W. R. Craig
Recent months have heard the statement of our title mouthed again and again. All sorts of reasons are suggested as to why we are no longer the fastest growing religious body in America. Desperation, because of the slowing of the growth of the church, numerically that is, has caused many among us to try to apply every slick sales promotion that has ever been heard of to turn the “trend” around. Some of our folk have run to the denominations for ideas to bring in the “numbers” again.
We need to remember that when churches of Christ were growing more rapidly than any other religious group in America that we were just preaching and teaching the old Jerusalem gospel to folk with whom we came in contact.
That was before we were deluged with: workshops to win souls; teens to take America; seminars on marriage and family problems and commercial “church growth” companies set up by some of our preaching brethren so “we won’t have to go to the denominations any longer to learn how to make the church grow.”
There are still “7,000” in spiritual Israel who have a sincere desire to do what they can to aid the church in her growth both spiritually and numerically. However, in the light of all of the propaganda telling us that we have reached the “no growth” stage, and that by the year 2000 we will cease to exist, they do not have the foggiest idea of what they can do about seeing the church grow, and that scripturally.
The great majority of our people in a majority of our congregations have somehow been “programmed” to believe that in order to bring folk to Christ, into His kingdom, the church, we must do something big, something spectacular. Yea, we must promote and conduct a big “campaign,” bring in smooth talking, yea, dynamic speakers heralded by an all out advertising blitz-kreig. Oh, how far away from the New Testament and the truth we have drifted.
Since some are so “hepped” on denominational methods, let’s look at the methods of one such group. One of the groups that has replaced us as the fast growing folk, the Mormons. They have been trying to grow for the past century. They send out young men in their late teens and early twenties and they knock on doors all over the world. From their own studies we are told the conversion rate is one in every one thousand of their contacts. But now, they are changing their strategy. They now find that if a Mormon family will open their home to a friend and study with them and teach them and bear with them, the conversion rate is 50 percent. So now “leaders” instruct the rank and file “laity” to cultivate close personal ties first, and then concentrate on doctrine secondly.
We’ve known it all along, but just have not practiced what we have preached. The members of the church are our most effective missionaries. The disciple from the pew, when he will train and prepare himself, is more effective than any preacher, elder, or other leader in reaching the man who needs the gospel. If the disciple is not as knowledgeable, as yet, in the Scriptures and the presentation of them, he can bring his friends to the Bible studies and services of the church. Remember, people change because of other people. It is because of the efforts of the disciples (influence) that we are able to find that “good soil” that will receive the Word with gladness.
From apostolic times until now, the “average” disciple or church member has been the key to the growth of the church. We read in John, chapter one, that John the Baptizer introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. In verse 40, “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus.” In verse 43, we are told, “The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow Me.” In verse 45, it is declared, “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Here, then, is the “approved examples” of the first century method of church growth. Now that we know it, let’s get on with it. (Editor’s Note: This was written 37 years ago, but it remains as true today as it was in 1982).