When speaking or writing on the subject of evangelism, we need to understand that the truth is we can grow if…

…we want to.

…we are willing to apply certain growth principles.

…we are willing to pay the price of growth.

…if we do not have a “terminal illness”.

Extensive studies have been conducted over the years which point to the fact that any church can grow when it decides to. However, so long as a congregation is contented to remain where they are, they will do just that, and watch themselves die off one by one until they no longer exist. Only when a congregations becomes dissatisfied with their present status; start to develop a plan to move from that status; and exercise that plan, growth can be seen.

When examining church growth, most congregations experience what is called a thirty-year pattern of growth. They grow early following their beginning, then level off, and finally stop growing. When that happens, there is but one direction to go – backwards. The simple reality is, churches do not maintain a status quo. They are either growing or dying, and there is no middle ground. With this article we want to give some thought to church growth in order to see what  must be done to bring about growth of the church in any location.

GROWTH IS NATURAL – Tragically, many smaller congregations have convinced themselves that the natural way for them to be is small and ingrown. They see larger congregations as mutations, freaks, or liberal. They perceive them to be the odd ones in God’s scheme of things. When doing so, they either forget, or overlook, the fact that growth is the natural condition in God’s world. To live is to grow. Whether it applies to trees, turnips, tadpoles, children or churches, when something stops growing, it is through. The simple reality is, when growth stops, death has already set.

When it comes to the church, growing is the natural thing for it to do. A normal, healthy, loving church, set in a reasonably normal setting, grows, naturally! Loving people reach out in love to share that love. Excited people naturally share their excitement. If faith has any meaning at all, it will be shared.  To put it negatively, we know a spiritual sickness has set in when people have been entrusted with the most important news of all time and they simply sit on it and do nothing (Romans 1:16; Matthew 28:18-20).

The church is God’s vehicle for achieving His will in His world today. If people are to ever hear the true unadulterated gospel, it must come from the church. This work has not been given to some civic organization. Neither has it been given to denominational churches. Instead, it has been given to the blood-bought body of Christ. People say the church cannot grow because it preaches the true Word of God and people do not want to hear it. Yet the first-century church preached the true Word of God and it grew (Acts 2:41; 4:32). When considering the early church, we see they faced impossible odds. They faced an oppressive, unsympathetic government, nervous about this new, upsetting, subversive religion.  They were small, to begin with and soon were scattered (Acts 8:1).  For the most part, they were poor and uneducated. They faced a vast mixture of cultures and religions.  But they grew joyously, naturally, excitingly, and rapidly.  So far as we can determine, it was not the result of a series of sermons on church growth. It just came naturally.

SOME IMPORTANT ASSUMPTIONS – Faith is the most important thing that church members have to share. It is easily seen that people need many things, but nothing is more needed than salvation.  The problem the church confronts is, we have offered, peace without the Peacemaker, service without the Servant, and knowledge without the mind of Christ.

It is imperative that it be understood that evangelism is more than seeking the lost. It can easily be said that Christ is not pleased with

Fishing without catching – Luke 5:4-11

Empty banquet tables – Luke 14:15-23

Sowing without reaping – Matthew 13:3-9

A fig tree that bears no fruit – Luke 13:6-9

Lost sheep that are not brought into the fold –

Matthew 18:11-14.

A lost coin that is sought but not found – Luke 15:8-10

Harvests that are not reaped – Matthew 9:36-38

Proclamation without response – Matthew 10:14

Sons and daughters outside the Father’s house –

Luke 15:11-32.

The bottom line is, contrary to common thinking, numbers matter. A census taker in the hills of West Virginia knocked at a door and asked the woman of the house how many lived there. She replied, “Well, there’s Willie, and there’s Sarah Ann, and there’s Butch, and there’s Alfred. . .” “No, no, no,” interrupted the census taker. “Not the names, just the number.” “Mister,” said the lady, rising to her full five feet, two inches, “in this house we don’t have numbers. We all have names.” Every number has a name. It can be said that numbers matter because each number represents a child of God. I always have to laugh when people say “Numbers do not matter to God.” If this is true, why is there a book in the Bible called    “Numbers”?

