Let Me Tell You About My Granddaughter

As I ended the last entry, I mentioned my granddaughter. Actually, I have 3 grandchildren: 2 boys and 1 girl. They are probably the most handsome, beautiful, smart, intelligent, thoughtful, and loving children. And did I mention smart?

I don’t get to be with them nearly as much as I would like. My grandsons live in Omaha, Neb. while my granddaughter lives in Wheaton, Ill. But I see them as often as I can. And one of the things that EJ and I are concerned about when we see them is whether or not they have grown. I want their parents to be very sure they see the doctor on a regular basis for checkups including their growth rate. I want to be sure they are healthy and growing. And if they are not growing, is something wrong? That is important to me and to their parents, too, I am sure.

It is interesting that every living thing in God’s creation grows in some form or fashion. If there are the required environmental elements, and if they are healthy, they grow. This growth leads to maturity that in turn leads to reproduction. Funny how that works. And everything grows after its own kind. For example, a seed of corn doesn’t grow apples.

I’ve been thinking about all of this in relation to our churches. Since the church is a living organism created by God, should we not also expect to see growth? As a denomination we have spent some capital on trying to determine whether or not our churches are healthy. Over the years we’ve had all type of programs aimed at assessment of and prescriptions for our churches to become healthy and growing. But the sad fact remains that far too many of our churches have not grown. Let me try stating it this way — if a church is healthy then the natural result that one might expect to see is growth and reproduction. Furthermore, if there is not growth and reproduction then that is an indication of an unhealthy church.

Boy, I can hear the howls of protest already. They say things like, “How do you measure growth?” “You’re just interested in numbers?” “There are some things more important that growing numerically!” And some have even dared to suggest that God really wants all churches small. I have discovered that churches will resist talk of numerical growth nearly as much as they resist certain types of worship styles. Some have even suggested to me that talk of growing is unspiritual and unbiblical. But folks, I strongly disagree. If a church is healthy, one of the signs of that health is growth and reproduction.

The real question here is why the health and growth of a local congregation are important. It is not important if all we are trying to do is gain numbers for numbers’ sake. I think that is a given. But every number represents a person — a person for whom Christ died. That is why numbers are important. That is why church growth is important. Now there are lots of models for church growth. But it all comes down to the one value that supersedes all others…”the making of new disciples.” This is the key issue that every congregation must embrace. The strategies of ministry that we use must support this one key issue. The evaluation of every congregation must center around this key concept — are we making new disciples of Jesus Christ? Is our growth coming from making new disciples and not just from transferring people from your church to mine?

Then there is the critical cry that we are putting to much emphasis on numbers and that after all, the Bible doesn’t do that. Well, I beg to differ. In reading through the book of Acts, besides the passages in Act 2 where it says that about 3000 were added, and in Acts 4 where the number is 5000, there are other passages that focus on growth as well. Acts 6:7 says, “the disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Again in Act 9:31, “it increased in numbers.” Acts 11:21-24 testifies that “a great number of people believed…and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. In Acts 12:24, the Gospel “continued to increase and spread.” Acts 13:49 says, “the word of the Lord spread.” Acts 14:1 tells us that “a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.” In Acts 14:21, the Way “won a large number of disciples.” In Acts 16:5, they “grew daily in numbers.” Acts 17:4 speaks of “a large number of Godfearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” (I am indebted to Dr John Kaiser’s book Winning on Purpose for the list of Scriptures.) Let me tell you, Luke doesn’t shy away from talking about numbers when he speaks of people coming to faith.

Isn’t some of our reaction against growing churches really because we haven’t seen our churches grow and we don’t want to be made to feel guilty? I can certainly identify with this somewhat. But let me ask you a very important question: How will you respond to our Lord when He asks you why you have been so disobedient to His Great Commission? Listen, if you are not in the process of making new disciples, then I believe you are being disobedient to the Lord Jesus and the command he has given. And there just isn’t any nice way of saying that. When will we be willing to repent and confess our disobedience in following this Great Commission?

My purpose is not to make people feel guilty. I simply want to raise the bar to where it should be. I have just concluded my first year in this position. I have used this first year to listen, learn, assess, discover where we are as a church. In the remaining three years of my term I want to begin now to lay out a strategy for how we are going to begin to turn our church around. It will not be a program. We’ve had enough of those. It will not provide a quick fix. But there must be a consistent strategy of change developed that will lead us “back to the future.” I have been spending time thinking and trying to develop such a strategy and hope to begin unpacking it this fall.

Remember, “Where God Is taking us is always better than where we’ve been.” Don’t believe me? Just ask Abraham.

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