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Principles Of Church Growth In The Early Church
This article presents the concept of ‘church growth’ alongside evangelism mainly in the book of Acts. Whereas the Old Testament depicts evangelism as people coming to God, the Lucan perspective demonstrates that God’s servants will go to His people. Blauw’s thesis is that “a centripetal missionary consciousness becomes in Acts a centrifugal missionary activity…” (1974, 34). In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pigs looked from pig to man and vice versa but could not differentiate them in the very last page of the text which by extension shows what could happen if the church wants to imitate the world. One cannot replace the methods or the principles that brought church growth in the New Testament in our own era.
TYPES OF CHURCH GROWTH
1. Internal : This is the spiritual growth of Christians. Right relationship is established with God and man. Many Christians quote John 3:16 which demonstrates God’s love for man without taking into consideration I John 3:16 which focuses on man’s love for his fellow man.
2. Expansion: This is accomplished by the evangelization of non-Christians within the area of the operation of the church or ministry.
3. Extension: This is the growth of the church by the establishment of daughter churches within the same general homogeneous group and geographical area.
4. Bridging: This focuses on the establishment of churches in different cultural and geographical areas.
CHURCH GROWTH : WAYS TO INCREASE
1. Biological growth- children of existing members who come into the church.
2. Transfer growth- members of one church who unite with another church.
3. Conversion growth- the coming into the church of people of the world who are converted by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Evangelism: Evangelism in Acts is the communication of the good news of Jesus Christ through verbal proclamation and lifestyle witness, with the intent of leading a person or group to salvation in Christ.
Church Growth: This is the quantitative and qualitative development of the church. It is different from ‘swelling’ which is common and dangerous in the contemporary church. The African Church is dismissed as a mile wide and an inch deep which implies that other parameters other than numbers account for church growth. Church growth could also be seen as an application of Biblical, anthropological, and sociological principles to congregations, denominations and their communities in an effort to disciple the greatest number of people for Jesus Christ. Believing that it is God’s will that His Church should grow and His lost children be found, church growth endeavors to devise strategies, develop objectives and apply tested principles of growth to individual congregations, denominations and the worldwide body of Christ.
Church Growth Eyes: This is a characteristic of Christians who have achieved an ability to see the possibilities for growth and to apply appropriate strategies to gain maximum results for Christ and His church.
Church Growth Principle: According to McGavran and Ann, this is “a universal truth which, when properly interpreted and applied, contributes significantly to the growth of churches and denominations. It is a truth of God which leads his church to spread his Good News, plant church after church, and increase his body”(1977, p.15).
1. Prayer or Spiritual Warfare
Prayer is indispensable to church growth. John Stott comments that following Jesus’ ascension, the prayers of the disciples had two characteristics which “are two essentials of true prayer, namely that they persevered, and were of one mind” (1990, 10). The principle of unified prayer, or prayer with one mind and purpose, is a thread that runs throughout Acts. Luke’s initial description of the 120 (1:5) shows that they followed Christ’s command to wait for the Holy Spirit by obediently praying as a group WITH ONE MIND. See also Acts 4:18 (Sanhedrin); Acts 12:5 (Herod); Acts 11:11 (Peter’s rescue).
2. A clear and unique vision
In the King James Version, Proverbs 29:18 is rendered, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Vision is God’s dream of what he wants to accomplish in and through our lives and the lives of our churches. Several churches have vision statements they never use. What God blesses with success in one place is not necessarily His plan for any other. Every growing church has a sense of unique vision and purpose – a clear sense of direction. The church planter and the laity share a common vision for what God wants that church to accomplish. In most cases, the church planter and the people can clearly describe and articulate their vision. This gives the people a sense of direction. They are moving toward an objective. They are not merely existing.
