Rev. Steven Quist
1982 Synod Convention Essay
The study of Church Growth is of supreme importance for every Christian in the world today. This is true because two million people are born in the world each week, one with every beat of your pulse. This study is so important because there are about 4,000 tribe languages in the world and only 2,000 of them have a written alphabet and the Bible. This study is so important because there are four billion people in the world today and only one-fourth of them have any connection at all with Christianity. This study is so important because the church of Jesus Christ has the assignment to bring the message of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus to all people. This study is of supreme importance because Jesus has said, “Go and make disciples of all nations…”
Church Growth is a most important topic for our ELS. I would like to begin our study of the topic “Show Forth His Salvation” with the words of Dr. N. S. Tjernagel found on p. 148–149, Profiles of Lutherans: A Study of Selected Characteristics and Attitudes of Lutherans in the United States — 1980. VIII Data Analysis, Section Six — The ELS: Overview and Closing Comments.
The 1980 annual Synod Report lists twenty-eight parishes which were not on our roster in 1971. Some of these are new mission stations but the largest number of them represent an unusually large accession of congregations who terminated membership in other synods to join the ELS. These new congregations show a total membership of 3,405 souls. If we subtract the number of souls in the congregations we lost, 620 in all, from the tally of the 3,405 souls in the new congregations we have a net gain of 2,785 members. But, alas, as figures above show, this potential gain was dissipated in the overall loss of membership during the decade of the 1970’s.
The ultimate conclusion must be that during the past ten years we, like other Lutheran bodies, have not been carrying out an effective mission program. Mission work was doubtless done. But the sad fact remains that losses outran real gains. Though our membership increased by 2,459 during the decade it was a growth that did not keep pace with out birthrate, a total of 4,021 children baptized in our congregations.
How can the ELS reverse this backward trend? First of all we must face the facts presented to us by Profiles of Lutherans. Our respondents have told us that very few of our congregations have evangelism programs. And only an exceedingly small number of our people have ever involved themselves as lay witnesses working in God’s Kingdom to bring lost souls to salvation. A formidable education program involving the Synod and its leaders, and our congregations and their pastors is needed to train people in the willingness and the skills required of evangelists and missionaries. Jesus said: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
This study will be divided into two parts, quoting again the above Profiles of Lutherans, “a formidable education program involving the Synod and its leaders, and our congregations and their pastors is needed to train people in (I) the willingness and (II) the skills required of evangelists and missionaries.”
I — The willingness required of evangelists and missionaries
This first section will deal with the Bible’s teaching concerning Church Growth and the second section with congregational programs for achieving that growth. I do not claim to be an expert in Church Growth. But I have experienced joys and failures in the work and I’m sure you have too. I invite your reactions and insights, to the things I will share with you in this study. Let this study be an experience in seeing God’s supreme emphasis on Church Growth in the Scriptures and an opportunity to bring back to our congregations new ideas of how to put Church Growth into action with our fellow ELS members.
God’s will for Church Growth in the Old Testament
The salvation of mankind has always been uppermost in God’s mind. It has always been his will that his Church grow and that the lost are found. When sin came into the world in the Garden of Eden God immediately promised to destroy the power of sin and Satan by redeeming the world through Him who was to be born of the woman’s seed. This promise of salvation was of greatest importance in God’s dealings with Noah; with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; with Joseph and Moses; and with David and all the prophets. God sent the foreign missionary Jonah with His salvation for Ninevah. He used Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bring salvation to Babylon. And He used the little Israelite slave girl to save Naaman, the Syrian.
Psalm 96 from which our convention theme is taken is a beautiful description of God’s will for Church Growth. The Psalm depicts the time when the people of Israel were returning to Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity in Babylon.
The Psalm tells us how God guided the mind of Israel during its captivity. God’s mission through His people would be worldwide. Isaiah, in chapters of his prophesy, 40–66, had foretold of this new era in which Israel was to declare its purpose for existence in the glory of the coming mission of God’s Messiah. God had raised Israel to this mission from the depths of affliction in exile. There in Babylon, having suffered for its sins, Israel had been led to repentance and renewed faith.
Following its leaders some of the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and its walls. Psalm 96 finds the people of Jerusalem standing and watching on its new walls and looking out from its new watch towers awaiting, with great anticipation, the arrival of the messenger who will lead the great throng of returning exiles into the rebuilt city.
All of sudden there he is! They see the messenger on the top of the hill, “Peace and Salvation,” he cries “Our God is King!” “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem!” (Isaiah 52:7-9) The messenger proclaims it. The new era begins. God’s will for Church Growth is being carried out.
