We hear a lot today regarding church growth, and many emphasize it, numbers, and bigness. This writer thinks there are some dangers in this attitude which seems to be sweeping through the brotherhood. But we would first state that church growth can be good. It can mean that a congregation is alive, working, and evangelizing the lost through the preaching and teaching of the gospel. This type of growth is sound and biblical (Acts 2:41; 4:4; Phi. 1:5; 1 The. 1:8). But in this article we want to stress abuses and dangers. Let us begin.
Competition in the Social and Entertainment Mode: To foster the swelling of a congregation, a swelling by additions of Christians from other congregations and false “conversions” from the denominations (which simply is not evangelistic growth), a church may generate programs which are attractive to worldly-minded people. So we see bulletins with calendars emphasizing parties, games, Christmas caroling, birthdays, retreats, catered meals, open houses, seminars on marriage enrichment, gymnasiums, swimming parties, jogging for Christ, singles car-tune-up days, etc.
Individual Christians may want to provide times for special groups to be together and do some things, and this is good. But is this the work of the church, as we see that work in the Scriptures? We now have ministers of youth, ministers of singles, movies nights, camp outs, all led by ministers of this and ministers of that. Is this the work of the church, or have we drifted? Why can we not have individual Christians do these things which are good, and allow the church to do its spiritual and God-given work?
But the sad fact is, all this is probably going to stay and greatly increase, because churches feel that they must compete with other churches and denominations in the social and entertainment areas or lose members. So the spirit of competition (and compromise) heats up, and like a boy running downhill, cannot stop. Yet all of this justifies itself under the philosophy of
church growth, numbers, ministering to the whole man, and bigness. But when you convert and train brethren in this emphasis, you have to feed them with these things to keep them “faithful.” So what does an eldership have? They have a church full of people who must have those “needs” met in ever increasing doses, brethren and half-converted denominationalists who are not there out of love for truth, willingness to sacrifice, desire to accept denial, and a heart aching for biblical truth (Mark 8:34-35; Luke 14:26-32; 13:24). Is all this how Jesus caught the hearts of thousands, and how He mustered a vast army of disciples willing to die for Him at the drop of a hat?
Compromise: “Preacher, you are too negative. You better tone it down, or you might actually turn someone off or run someone away!” We have a brotherhood that cannot any longer swallow that hard kind of preaching which always makes strong Christians. Elders now can only tolerate a preacher who gives pink tea, a diet of candy, and a monotonous rat-a-tat-tat
on how to feel good, real good! Congregations are weak and susceptible to gangrene because they have a bad case of sugar diabetes. There is a lack, rather a dearth of plain old sin-hating, God-fearing, distinctive, hard, doctrinal preaching. And some lament that we do not have more of the same sweet stuff. Why? We might lose someone to another congregation. Jesus was
pretty rough, and the disciples were like some of our brethren: “Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” (Mat. 15:12).
When we gather to ourselves elders and preachers who care less what the Holy Spirit said regarding marriage and divorce, modesty, morality, drunkenness, work, giving of self, and sacrifice, and care more about growth (swelling), numbers, and bigness, we, as a candlestick, are on the way toward being snuffed out.
Over Emphasis on Numbers: The “numbers-at-all-costs” philosophy will make us pay dearly in real spiritual health. It is not wrong to be small every now and then, It may indicate that a church realizes that the way is strait and narrow (Mat. 7:13-14), and that though many are called, few are chosen (Mat. 22:14). Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). No, it’s not wrong to be small (Rev. 3:4). God can get along nicely with the Gideon few. In fact, vast numbers should make us lift an eyebrow or two and do some real deep soul-searching. The vast majority of people at any given time, in biblical history, were generally either lost or wrong. Take Noah’s day, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Elijah on Mount Carmel and afterward.
There is nothing wrong, in many cases, if a church loses members and dwindles in size. It may be a good indication that itching ears were not scratched (2 Tim. 4:1-4), rebellious people had the law laid down, toes were righteously stepped on, and like an evil, dark, foul spirit, droves of hypocrites and compromisers sought greener pastures back down in Egypt.
I kind of like the preacher who, when asked how his meeting went, replied, “Great! Seven people got up and walked out!” It may be that such was necessary. But we have preachers who never had antagonists throw the tiniest handful of dust in the air while they spoke (Acts 22:23). Stephen had the face of an angel and they gnashed on him with their teeth when he cut them to the heart (Acts 6:15; 7:54).
The truth is, church growth is not always an indication as to how well the congregation is doing. Congregations should probably be weighed, not counted. Numbers are rarely a sign of true spirituality, and growth is not always a sign of the redeemed being added to the ranks of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:23). Real growth is evangelistic growth, and can be present even when numerical growth is not. Let us then emphasize spiritual growth—growth that comes only by working hard and diligently fighting for the truth (Jude 3)!