Church Growth: Quality or Quantity

Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, makes the following comment:

"A healthy church has a pervasive concern with church growth--not simply growing in numbers but growing members. A church full of growing Christians is the kind of church growth I want as a pastor. Some today seem to think that one can be a "baby Christian" for a whole lifetime. Growth is seen to be an optional extra for particularly zealous disciples. But be very careful about taking that line of thought. Growth is a sign of life. Growing trees are living trees, and growing animals are living animals. When something stops growing it dies.

"Growth may not mean that you negotiate this rapid in half the time you negotiated the last; it may simply mean that you are able to continue in the right direction as a Christian, regardless of the adverse circumstances. Remember, it is only the things that are alive that swim upstream; the dead things all float along with the current."

I want to focus on one phrase/statement in that comment. "A healthy church has a pervasive concern with church growth--not simply growing in numbers but growing members." I do not want to minimize the importance of growing in numbers because we should be doing all we can do to grow our churches with more sinners who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. That numerical growth, however, is still out of our hands. We cannot "make it happen," but rather we must faithfully speak the gospel and live out its implications, trusting God to grow His Church numerically in His time and way through His Spirit and His Gospel.

I do however, want to maximize the importance of growing members--of equipping the saints to do the work of ministry; of growing in the likeness of Jesus Christ. This too is something that is ultimately God's work that He accomplishes through His Word--consumed in private by the believer and proclaimed in public by the pastor.

As a pastor, I want to maximize the importance of shepherding the sheep--of feeding them the Word of God with the prayer that we as the Church will be growing as members more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. A neglect in this essential, if not primary responsiblity of pastors, may be one contributing factor to the current state of our churches. Pastors have focused so much time and energy into numerical growth at the expense of spiritual growth. What pastors fail to realize is that if we neglect spiritual growth in an attempt to grow numerically we end up with a decline in both eventually.

How so? If a pastor has not done the hard work of discipling/teaching the sheep, what kind of Church will a new convert come into? If it is true that more "members" then we would like to admit are more than likely not true followers of Christ, what kind of "Church" will a new believer walk into? He will walk into a church that may give the appearance of godliness without true godliness. He will walk into a church that on the surface seems "Christian" but once you scratch past the first coat of paint, he will find that the people are just like the rest of the world with the same priorities and values. What will he or she eventually do? Probably leave and over time the "members" will decrease more and more because their lives are not rooted in the Gospel and so they fall away because of persecution or the cares and concerns of the world.

Generally, the bulk of the blame is to be laid at the feet of pastors who do not take the time or do the work to invest in the sheep spiritually; to work hard at teaching and preaching with the hope and prayer of growing together as a church that thinks, looks, and feels different from the world because our lives are rooted in the Gospel.

Pastors, preach the Word. Be faithful to the Gospel. Give the Scriptures to your people week in and week out. Take the time to find out if your "members" are believers. Work hard at being an instrument of God for the spiritual growth of the church and see if the Lord will not add to your number day by day those who are being saved. God, keep this pastor from sacrificing the growth of members for the growth of numbers.

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