Salvation comes with the word of proclamation. By the fact that the messenger declares the restoration of Israel and the inauguration of the messianic era he brings them to pass.
For the word is not just breath and sound; it is effective power. The Lord puts His words on the lips of His messengers. He it is who speaks through them. With His word He creates the world, He shapes history, He rules the world. The watchers on the walls hear the word and repeat it with rejoicing. It rings through the city and messengers carry it through the land: ‘The Lord is King’; ‘Behold, your God.’ A new era begins also for the nations. For the Lord is a God of the Gentiles as well as Israel! (G. Kittle, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 709)
Sing to the Lord a new Song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day. (Ps. 96:1–2)
(All Scripture quotations are from the NIV)
The great time of God’s salvation is at hand. The message of God’s acts of power goes out to the whole world. Daily the glad tidings are to ring out among the nations.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light
and Kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:1f)
Such is God’s will for Church Growth in the Old Testament. It is his will that the lost are found. “Proclaim his salvation day after day.” Psalm 96 is God’s call to his people to sing praise to his name and to evangelize the nations. The word “proclaim” as used in Psalm 96 means “to bring good tidings,” “to announce glad news.” The word denotes intensity and repetition.
What was the willingness required of the evangelists and missionaries in the Old Testament? It was a willingness which they in themselves did not possess. Like us their motivation, without God’s help, was that of sin: to be self-serving, to ignore God and his will, to tell no one of God’s salvation and to reject it themselves. Their willingness came in the power of God’s call to be his people. In the power of His word Israel was faithful to His will to evangelize the nations. In the power of His word their sins were forgiven, in that power they rejoiced in their salvation and in that power they proclaimed it from day to day. This is how God makes unwilling people willing to evangelize. He gives the motivation. There is no other way.
God’s Will for Church Growth in the New Testament
430 years after the return from captivity the promises of the messianic age were fulfilled. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21)
You and I, living so many years after the writing of Psalm 96 or the birth of Jesus, have the very same needs that the people of that time had. You and I, as part of the fallen human race, were conceived and born in sin. By nature God’s wrath is upon us as much as it was upon wicked Israel before the Babylonian captivity. If left to ourselves the great enemies of our sinful flesh, the wicked world, Satan and the condemnation of the Law will drive us to despair and eternal damnation.
It is sin that ruins lives, that breaks up families, that brings chemical destruction and nuclear war. Sin brings despair, jealousy, hatred and death. Sin and its consequences are the great scourge of the world today.
But praise be to God, the satisfaction for this great need of the sinner is found in the Gospel.
The messianic age is God the Father sending his Son Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ to become a man under the Law. Jesus, God and man, by living a perfect life and by dying on the cross, is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of each and every person. “We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) And Jesus was raised again on the third day for our justification. Through the gift of faith the benefits of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are ours.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:21–24)
This is the good news that we bring. The Gospel is God’s glad tiding that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we are released, restored, forgiven. Salvation is faith in these accomplished facts plus nothing else. This is the message, like Psalm 96:2, that we are to repeatedly bring with intensity. This Gospel, that contains the whole plan of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, is to provide the willingness required for the evangelists and missionaries today.
God’s Call to Discipleship
God’s will that the church grow is basic to the understanding of discipleship. Jesus called his disciples that they might be with him. They would hear his teaching, they would see his acts of love and they would grow to understand his great desire that all would be saved. We will study now the call to discipleship.
God calls the disciples and in the power of his word they come to Him and follow Him. Jesus said “Come, follow me, … immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.” (Matt. 4:19) “You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last.” Scripture teaches that people are prepared through the Law to experience God’s wrath over sin and through the Gospel to come to repentance and faith. The Gospel is the invitation and transportation to come to Jesus. And it is always Jesus who calls and brings people to discipleship.
Even before God created the world His plan was that we would be called in His Son to be disciples. This call becomes ours in the power of His word in Baptism. Baptism is “being born again of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5) It is receiving the benefit of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (Rom. 6:4). “You are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” (Gal. 3:26–27) Thus Baptism brings salvation (I Peter 3:21). This is what Jesus said in his Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:18–20)
Understanding the power of God in our Baptism is essential for understanding discipleship because in it we receive all God’s blessings including the gift of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit is repeatedly mentioned in Scripture as the motivating power for the willingness required of evangelists and missionaries.
