seeking for good soil – those “with a noble and good heart” (Luke 8:15). [Note: An increase in attendance is not necessarily evidence of church growth. If one local church’s attendance increases by ten people because ten saints left a second congregation to begin attending there, then in reality, there is no net gain. No souls have been saved, so there is no true numerical growth.]
(2) Internal, spiritual growth – We must not overlook this aspect of church development! Much is said throughout the New Testament about the edification or building up of God’s people. Christians are instructed to “edify one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). In another of Paul’s letters to a local church, he said that he and others did all things for the edification of the saints (2 Corinthians 12:19). Even in a worship setting that involved miraculous gifts, the Holy Spirit’s message was that all things were to be done “for the edification of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12).
The key to the church’s spiritual development is God’s word and commitment to it. “. . . I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you and inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). It is pleasant and helpful to personal relationships between church members for them to eat, play, and socially spend time together. But, brothers and sisters, please, please do not think that planning meals and fun social outings is the path of strengthening people’s faith and their spiritual commitment to King Jesus. If we want members to grow, then we need to get them into the Book and put the emphasis on spiritual matters! That is the truth, whether people support such an idea or not.
Churches grow spiritually when the members grow. Christians can (and need to) grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), in love (1 Thessalonians 4:9,10), in faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), in abilities (Matthew 25:14-30), and in service (Hebrews 6:10-12). Thank God for His saints in our generation who make their personal spiritual growth a top priority.
Another way in which churches can grow internally is to develop strong, scriptural leadership. It is God’s will for every congregation to have faithful shepherds to rule over it (Acts 14:23). Those churches that do not yet have elders/pastors need to make it their goal, with God’s help, to develop faithful brothers who can serve as overseers.
(3) Geographic growth – I love Acts 16:5, where it is written, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” That verse points to spiritual growth, numerical growth, and possibly geographic growth. We must take seriously the task of establishing new congregations in areas that do not have them. It is thrilling to read about such happening in the first century, and it is just as exciting to hear and read about faithful brethren doing that today. Regardless of the type of true church growth that takes place, let us thank and praise God for it.
— Roger D. Campbell