By WALTER ALBRITTON
Some churches are growing. Some are treading water. And some are dying. Wise pastors want their church to grow. So what is the key to healthy church growth?
Healthy growth is a steady increase in the number of people who get connected to Jesus. This connection occurs when a person surrenders his life to Jesus. Growth in the number of people who simply “join” the church must never be the primary goal. Joining the church can, of course, be the initial step toward surrendering one’s life to Jesus.
We learn helpful lessons about church growth by studying the New Testament. Soon after the resurrection of Jesus, the church was “born” at Pentecost. Three thousand people were baptized that day, publicly repenting of their sins and seeking forgiveness for their sins. They got connected to Jesus by meeting together in homes to pray, study and break bread together in Christian fellowship. Doctor Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, uses the word “saved” to describe these early believers. He tells us that the church grew as a result of the Christians worshiping together. Luke writes in Acts 2, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Why were people being saved back then? The answer is found in the Acts of the Apostles. As the church began to grow, the leaders of the Jews and the Roman authorities saw the Christians as a threat to the way of life they cherished. Luke tells, for example, how Saul, an influential Pharisee (who became Paul), began going door to door in Jerusalem arresting Christians and jailing them. Stephen was falsely accused by the Jews and stoned to death. Peter arrested and imprisoned. All this was the result of what Luke calls “a great persecution that broke out against the church at Jerusalem,” causing the Christians to “scatter throughout Judea and Samaria.”
This is where we learn why the church grew. In Acts 8, we read this remarkable sentence: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Boldface in your mind those three words: “wherever they went.” The Christians were talking about Jesus wherever they went. Luke cites Philip as an example. While on the road to Gaza, Philip encounters a man with an inquiring mind and he tells the man “the good news about Jesus.” Hearing this good news led to the man being baptized and saved.
Is this not missing in many of our churches today? It may explain why some churches are treading water or dying. The church grows when its people tell others the good news about Jesus “wherever they go.” If it has been a long time since you heard about someone in your church being saved, it may be because the members of your church are not talking about Jesus at work, in the marketplace and at home.
Have we who are church leaders and pastors failed to teach and encourage our people to talk about Jesus? We have taught them many things —
how to study the Bible, learn and grow in small groups, make prayer blankets, play soccer, sing exciting new songs, sell Boston butts, fry fish and chicken and play entertaining games. We take the kids to water parks and send our people on mission trips and help them reach out to the poor in our community. All of this is good but is it the best we can offer? Is it helping the church to obey the Lord’s mandate to “make disciples”? When all is said and done, have we taught, inspired and dared our people to tell their friends and neighbors “the good news about Jesus?”
Two thousand years ago the church grew because the Christians talked about Jesus wherever they went. Could we see an explosion of healthy growth in our churches in our time if we Christians began telling others the good news about Jesus everywhere we go? Surely that is the primary message God wants us to offer our world. And surely it will grieve God if we remain silent and tongue-tied in a society where the voices of evil are loud and clear.