A GROWING CHURCH
The growth and development of a child can be monitored very early in life, while still in the mother’s womb. Using the growth percentile chart, the size and growth pattern is mapped out to determine progress and to detect any deviation from the expected developmental milestone.
A 5-year-old child, for instance, whose weight is at the 25th percentile is described as weighing more than 25 percent of children, but less than 75 percent, of children in the same age group.
A developmental milestone is one of a series of objective markers placed along the growth pathway at regular intervals. These markers reassure caregivers and parents that the proper growth pattern is being followed. They, like the milestones on ancient highways, are useful guides to the health status of every child. Although every child grows and develops at his or her own pace, still, child development tends to follow a fairly predictable path.
Which brings us to the question. How do you measure the growth of a church? By what objective metrics is the spiritual maturity of a denomination determined? At what point can one say that the spiritual digestive system of a congregation can handle solid meat instead of milk?
It’s often the case that the growth of a church is measured in terms of membership, attendance, square feet of the church building, and heftiness of the collection basket. However, are these true indicators of spiritual wellbeing? Would these measures hold up to God’s scrutiny and standard? Or will they perish if, and when, tried with fire?
There’s no doubt that a church that increases in number can be said to be growing. But increased church membership alone does not constitute spiritual growth. Church growth, like the growth of a child, consists of several other far more important factors.
A 5-year-old child may be as tall, and may weigh as much, as all other 5-year-old children, but that child would still be considered to have developmental delay if he is only able to crawl and his vocabulary is limited to “dada” and “mama”.
In order to determine the appropriate indicators of the growth of a church, the way to start is by examining the growth of the early church as documented in Scriptures.
On the Day of Pentecost, gawkers quickly gathered around to mock those believers who, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, were speaking in unknown tongues. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Peter rose and preached a fiery Gospel message. When the jesters heard his words, their hearts were pricked. In fear they asked,
“Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
In response, Peter said,
“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38-40).
That day, we are told, three thousand of the mockers got saved and the gawker were added to the ranks of the believers. But their journey of faith had just begun.
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47).
The new believers were schooled in sound doctrine and were instructed in accurate theology. As they devoted themselves to the study of God’s Word, they grew and matured in the faith. And the Lord kept adding to their fellowship daily those whom He had elected to be saved.
You see, it’s easy to grow the church register using gimmicks and schemes. Hollywood-styled and carnival-like Sunday worship services, motivational speeches, endless business/financial seminars, and group vacation trips to exotic places may attract thousands to the church.
Those drawn by those means are, however, almost always weak-kneed, fickle-minded church goers who lack real depth. These will quickly fall away the moment the slightest heat of trial and tribulation blows their way.
Church growth cannot be achieved by formulas and strategies. It’s the preaching of the Gospel that brings about spiritual development. Maturity in the faith comes by teaching people the Word of God.
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