We find in the Old Testament that the Spirit was the motivating power for the prophets. Isaiah prophesied in the power of the Lord when he called for repentance and evangelism. “‘Whom shall I send? and who will go for us?’ and I said ‘Here am 1. Send me!’” (Is. 6:1–8) Isaiah wrote that the Spirit would be with God’s servant the Messiah (Is. 42:1–6), and would call him in righteousness (Jesus’ Baptism, Mt. 3:15). And Joel prophesied that in the messianic age God would pour out his spirit on all believers (Joel 2:28–32).
In the New Testament John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize the believers with the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:11). Jesus spoke often of the power of the Holy Spirit. He said “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) Jesus said, “‘If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7:37–39)
The gift of the Holy Spirit was prominent in Jesus’ mind the evening before his death. He said. “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15–17) Jesus said “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:26-27) Jesus said that as we study His Word He will be in us and will bear fruit through us (John 15:1–17 and John 16:5–15). Jesus said that we would have much opposition as we do his work (John 17:6–19) and He emphasized “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” (John 17:20)
After His resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, “‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. … ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” (John 20:19–23) This giving of the Office of the Keys is basic to the understanding of evangelism. It was given first to Peter (Mt. 16:18) and then to the disciples (John 20:23). The priesthood of all believers is built on the Office of the Keys.
Let us look at the Office of the Keys for a minute in our Synod’s Small Catechism (1966 edition, p. 205ff)
349. What authority has Christ given His Church?
to preach the Gospel, and
to administer the Sacraments.
This is the historic definition of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. To preach the Gospel in a pure understanding of it, and to administer the Sacraments as instituted by Christ. These are the marks of the Church. Where this is done the true church will be found. And let us say that our evangelism presentation will only be as clear as our understanding of and proclamation of the Gospel is clear. The Gospel of Christ in Word and Sacrament is the power to salvation and the essence, after the preaching and conviction of sin by the Law, of evangelism. This cannot be said often enough for the Gospel contains God’s will and power for the salvation of the world.
Confession is practiced among us because of the Absolution given. The Office of the Keys and the priesthood of every believer is emphasized in our Catechism again (p. 209) under Confession.
“General confession is made together with our fellow Christians in our worship service, but private confession is made alone before the pastor or some other Christian.”
358. What is Absolution?
“Absolution is the forgiveness pronounced by the pastor, or some other Christian, in Christ’s stead and by His command.”
Church Growth is emphasized in our catechism under the Second Petition (p. 173ff)
“Thy Kingdom come.”
What does this mean?
The Kingdom of God certainly comes of itself without our. prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.
How does God’s Kingdom come?
The Kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.
300. What must we bear in mind as we pray the Second Petition?
When we pray the Second Petition we must bear in mind that God has graciously made us members of this Kingdom of Grace, and that He has also given us the responsibility of carrying on the work of Christ our King until His return.
The basic passage for understanding the Priesthood of all Believers is I Peter 2:4–10
“As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in the Scripture it says:
‘See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.’
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,’
‘A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Church Growth in Acts
Understanding the priesthood of all believers is as important and as practical for the life of the Church as knowing how to breathe. A priest is someone who offers himself to God for his service (Rom. 12:1-2). That service includes all the work of the Church.
In the book of Acts we find the priesthood at work. In Acts 1 Jesus gives the plan for the working out of the Great Commission : “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8) At Pentecost Peter preached about Jesus and people responded: “ ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ ” (2:38–47) These verses are basic to understanding Church Growth. And it gives the result: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and, to prayer… with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The Book of Acts tells the very exciting story of Church Growth among the Jews and then among the Gentiles. It speaks of the work of the Apostles and also of the laity. In Acts 6 we have the choosing of the deacons, “ ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ ” Stephen, the first martyr, was among those seven. He did not get into trouble for waiting on tables but rather for preaching Jesus—the chief function of the priesthood of all believers.
Acts 8:1,4 are most important verses for understanding Church Growth, “on that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the Apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” At the end of the chapter we have the story of another deacon, Philip, “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” A most beautiful description of the evangelist’s work of the priesthood of all believers.
In Acts 9 and following we have the story of the great expansion of the church among the Gentiles. In Acts 16:30–40 we have a basic passage on the understanding of New Testament evangelism. It is the account of the jailer of Philippi. The jailer asks, “‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household.’ Then they spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and the whole family was filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God.”