SOME IMPORTANT STRATEGIES – To reach the lost, there are certain strategies that must be put into action. Christians need to go to the groups they are best suited to reach. This is basic New Testament strategy. Andrew brought his brother Peter (John 1:40, 41). The Samaritan woman brought people from her village (John 4:28-30). Matthew brought other tax collectors (Mark 2:14, 15). A sinful woman was forgiven and soon afterwards other sinful women found their way to Jesus (Luke 7:37-8:3). A study conducted a number of years ago revealed that where people went without any previous contact or social network, the conversion success rate was 0.1 percent. This averaged out to about one convert in every 1,000 visits.  On the other hand, where there had been a previous connection with members of the local congregation, the success rate increased to 50 percent.

To reach the lost we need to go to receptive people. All people are not receptive all the time as we are more receptive at times than at other times. When those periods of receptivity do occur they do not last. In study of the ministry of Jesus we see that He knew of this principle. He instructed His disciples to move on if a village did not receive them (Luke 9:4, 5).  In essence Jesus was saying, “Go where people will listen, don’t waste your precious time on those who won’t.” They were not to cast their pearls before the swine (Matthew 7:6). Those who have “ears to hear” are the ones where we need to concentrate upon (Matthew 11:15).  The Apostle Paul knew of this principle also. He wrote of doors being closed. Instead of standing banging on doors that would not open, he moved on to find those which were open to him (Acts 16:6-10; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Acts 14:27). The church needs to follow these examples!

When looking around it is possible to see examples of open doors. Visitors are probably the most receptive. This is so because in most cases they have initiated the contact with the local congregation. Numerous studies have shown that if a return visit to visitors is made within 48 hours, while their interest level remains high, the odds are greater of reaching them than if the visit is made later. People who have experienced major changes in their lives would be the second most likely group. A new home, a child, a new job, the death of a loved one, serious illness, a child entering school, etc., are all good examples of possible open doors as they show interest in those who have experienced such things. The third most likely group would be people who have needs. Someone has said the rule should be, “Find a need and fill it. Find a hurt and heal it.” A vibrant benevolence program can be one of the greatest ways of reaching people if it is correctly utilized.  Too often the church takes care of the physical needs without any attempt to deal with spiritual needs. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with examples of Jesus finding a need and filling it while finding a hurt and healing it.  Surely the church can learn from the Master Teacher!

A principle that must be kept in mind is, “Strike while the iron is hot.” Too many opportunities pass by while the church discusses what they should do (Galatians 6:10). The church needs to use the tools they have. Each member has certain capabilities that can be used for service in many other areas.  Why can’t they be used in service to the church?  I knew of an elder in a congregation many years ago who would sell light bulbs door-to-door for a Civic organization, but wouldn’t knock doors for the church.  He said “he couldn’t do it.”

What must be understood is evangelism is more than just knocking doors. It is knocking on the door of an individual’s heart instead (Revelation 3:20). The sad truth is, 95 percent of all church members never win one person to Christ during their lifetime. This is not due to there not being any to win. It is due to not seeking the lost.

Evangelism is often like driving a dump truck; we don’t dump the whole load at once. Congregations need to understand that as they work with people they are, for the most part, working with people who are ignorant of God’s Word. Those that come into the church are as newborn babes and need to be treated that way. The church cannot expect them to act like full grown Christians overnight. They must be given time to grow (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 2:2).  The question is asked, how do you eat an elephant?  The answer is simple, one bite at a time.  People continue to learn and mature. Those that the church works with must be given time to do likewise.

To reach the lost of any community, evangelism needs to be kept high. Research has shown that most churches tend to cluster around a worship attendance of 30 to 35; 70 to 85; 115 to 135; 175 to 200 and so on. The question is how does a congregation move up to the next level? First, it needs to think big. In other words, think like a church that has already reached the next level.

