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Church Growth the Old Fashioned Way
Thomas R. Fletcher
We hear a good deal about church growth and the latest trends. Leaders concern themselves with what will attract people. The tendency is to look for some new plan, some wonderful new idea that will have folks flocking through our church doors. Adding special services, such as Saturday evening "seeker services," is one such trend. I am not necessarily against special services, but I think too often our focus is on trends and plans. Too often we think we need something new. Perhaps it is time to look at something old. Perhaps it is time to realize that, plan as we might, God has a hand in church growth. I have found an old church growth plan in Acts 2:42-47.
The book of Acts is an historical account of the early church. Acts 2:42-47 is a summary of church activity. Actually, verse 42 alone is a summary, verses 43-46 is a more extensive treatment of the summary, and verse 47 gives the result of the church's activity. Presented in this passage is the ideal for church life--an ideal we lose sight of as we focus on man-centered programs. Verse 42 lays out four items which make up the ideal: devotion to the apostles' teaching; fellowship; breaking of bread; and prayer. The early church remained firmly devoted to these four elements. This was not some program tried for awhile and then cast aside because it did not work. The principle idea here is persistence, the members persisted in these four elements. They were not jumping from program to program in the hope that something might work.
Interestingly enough, these four elements are on equal footing, leading to the result found in the last part of verse 47, "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (NIV). As the early church did its part in adhering firmly to these four elements, God did his part in bringing about church growth.
Since the early church experienced growth through these four elements, perhaps it is time we take a closer look at them. The first, devotion to the apostles' teaching, is something needed by the church today. We need sound, expository preaching/teaching. Far too often a preacher takes a text and departs there from, without an explanation of the text nor application to the hearers. The text becomes nothing more than a pretext for the preacher to ride his or her hobby horse of pet peeves. The winds of doctrine blowing through the church today are a direct result of a lack of sound biblical proclamation. Listening to many Christian broadcasts one finds that many are preaching experience rather than expositing the word of God. Others are twisting the word of God, taking it out of context, to make it seem to say what they want. Faithful proclamation involves explaining the meaning of the text in context and making application to the hearers. Without application, exposition is ineffective. Time is a factor is faithful proclamation. It takes time to study and prepare. Quite often we saddle our pastors with extraneous details so they do not have the time to properly prepare.
The second element is fellowship. Calling something "fellowship," does not make it true fellowship. Biblical fellowship assumes an involvement in the lives of others--an involvement at such a level that we know the trials our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing. Sadly, the only time many members see other members is during the church service. There is no contact, no real communication outside the church doors. At such a level there is no real involvement, no real care, no real concern. If there is no real communication outside the church, can there be within? Fellowship is the responsibility of each individual member. It is up to each of us to demonstrate care and concern for our brothers and sisters. A lack of fellowship is a leading reason many folks leave a church. Biblical fellowship is the glue that holds the church together. Joining the local "frozen chosen" club holds no real appeal for most people. Fellowship is attractive--people are drawn to those that show concern and care for them, they want to feel they belong. Bars are filled with lonely people seeking fellowship in the wrong place. We can show them true fellowship is available. True fellowship produces a unity of spirit and purpose. Fellowship is as important to church growth as sound biblical teaching/preaching.
The third element, "breaking of bread," is different than that referred to in verse 46, which refers to shared meals in the homes of fellow believers. The Greek contains a definite article in verse 42, literally, "breaking the bread." It is referring to the Lord's Supper. This is the memorial of our Lord's broken body and shed blood for our sin. Some problems have arisen in the celebration of the Lord's Supper simply because the Bible does not give specific instructions on how often we should do so. There are widely varying traditions in various church groups. Without getting into the various doctrines of transubstantiation, consubstantiation and the symbolic tradition, let me just say, two basic problems have arisen: some churches ignore the Lord's Supper, having no set schedule; others do it so often it has become common--just another part of the service to get through. No real thought is given to the solemnity nor significance of the occasion. In light of 1 Corinthians 11:29, this is not an event to be taken lightly.
The fourth element is prayer. This is not your pastor praying. It is corporate prayer, the church members praying together. It includes more than the members simply praying together. It is the members praying for one another. Most churches have some form of prayer service. Sadly, statistics show that these are the least attended of all church services. We build up our churches as we unite in prayer for church concerns. We build up our churches as we pray for one another. We need to take the time to pray with and for our brothers and sisters.
I believe this to be an old-fashioned church growth plan. As each individual decides to do his or her part in giving these four elements their proper place, I believe we will see our churches grow. If we are teachers, we need to decide we will take the time to study and prepare to properly teach. If we do not hold a teaching position, perhaps we can take on some other church responsibilities, freeing our teachers' time for study and preparation. We each have a hand in fellowship. Let each of decide we will be the first to reach out to others, to show our care and concern for people. Let each of us properly prepare our hearts each time we celebrate of the Lord's Supper. Let us take the time to pray with our brothers and sisters--let us faithfully attend prayer services. Let us pray for the needs of our church family. Let us each focus on where he or she needs to improve. As we each do our part, God will bring people our way. As we honor God in these four areas, he will bring about the church growth we so desire.