Monday, November 26, 2007
A Biblical Look at Church Growth
God's Church Growth Plan
An email excerpt comparing the modern ideas of marketing for church growth with what God actually did in the first century to launch the body of Christ into its initial explosive growth period.
Acts 5:14 (NKJ) And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.
Ah, the banner verse of the church-growth movement.
Taking an Acts 17:11 approach, let us look to the context and series of events to see what God actually did to precipitate the explosive church growth mentioned above.
Everyone should know the story of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5. While this grim episode is oft glossed over, it underscores the seriousness of the New Covenant teaching of giving:
2 Cor 9:7 (NIV) Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
But, as you can read in Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lied. They sold their property and gave most of it to the church, but held back some in secret. If this magnanimous gesture were done in most modern churches we would name a building after the benefactor and swoon in admiration and appreciation. God killed them both on the spot, in front of everyone.
How is that for a "church growth program" initiation?
Imagine the foolishness of God. He initiates the birth of the church by supernaturally striking dead two generous, if dishonest, contributors right in front of everyone. We tend to stylize and flannelgraph this situation in our minds. But imagine you had really been there and this had happened to someone you knew in the fellowship. Imagine the practical problems of having a couple of corpses on your hands, the general mood, the thought of how you were going to explain this to the authorities, the appreciation of how serious and intense it is to really be in God's presence, and the deep sense of the fear of God that would naturally be the result.
Word spread: "That is not the place to go if you are playing around. God is there." Among the Christians, duplicitous people were struck dead, after all. Not a place to trifle with religion, that is for sure.
Let us jump into the text now, after this rather "negative" miracle and see what God did by and through it.
Acts 5:11,13-14 (NIV) Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events... No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
There is our "church growth" verse, in context.
The pattern of fear before wisdom, revelation, and salvation is an oft repeated theme of God's. Just 3 chapters earlier in Acts we see the same order and familiar pattern.
Acts 2:43,47 (KJV) And fear came upon every soul... And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
To be sure, the fear of the Lord is all through the Old Testament as a harbinger of the manifest presence of God. And so it is... not only at the beginning of the New Covenant, but also through the history of the early church as well.
Acts 9:31 (NIV) ...The churches... were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
Acts 19:17 (NIV) ...Fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
Do we want to build churches on human flesh and technique? Or are we serious about inviting God to our services? If we do, and He really shows up, then it might well be said of us that "no one dared join them" yet at the same time "the Lord added to their number". "Multitudes", even. And it would be a church built by God, not by fleshly marketing techniques aimed at pleasing men.
There you have it: God's "church growth program" for the first century church. It was certainly not man's idea--then or now--but it worked.
Rom 15:4 (KJV) For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.
Now let us take a little imaginary sidetrack here; suppose God had asked (He didn't) for committee approval for such an episode to launch His "church growth program" from an august body of church marketing consultants beforehand. Do you think they would have approved?
Of course, this is just a quaint, old-fashioned Bible story, and has little to do with us now. The current fashion is that God has changed His patterns and wisdom to match our modern sensibilities, especially since we have learned the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira so well. Haven't we?
We've come a long way, baby...
Perhaps it is time to get back to spiritual reality.
Prov 1:7a (NIV) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
1 Cor 3:18-19 (NIV) Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness".
1 Cor 1:25 (NIV) For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
Rom 11:22a (Jer) Do not forget that God can be severe as well as kind.