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« Growth—or No Growth? What Do You Say? | Main | Underexposed »

Growth Expectations

“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

Jesus is still building his church.  That means this very moment, God’s church is growing somewhere in this world. It is not an exclusive club; it is not an elitist’s association; it is neither formal nor contemporary.  It does not belong to any one race, color, nationality, region, culture or era of time.  It is love sought, blood bought, Spirit-filled, truth-preaching and sinner-reaching.  It was conceived in the mind of God; paid for by the blood of Jesus, built by the Holy Spirit and cherished by the holy saints.  It is a “whosoever will” church. 

The church remains under construction.  In fact, it has been said that if one word could be selected that would characterize Christianity, it would be the word GROW!

  • Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 9:31 Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
  • Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Church growth is not a sales gimmick.  It is not hype.  It is not a human invention.  It is commissioned. It is promised.  It is predestined.  It is predetermined.  It is expected.  I cannot imagine any scenario where it would be advantageous or desirable for the church to stop growing or experience negative growth. 

Growth is the province of the living; there is no growth in deadness.  If you were to analyze the properties of any organism to test its viability, it could be summed up in this question, “Is it growing?”  We understand that growth traits are different from one family to another.  Human growth from the newborn to adulthood brings about great changes in size and appearance. The growth continuum is not the same for everyone.  For some, the process occurs rapidly, for others, it happens slowly.  Heredity and environment exert definite influences on growth patterns.  We know that children tend to look and act like their forebears.  Many factors, like living conditions, nutrition and hygiene greatly influence the growth process as well.  Regardless of these factors, and despite these differences, healthy babies are going to grow.

If a baby does not grow, something is wrong.   Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Failure to Thrive, Growth Hormone Deficiency, Turner Syndrome, Blount Disease, and a host of other reasons exist that prevent babies from growing as they should.  In the church, lack of growth should not be accepted as normal.  If the church is not growing in some dimension, it calls for an extensive diagnosis.  A radical treatment program may be in order.  But, take heart!  If Jesus is still building His church, then the prognosis is always good!

Some children fail to grow because of genetic reasons.  Their parents had problems that they passed down to their offspring.  But, Christ’s church doesn’t have any genetic deficiencies predisposing the generation of 2015 to smallness.  We come from good stock!  We know who our Father is.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  1 Peter 1:3.  We know who our mother is.  “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”  Galatians 4:26.   The Apostle John called the church “the Elect Lady” and her children.  If God is our Father and the church is our Mother, then there is a dynamic, a predisposition, an irrepressible force built into our spiritual nature to grow, to thrive, to flourish!

The only thing that can stop the church from growing is a self-imposed restraint.  Ancient Chinese women were subjected to a horrifying tradition of foot binding.  They believed that small feet on women were beautiful and big feet were ugly.  And so, someone came up with the brilliant idea to wrap the feet of small girls in order to restrict growth.  The binding was so tight and inflexible that it crushed or deformed the bones in the feet, making too painful for them to walk.  Consequently, these women were generally useless and could not take care of themselves.  All they could do was sit around and look pretty (in the eyes of the beholder!)  The practice was outlawed over a hundred years ago.  I wish it was outlawed in the church!

Any practice, belief or attitude in the church that restricts growth is not only contrary to the will of God, it is damaging and debilitating to the health of the body.  Death is contagious.  When someone dies in the nursing home, fear spreads throughout the facility.  When a gang member is killed in the hood, everybody gets nervous and starts to ask, “Who’s next?”  When someone dies a spiritual death in the church, we all get a bad feeling that someone else may follow suit.  But the God we serve is not a God of the dead.  He is a God of the living!  This is why growth needs to be an attitude!  Think life!  Think growth!

The church was born with the potential to grow.  It is our nature, our DNA.  “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.  Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.” Acts 2:5-6.  Noised abroad!  That is the mission of the church!  And what happened when this was noised abroad?  “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41.

Sociologists must not define the role of the church for us.  The church was not built to be a minority, a sub-culture, a counter-culture or an alternative belief system.  It was not made to just be found under the letter “C” in the dictionary, or a bullet point in some philosophy professor’s lecture on the world’s religion.  A plane is built to fly, not sit in a hangar; a ship is meant to sail, not float tied to a pier; a car is meant to drive, not sit idle in a garage. Neither is the church meant to benignly fill a faith niche in the social fabric.   

Even the enemies of the church expected it to grow.  “Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.”  Acts 5:24.  I’m tired of people talking about the devil threatening the church.  The truth is that Satan considers the alive and growing church to be his greatest threat!  He does not have a weapon, a strategy, a method or the power to stop the church from growing.  It will grow in the desert, as Philip demonstrated in Acts 8:26.  It will grow in a hostile environment.  “The church that is at Babylon saluteth you.” 1 Peter 5:13.  It will grow surrounded by evil.  “But where sin abounded, the grace of God doth much more abound.”  Romans 5:20.

Saint of God, pastor, evangelist, missionary, teacher, church leader, never assume a docile or defensive attitude about the church.  Seek, plan, pray, train and believe for the church to grow!  Growth expectations can become great expectations!


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