Wednesday, September 28, 2011

God's Pattern For Congregational Growth

What does dynamic church growth look like in the New Testament?  Were there “mega churches” with highly organized programs, super committees, and dynamic public relations?  It might surprise us to see for there are today precious few congregations following the New Testament example, let alone even being aware of one!

By far, the most successful, influential and long lasting congregation we know of in the New Testament was the church of Christ in Antioch, Syria.  Their evangelistic thrusts took place continually for literally hundreds of years!  Antioch was one of the last congregations to fall into apostasy. This congregation was spontaneously planted and became aggressively evangelistic without any push from the outside to be so.  The news of what was happening in Antioch spread as far as Jerusalem to the point where they had to “check it out!”

What does, then, dynamic congregational growth look like in the New Testament?  The church of Christ in Antioch is a powerful case study, one to which we should pay heed.  Here are some characteristics of dynamic congregation growth, both then and now:
  •       God first takes people out of their “comfort zones” and scatters them – Acts 11:9.  When Christian people become fewer in number, weaker in resources, driven out of jobs and moved out of their traditional surroundings, God is ready to grow that congregation.
  •        Among the “scattered,” God raises up a few people to spontaneously reach out to previously “unseen” seekers of God’s truth, shares the gospel and baptizes them.  In Acts 11:20, scattered people form Cyprus and Cyrene began to teach Gentiles the gospel in Antioch, a group previously ignored by earlier efforts.  When God is ready to grow a congregation, a few people begin to reach out and teach those they previously ignored for one reason or the other.
  •          God blesses individual spiritual initiative to share the gospel with others.  The more it happens, the more God blesses the efforts.  This is what Luke tells us what happened in Acts 11:21.
  •          When congregations begin to show individual spiritual imitative, taking the Great Commission seriously, God raises up help from outside the congregation who just begin to “show up!”  God did this for Antioch in Acts 11:22. They sent Barnabas as emissary.
  •          Such strong individual spiritual initiative will do a number of things according to Acts 11:23:
1.     Make God’s grace very visible.
2.     Bring gladness to others.
3.     Bring exhortation to even more faithfulness.
4.     Bring a “steadfast hope” to the congregation.
  •          All these things working together will cause “many to come to the Lord.”  Acts 11:24
  •          When many come to the Lord, these faithful individuals will actively seek out even more help from outside the congregation.  They will literally go to people in other congregations to say, as it were, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  This is illustrated in Acts 11:25 when Barnabas left Antioch to go to Tarsus to look for Saul.
  •          Not only will others be sought, they will be BROUGHT in to help!  Barnabas did not go to Saul for a “consultation” or attend a “seminar,” he physically brought him to Antioch as we see in  Acts 11:26.
  •          God uses all these things working together to drive the congregation “into the Word of God” for a period of intensive Bible study as He did in Antioch in Acts 11:26.  Saul and Barnabas studied with the Antiochene brethren for about a year!
  •          When the faithful spread the gospel, teach others who had been previously ignored, bring outside help in to assist in the work and engage in serious Bible study, God will cause the outsiders to take notice – even if it may be in derision!  “…they were called Christians first in Antioch.” – Acts 11:26
  •          When God causes a congregation to grow, there will arise preachers and teachers capable to deliver powerful messages and teach others the details of the Christian faith as was evidenced in Acts 13:1.
  •          All of these things coming together will motivate a congregation both worship and fast as they did in Antioch in Acts 13:2.
  •          Worship and fasting will garner even more blessings of God as evidenced in Acts 13:2 which will then, in turn, cause more fasting, along with prayer as the church Christ in Antioch did in Acts 13:3.
  •        Finally, what is the result of this all?  The congregation, now strong in numbers, faith, knowledge, and commitment to the Great commission will reach out and establish other congregations, thus completing the “unbroken circle!”

We are saved so as to be used by God to save others.  Congregations grow so they can then establish other congregations.  This is a pattern that worked then and it still works today!  Every congregation should strive to continually plan to grow in these ways, not to build a larger and richer “super congregation,” but to have the faith, resources and the passion to continually plant new works.  THIS is how the church of Christ “turned the world upside down” in the 1st century, all for the Glory of God!

NOTE: Picture courtesy of:  This is a picture of the Hampton Christian Church, Hampton, VA circa 1885.  Our parents were members of this denomination until they were taught the truth in 1963 by my grandparents, bro. and sis. Clyde and Georgie Taylor.  The church moved to a new location in 1974.  The building is now used as a women’s shelter and is missing the steeple, having fallen into disrepair. - Russ