The Bare Soul - August 19, 2012
Church Growth

Acts 9:31 - So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

Throughout the years, I have attended several different churches. Some of these were large and some quite small. A few were traditional but the majority were of a non-denominational "flavor." I can think of a couple in Texas and some in Missouri which have continued to grow in both numbers and the ministries they provide to their communities and the world at large. However, there are others that have remained static or are even diminished in both their congregation size and their impact on their respective areas. While there are many reasons why churches do not seem to grow both in numbers and influence, there are reasons from both religious polling and the word of God that might give us pause regarding why this is so.

According to a 2003 Barna Research Group study regarding the theolographic (spiritual beliefs and practices) limitations of churches with less than a 100 parishioners, the following polling data regarding church size was compiled which "... reflect challenges that are less prevalent in larger congregations."

The data revealed that small churches have a lower proportion of attenders who are "spiritually active," which was defined as individuals who attend a church service, read the Bible, and pray to God during a typical week. This paralleled a finding that showed small church attenders are less likely to claim that their religious faith is "very important" in their life. In addition, the research showed that adults affiliated with small congregations are less likely to be born again, less likely to believe in salvation by grace alone (i.e., not by good deeds), and less likely to have an orthodox view of God (i.e., holy, creator, ruler of the universe, alive today). The report indicated that such views undermine a solid theological foundation for congregational growth and may suggest that other spiritual perspectives that conflict with the Bible are common in smaller churches.

While Barna's research provides a contemporary view into growth dynamics of smaller churches versus larger congregations, it is important to look at the word of God why this might be the case. In the aforementioned report, the pollster states education and economic status are also factors. However, I believe Luke gives us some insight in the book of Acts that possibly benchmark these survey findings with God's word. As our lead verse states, the church enjoyed peace after Paul's conversion, "... going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit." It would seem these are inseparable commodities regarding church growth, if we understand their importance to a healthy, growing congregation. First of all, it is relevant to acknowledge that churches will generally produce more parishioners after their own kind. (The metaphor holds true that oak trees will produce more oak trees via acorns.) So, if church people are continually taught the fear of the Lord is the way to keep away from sin, then these will be less likely to create factious schisms through unrepented lives (Proverbs 14:27). For instance, husbands and wives will remain in faithful relationships and children will learn the wisdom of obedience. Secondly, when members and attenders fear the Lord, they will seek instruction, not only from the Lord but from those gifted in the local body to teach (Proverbs 1:7). Therefore, they will more than likely find their place in the body and function according to their individual gifts. This is the "comfort of the Holy Spirit," when parishioners can find where they are jointly fit within the church and respond in obedience to the Holy Spirit's guidance. Rather than quenching or grieving the Spirit, they are then working along side the Comforter, bringing aid to the church. Of course, this finds great favor with both God and men.

 The purpose of this writing is not to judge anyone and the size of congregation they might attend. It is meant to challenge anyone who does not feel as they are growing in parallel with their church. If growth has stopped, both individually and congregationally, it is time to reassess where we fellowship. If we can be part of the solution, helping our body to grow through the fear of the Lord and through the equipping of the saints (comfort of the Holy Spirit), then we should by all means be that support. However, if others within the local body are comfortable in the problem and the church continues to die, then it may be time to move on. If we are not individually functioning in the fear of the Lord and the Holy Spirit's comfort, then it is superfluous to believe we are not providing assisted suicide to our local gathering of believers. Whether we stay or go, let us bring life through our personal relationship to strengthen our local body and bring the church, as a whole, closer to the calling the Lord desires.

Heavenly Father, may we individually live in the fear of the Lord, causing Your Holy Spirit to have His way in our lives. May we then collectively take Your message to our community, city, country, and the world as we join together to share the word of hope to a dying world. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

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