How do you grow a church? That is a question that has been answered in different over the years, and especially in recent decades, the answers have become increasingly different. Entire books are written on answering this question: how do you grow a church.
Some have suggested that you look to the unbelieving people around you and do some research. You find out what they are like, what they don’t like, what they’re looking for in life, and then change everything about your church to fit those around so that you can draw them in and tell them about Christ.
Others say that people are tired of traditional churches so you essentially do the opposite of what traditional churches do: you forget precise doctrinal statements in favor of questioning what the Bible really says; you don’t have one person speak from the Bible in a sermon, but have everyone join in one big discussion; you don’t meet in a formal church building, but find somewhere else to gather—like a movie theatre or a coffee shop.
Still others emphasize the need to do every big and entertaining, while keeping the basics of what most think of as church. You keep a preacher, and a church building, but everyone dresses very casual for services. You even put on big productions for music and include lots of drama and attention-gabbing activities. All of this is designed to draw people together and keep their interest as you seek to tell them the gospel.
Now, all of these examples are oversimplified, but they all represent real approaches found in real churches. And you can see how different these approaches are in trying to grow the church. I believe there is much to be said for seeing needs in your community and trying to meet them. But that’s not how you grow a church, that’s how you serve your neighbor. I believe there is value in knowing the culture of your community so you know best how to speak into it. But identifying the good, the bad, and ugly of your community doesn’t need to be a blueprint for growing your church.
If fact, if we actually look at the New Testament for our model of how to grow a church, what we will find is an approach to growing the church based on the gospel itself. This doesn’t mean “being the gospel” or trying to equate service with the gospel. The gospel has profound implications for our lives—both individually and corporately as the people of God. But the effects of believing the gospel should not be confused with the gospel itself. The word means “good news”—the gospel is news. The gospel is information about the person and work of Jesus Christ, God the Son who took on flesh to redeem sinners, and who rose back to life as the Lord of all things (1 Cor 15:1-5). Proclaiming that message in such a way that disciples of Christ are made is what grows a church. This kind of growth doesn’t just involve growth from new believers, but growth in existing believers that results in maturity and service.
I know that growing the church by the gospel seems like it should be a no-brainer. But it’s not. Actually growing a church by the gospel takes time. It’s hard work and means being involved in people’s lives. And frankly, it’s much easier to put together amazing performances for worship services, open a Starbucks in the lobby, or tell people not to worry too much about doctrine than it is to work for gospel growth. In other words, it’s much easier to gather people together than grow a church.
But is all of this really just my opinion? Does the Bible really teach that church growth comes from gospel growth? This is what we will look at in our next post.