Several people have recently mentioned a desire to continue to grow as a church and asked about how we can go about this. This is a good desire, one that I share, and I am encouraged to hear such talk. This is something that has been on my mind more and more and wanted to share some thoughts on how we can, and should, move forward with this desire to grow. I’ll organize this by three questions:
Question 1: How should we think about growth as a church?
There are certainly right and wrong ways to think about growth as a church. Over the past four years as we’ve sought to plant this church, I have certainly spent plenty of time wrongly desiring growth. Here’s what I mean: there is a temptation to only focus on outward, measurable things, to think that the real proof that God is working among is in things like a steady-flow of newcomers, moving to bigger and bigger locations, increasing the number of kids’ classes, having more and more on the church calendar.
Not that any of these things are wrong, and much of the time, they are indicators of God working among us.
But if this is all we focus on, we’ve likely lost sight of God’s priorities and are wanting things that merely make us look good.
Rather, we should see evidence in God working among us when we see people seeking Him first, faithfully committing to one another, finding joy in trusting in God, fighting against sin, suffering well for the glory of God, forgiving one another, loving the church body enough to make sacrifices in other areas of life.
Many of these things may not boost our pride, may not be readily evident to the outside, watching world. But these are signs that God is with us and working in and among us. And when we see these things, we should be encouraged and grateful.
Question 2: Why should we want to grow as a church?
All the above taken into account, it is still good and right to want to see the church grow. Here are just a few of the reasons why this is a good desire, and one that we should cultivate.
- Because there are thousands of people in this community who do not know God. We were made to fear, love, and worship God. This is good and right for every person living. Yet even in a small community like ours, there are thousands who do not fear, love, and worship God. We don’t need to go to a foreign country to be missionaries; there are abundant opportunities right here.
- Because there are thousands of people in this community who profess to know God but aren’t plugged into a church body. When we think of our mission field, we shouldn’t only think of atheists, agnostics, or those adhering to other religions. We are also surrounded by many unchurched, dechurched, nominal Christians, cultural Christians, Christians in name only, people who have been led to believe that they are Christians because of their morality, family heritage, voting record, mere belief in God’s existence, etc. Not all who profess the name Christian have heard and understood the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus, and we have an opportunity to proclaim the uniqueness and power of the gospel both by our lives and by our words.
- Because God has called us to make disciples, which includes welcoming them into a church family. The process of making disciples is not something any one of us is meant to do alone, but is intended to involve local church bodies. As people witness our lives, hear us talk about our faith, see the way the church loves and cares for its members, hear God’s Word taught and sung and confessed in our gatherings, are prayed for by various church members, are baptized and welcomed into church membership, learn about God and the gospel in small groups, and more…in all these ways, the church as a whole does the work of making disciples, which is what God calls us to do.
- Because God’s church is encouraged and strengthened when it sees God’s power to save unbelievers, awaken nominal believers, and build up new believers. There is little more encouraging to a church body than to see once again that God is working powerfully to draw people to himself. This, in and of itself, is a reason to pray from growth.
Question 3: How can we grow as a church?
When it comes to growing a church numerically, there is no one, proven method that does the trick. This is because changing people’s hearts is not something we can do, on our own, but is dependent on God. If there were a proven method for growing a church or churning out converts, we would likely no longer trust in God, but in our ability to perform the right steps. But thankfully, God keeps us trusting in Him.
That being said, God does intend to use us in his work to draw people to himself. The actual results—any real heart change–are up to God, but we are called to join God in this work of making disciples. We can be his instruments to draw others to himself and into his church. Here are some ways we can do that:
- Be a witness with your life and words wherever you are. Every aspect of our lives should bear witness to God’s presence with us. This doesn’t mean we try to inject the gospel message into every conversation, but simply that there should be glimpses, aromas, hints of something different about us wherever we go, whatever we do. To put it bluntly, one of the most powerful church growth techniques is Christians being Christians. It’s not glamourous, it’s results aren’t manageable, but God intends for our obedient lives to draw others to himself
- Invite people to church. This is very simple, but it needs to be pointed out. Studies have shown that many people would strongly consider going to a church if they were simply invited by a friend or neighbor (a 2014 Lifeways study cited 63% as saying this). It seems like we are more averse to extending these invitations than most people are to receiving them. If done with love and gentleness, invitations to church can be seen as a positive, loving thing, and can be the means of someone hearing the gospel.
- Plan/take part in community events. We are a church in the Stanwood-Camano community, and this is our immediate mission field. Allow me to put words in everyone’s mouth: we love it here and want to see this community thrive. Both individually and as a church, we want to be present and engaged with the community. We take part in several Chamber of Commerce events each year, which helps us interact with a diverse group of people, build relationships, and let people know that we exist and would love to have them join us. We also are planning a Parent’s Night Out event for the fall. We did this a couple of years ago and it was an awesome event that served a need in the community. More to come on this.
I could certainly go on. There is much more we could talk about on this topic, and it’s one we should be talking about. We haven’t even talk about the important role of prayer in evangelism. With that in mind, we will be doing a sermon series on evangelism/witnessing during the summer. I’m excited to spend some concentrated time considering what God has to say about our call to make disciples, the truths that undergird this call, and the promises that sustain this call.