Space to Grow – should we expect churches to grow and multiply?

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Living things tend to grow.  This means that I would generally expect healthy churches to be growing and as well as this being seen in spiritual growth as members are discipled in Christ, it should also include numerical growth as well. 

So, as you think about your local church context and look ahead, do you realistically expect the church to grow?

Why do I believe that churches should expect to grow?  You see I’ve often heard people suggest that this isn’t something we should be looking for.  The argument tends to be that so long as we remain faithful, that’s the important thing.  Indeed, in a day and age when secular society tends to be hostile to the Gospel and where we’ve seen a whole array of seeker sensitive gimmicks etc, I think the assumption tends to be that growth is more likely to be a sign of compromise than health.

Further, we are reminded that in 1 Corinthians Paul insists that it is God who gives the increase so this isn’t something we can be engineering or worrying about.

It is helpful then when starting a conversation about growth that we acknowledge

  1. That growth is not in and of itself a sign of health -weeds grow alongside crops. There can be unhealthy, unhelpful forms of growth
  2. That growth is first and foremost about God’s sovereign work.
  3. That we can become obsessed with growth to the peril of truly faithful and fruitful Gospel ministry
  4. That we shouldn’t expect growth all the time or at the same rate. Growth will be affected by context -some situations will be tough going. Churches will also experience pruning as well as growth.

Having said that, I would still say that to expect growth is generally speaking a good and proper thing to do. Here are some reasons.

First of all, Jesus sends us out to make disciples (Matthew 28:16ff).  In so doing, he echoes the original creation mandate. The expectation and plan has always been that God’s people will multiply, spread out and fill the earth.  Just as this was meant to happen with the first human beings, so too with the church.  It is a good thing to see churches growing and multiplying. That’s what we saw in its early days after Pentecost.

Secondly, because growth is always happening, so we want the right things to grow. Just as I would rather have flowers and fruit/vegetable plants grow in my garden than thorns and weeds, so too I’d rather see churches growing in communities that cults, false religion or secularism.

It is also worth remembering that yes it is God who gives the increase but that doesn’t mean we have some responsibility in the process. Think about how Paul and Apollos were involved in sowing and watering.  Indeed, one way I tend to think of things is that we are more likely to be responsible for putting in human barriers to/constraints on growth. So, our responsibility in this area is less about having to put effort into making growth happen as to thinking about where we’ve allowed those barriers to be erected and what we can do to remove them. 

We will talk a bit more about this in our next article.

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