So neither the one who plants or the one who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth.(1 Cor 3:7 NRSV)
Church growth has somehow come to be understood by some Christians as synonymous with the growth of Christianity. Yet, given the controversies surrounding deliberate efforts on the part of churches to grow, especially numerically, one wonders how widely accepted is this notion in all churches. Furthermore, equating the Church to the whole of Christianity or the Kingdom of God is problematic to say the least. So what is it about Church Growth and the Global Church Growth Movement that makes the hackles of some persons rise?
Expansion Of The Early Christian Movement
According to the text from 1 Cor 3:7 above, which is part of a bigger passage it would appear that the author, Paul the Apostle, was simply stating the obvious that growth is inherent to Christianity. Anyone who has done any reading into the history of Christianity would be aware of what might be called the expansion of the Early Church which is generally portrayed as the overall spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to the rest of the world.
Paul is highlighted in the New Testament as something of a “Rock Star” apostle who was instrumental in the spread of Christianity. Not to take anything away from his efforts, we still have to acknowledge that the other apostles and the new converts also contributed as well. Through their efforts the church grew, certainly in numbers if not in maturity the way Paul anticipated it.
Increase Through Early Evangelistic Efforts
Whether we want to deny the fact, the spreading of the Good News was early evangelism. In addition, the spreading of the Good News anticipated that there would be growth. Part of what it meant to be successful was in the fact that growth was accepted as a matter of fact.
The consequential increase in converts and followers arising from evangelistic efforts was the work of God. Paul, expressed the view that human beings only cooperate with God in contribute to the process of God’s work on earth. The results are entirely God’s business. So its obvious that some effort should be put into nurturing and tending to facilitate any increase that God will give. Basically, there is evidence of something deliberate to produce the increase in membership.
Armed with an understanding of being witnesses to the Good News of salvation, grounded in what is termed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The Church today continues to believe that this mandate informed the Early Christians who undertook the spreading of the Gospel with great zeal. The anticipated increase in their numbers came and they kept growing and growing. Still one has to ask if the faith and spiritual maturity of Christians back then wasn’t superseded by numerical increase, just as it is today.
Numerical Or Spiritual Growth
Who says it has to be one or the other? Keeping a balance between the two, is perhaps one of the major issues of current church growth discussions. How does one keep spiritual maturity in tandem with numerical growth. While that question deserves its own treatment, I raise it here. For it seems like this too is inherent to Christianity. Was there ever a time when as a result of the off the charts increase and expansion of Christianity, that there was sufficient attention given to nurturing the development of deep mature Christian spiritual faith and commitment?
And I suppose that might be why some persons feel we need to halt this emphasis on growth for growth’s sake as it appears to some. Instead, we need to focus on getting those we have to become more committed and passionate about God. This is perhaps the driving purpose of building Small Groups. It is with the hope that with the nurture possible only in small groups not a crowd that this kind of commitment might be fostered and God will allow growth to take place.
Do tell us what are your views on this?