Congregations need to see themselves as being larger. They need to gear their activities for a larger number. Secondly, congregations need to keep their focus.  When evangelism becomes something other than the purpose for living, churches are in trouble. It is important that members understand that the church exists not to satisfy itself, but to serve as God’s vehicle for the promulgation of the gospel (Mark 16:15, 16). Everything that is done should be geared with this in mind. Thirdly, congregations should know their goal.  We begin with the question, what is the goal for the church? If no one can tell what it is, then how do we hope to meet it? What must a congregation have in order to know what their goal is?  The answer is simple, a goal.  As someone has said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” For the church to grow, it must set a goal and then stick to it.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE? – First, we note the congregation’s price. Christians must give themselves to the cause before them (2 Corinthians 8:5). So long as Christians hearts are somewhere other than upon the work set before them, it will never get done. Like Israel of old in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Christians must have a mind to work (Nehemiah 4:6). Likewise, Christians must realize their purpose for being here. Every child of God has been purchased to serve Him (1 Corinthians 6:20). Because of this, they are willing servants in the kingdom of God (Romans 12:1). We can sum it up by saying; the church has been saved to save! Secondly, Christians must give financially. It costs money to do what we are talking about. Christians need to understand their responsibility to give properly to the church (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2).  They must be careful to not get caught up in the world in trying to get ahead to the point that they rob God of what is due Him (Malachi 3:8; Matthew 6:19, 20). Too many times God ends up paying for the little “extras” that Christians feel they need. This must not be.  Thirdly, Christians must be willing to give of their time and energy. The work of the church cannot be done unless church members do it. Christians have responsibilities which must be fulfilled.

As we consider growth, we need to take note of what we may call the profile of a growing congregation. First, it is a loving congregation.  People are attracted to loving churches more so than they are any other reason. At first, to many people, doctrine is not that important.  It is the reception they receive when they first visit that will make or break most people.  We need to remember that we have been called to love one another (John 13:34, 35; 1 Peter 2:17).  Secondly, it is an open congregation to new people. New people will not fight their way into the church. They must be accepted. They must feel welcome.  Granted, some people would feel out of place no matter what we do. But they are the exception to the rule.  Thirdly, we need to be open to new ideas.  Someone has said that the seven last words of a dying congregation are, “We never did it that way before.”  Flexibility is extremely important to the growth of the church. Not doctrinal flexibility, but flexibility when it comes to practicing our mission.  Fourthly, we need to be open to old ideas.  We can add another sentence to the words of the dying congregation, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Did you ever go out and try to start your car and it wouldn’t start the first time and give up?  Usually we try again and again until it starts or we  know it never will.

Can’t we apply this same thinking to the work of the church? So what if something was tried before and it didn’t work? Maybe the time wasn’t right. Have you ever wondered about the number of inventions that we now take for granted that would not have survived had the inventor given up at his first failure?  How many times did you try to walk before you walked without falling?  The truth is, only God gets everything perfect the first time.

Before we close, let me list a couple “terminal illnesses” that kill the church. First, there is “Ethnikitis”. Sometimes we shut people out of the kingdom simply because they are of a different race than we are. We must remember that each person is precious in God’s eyes (John 3:16).  Secondly, there is “populus abandonmentosis”.  We cannot abandon the people and still expect to win them. Jesus had many disciples because He constantly was out among the people tending their needs.  Congregations shutting themselves up in their buildings will not result in reaching anyone.  The early church was successful because it taught daily from house to house with the gospel (Acts 5:42).

The lost can be reached if the church will get busy looking for ways to reach out and follow up on those ways. Not only are the souls of those outside the church being jeopardize by the lack of effort, but so are the souls of many who refuse to take seriously their responsibility in this area as children of God. The church cannot sit idly by and allow the world to be lost without paying the price in eternity.