There are countless things in the world that should be celebrated. There are plenty of things that happen within the church that should be celebrated. Sadly however, it can sometimes be the case that things are celebrated that I don’t think should be. I’d like to mention something that I see celebrated quite a bit, but I’m not convinced it should be to the extent it often is…
Church growth. Yeah, you did read that properly, and by church growth I mean numerical growth.
Church growth is often celebrated as a wonderful gift and something to be enjoyed. I wholeheartedly agree. But I would caveat that with the question “what exactly is causing the growth?”
A lot of growth that we see in churches today can be characterised as transfer-growth. That’s growth which results from Christians coming from different churches to a new church. There are genuinely some good reasons for this, but there are also plenty of terrible reasons. Sometimes it’s the ‘fame’ of the preacher, sometimes it’s the style of music. Neither of which is a good reason in my mind, but that’s for another post.
Whilst there are good reasons for Christians to change church, I don’t think that transfer-growth is necessarily something to celebrate. It creates the illusion that the church is growing and reaching out, which isn’t always the case. I’ve known churches who want to plant churches as a result of transfer-growth. My issue with that is that a church plant should be done out of a desire to serve God, reach out to a community and to see the gospel spread. A church should not be planted just to create space for more transfer-growth.
Another issue with transfer-growth, and celebrating it a lot, is that it can give people the idea that the church is growing so they don’t need to engage in evangelism. A local church is not about building their own number, it’s about equipping the saints and sharing the gospel. Transfer-growth is fine, but it is an illusion to think that it’s the growth that should be celebrated.
The growth that should be celebrated is when the church grows by people coming to faith. This requires evangelism on part of the leadership, the church as a whole and every individual. Every member should be sharing the gospel. If, by a miracle of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, people come to faith that should be celebrated. That kind of growth encourages more evangelism, it enthuses the church and it leads to us expecting people to become Christians. It breaks my heart to hear of churches where it’s never expected for people to respond to the gospel.
I’m saddened to see churches who are happy to maintain the status quo and who’ve lost the desire to reach the lost. Evangelism has become a swear word in some churches today, it’s become an idea for the ‘zealous’ type. We much prefer transfer-growth because it means people with similar jobs, backgrounds, cultures, etc. will come to our doors rather than the soul saved by grace who is completely different from us.
The real growth that should be celebrated in the church is people coming to know Jesus. The real growth that should be celebrated is the joy of a sinner who has found salvation. The church has been tasked to take the gospel to the world, but too often we’re content with playing happy family. Celebrating transfer growth, rather than expecting conversions and for God to work, is like being amazed with a party popper whilst there’s a firework display going on outside.
Friends, don’t be fooled by an illusion. Celebrate true growth and pray for it to happen. Pray for churches to spread the gospel. Pray for Christians with zeal for the Kingdom. Get out and share the gospel and point people towards Jesus.