A vigorous growing church is catalyzed by dynamic leadership that draws the entire church into action. For the church planter to function as a good leader, s/he must have certain specific character qualities and carry out certain specific leadership responsibilities. The church planter must truly desire growth for the church and must be willing to pay the price in hard work. The leadership must lead the work to organize the mission, set goals, develop plans, and mobilize the people to accomplishment. S/he must be creative, innovative, and assertive with regard to the vision and mission God has for His work.
4. The recognition and importance of the laity
The people of the work must be equipped to discover and use their gifts. They must be ready to assume new responsibilities and willingly hand over various leadership positions to other new people as the church continues to grow or expand.
5. Strategic Planning
The idea is to develop ongoing strategies that will help achieve the mission of the church. These should move the church toward realizing the accomplishment of its vision. With specific instructions from the Saviour, the apostles established a strategy to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Nehemiah positioned his people in areas of interests. Paul went to the synagogue and then the agora which was both a market place and centre of public life (Acts 7:17). A good church website can help your church to grow. Unfortunately there is an on-going war in this technological age: Technophilia vs. Technophobia. Many Rip Van Wrinkles exist in contemporary times. Several church leaders are yet to realize potential of a website for church growth. Yet a church website, specifically designed to reach outsiders, integrated with other appropriate outreach strategies, could be a major key to drawing non-Christians to your church.
6. Life Development Groups
This could be stated as the principle of assimilation. Perhaps the most important aspect of this principle is that the church must be structured in a way that develops an organizational base for growth. The larger the base, the greater the possibilities for growth. Life development groups provide a critical function that facilitates a church’s growth e.g. Sunday School groups, Youth Fellowship, Ministries (Men, Women, Youth, Children) etc.
Paul and Barnabas left the indigenous churches with leadership that would provide the direction after the apostles departed. Though the forms of church government vary in the New Testament, they appointed elders to continue their leadership roles. The elders were within the church (“in each church” Acts 14:23) completing the indigenization process.
8. Open Gospel
In the early church, some regarded Christians as Jews who have received Jesus as the promised Saviour. Consequently, any Gentile desiring to become a Christian must first become a Jew. This ‘closed’ gospel was a major concern for Christians like Paul. The Jerusalem Council became a pivotal point in the history of the early church. Neither circumcision nor adaptation to the Jewish community would be a requisite. Christians today should discover the same attitude to the unbelieving world. Is the gospel open today, or does it carry the baggage of cultural expectations, idolatry of tradition etc? One should not necessarily become a member of your tribe before he is a Christian.
The mission of the church is to win souls. Therefore, evangelism is not treated as a single principle since that is the primary mission of the church. The related concept of ‘follow” is crucial for young Christians. According to Acts 15:36, “some days after, Paul said unto Barnabbas, let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” Follow-up could be regarded as a motherly instinct. It is a deliberate focus on young and new believers for the purpose of spiritual guidance and counseling.
According to John Wesley, leading souls to Christ without a discipleship programme is to beget sons for the devil. Church growth is enhanced when each member becomes a part of the body (Eph. 4:16; Rom. 12:3-8; I Cor.12:12-22 etc.) and is endangered when they do not identify with the body. What we have learned must be committed to the faithful to teach others also. The importance of Bible Study, Sunday School Classes etc. cannot be overemphasized.
11. Sovereignty (Supreme Authority of God)
Despite the abundance of conflicts and setbacks in the early church, Luke communicates clearly that God is the final victor. Acts, in one perspective, is a narrative of the sovereign work of God in the midst of external and internal forces that would thwart any ‘normal’ movement. Though we are the vehicles to communicate the Gospel, our strength and power come from God. He gives the increase after the ‘planting’ and ‘watering’, He makes every thing beautiful, not in our, but in His time. One sows, another waters but God gives the increase. The clay does not question the Potter’s intent.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Blauw, J. The Missionary Nature of the Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
McGavran Donald A. and Winfield C. Arn. Ten Steps for Church Growth. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
Stott, John. The Spirit, the Church and the World. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity, 1990.
Wagner, Peter C., ed. Church Growth: The State of the Art. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986.
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