The household principle in evangelism is found in Jesus’ ministry, for instance with Zacchaeus (Luke 19). And it is found quite often in Acts. Acts 18 records for us a beautiful example of the household principle among the Jews and Gentiles in Corinth. In the Graeco-Roman world you could be a member of several households. It was not only the immediate family in the house, but included servants, servants’ families, friends and even business associates. These were and still are the natural ways that the Church grows and the lost are found. The following is a story by Win Arn that illustrates this point:
Joshua, a Jewish merchant from Rome, walked briskly along the cobblestone road. He knew, as he passed more and more people, that he was getting closer. He had heard much and thought often about the city of David; a thought shared by every Jew throughout the Roman world. Forty years earlier Herod the Great had begun a major restoring project in Jerusalem to return it to its former grandeur. Not since the time of King Solomon had such palaces, citadels, amphitheaters, viaducts, and public monuments been built. So magnificent were these buildings Herod had begun that some were still being completed. Joshua had heard that visitors were overwhelmed by the city’s splendor.
The winding road made its way over a hill of gnarled olive trees. Joshua’s pulse quickened… his pace increased. As a Jewish merchant, he had ‘officially’ made this trip for business reasons. But secretly Joshua had always longed for a reason to take the seven-week journey from Rome to Jerusalem and see the city of his dreams. Nearing the top of the last hill, he no longer noticed or nodded to travelers passing on the road. He was sure that on the other side of the hill… He broke into a run, sandals clapping against the cobblestones.
Then, he saw it. He gazed transfixed. Joshua could not believe he was actually there. Across the valley, set among the surrounding hills, was Jerusalem… ‘the perfection of beauty’ in the words of Lamentations, ‘the joy of all the world.’
As Joshua approached the city, he could see how the massive stone wall which surrounded it had been damaged, repaired, and enlarged over the centuries. At intervals along the wall were located massive gateways where people streamed in and out of the city. Just inside each gate was a customs station where publicans collected taxes on all goods entering and leaving the city. Joshua explained his mission to the gatekeeper, and was told to report to the customs center near the temple where an officer would explain the regulations.
Once inside the city, Joshua faced a bewildering maze of dusty winding streets and alleyways. As he pushed his way through the crowds, slowly making his way toward the temple, his senses were assaulted by the sounds of voices raised in bartering or in song, the braying of donkeys, odors of cooking bread, bleating of sheep soon to be sacrificed. In the excitement, Joshua nearly forgot to ask directions to his brother-in-law Benjamin’s house where he would be staying while in Jerusalem.
The next day Joshua spent as a tourist walking through the city. Since it was the holiday feast of Pentecost, most merchants were not doing business. As Joshua entered the marketplace, he noticed a gathering on the far side of the court. It seemed to be a political meeting or a public debate.
Walking closer, Joshua saw a large, bearded man standing above the others, speaking to the crowd. Suddenly Joshua’s heart jumped. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The Jewish man was speaking in perfect and fluent Latin, a language Joshua had not heard since he left the Roman ship on the coast of Israel. He listened.
The man speaking called himself Peter, and spoke of strange but fascinating things. Peter spoke of the Messiah, foretold by the prophets, and that this Messiah had already come. In fact, Peter claimed that he had actually been with the Messiah only days before! Peter’s message filled Joshua with a strange sense of intrigue. It was unthinkable that the Messiah had actually come. Everyone would know! Yet the story this man told sounded reasonable and compelling. Could the long awaited Messiah actually have come?
Later that day Joshua responded to Peter’s message about the risen Christ and His love. Joshua and 3000 others were baptized. He hurried home to tell Benjamin, his brother-in-law, and his family of this exciting new dimension to the Jewish faith. That night as Joshua, overflowing with joy, shared the events of the day, Benjamin, Benjamin’s wife Miriam, and their whole family made the decision to follow Jesus, the Messiah.
In order to learn more about his new faith, Joshua stayed in Jerusalem longer than he originally planned. He, Benjamin, and Miriam joined the other believers as they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’
Joshua wrote home to his wife Ruth and the children to explain his delay. He told them of his new faith, and sent the letter by Ananiah, a friend in Rome who was visiting Jerusalem and who also became a disciple at Pentecost.
By the time Joshua himself returned to Rome, his family had already become disciples of Jesus the Messiah. Between Joshua’s letter and Ananiah’s personal testimony, they couldn’t resist this faith that fulfilled and completed their Jewish beliefs. Joshua began sharing the apostles’ teaching with family and with Ananiah. Soon Ananiah’s family and servants also came to the Lord.
Meanwhile, Joshua returned to his import–export business. He gathered his employees around to tell them of this new faith. Many of them believed and asked Joshua to help them share the Good News with their families.
Whether he knew it or not, Joshua was part of a process of making disciples that would be the way the Christian movement would eventually become the most widespread faith and force on earth. And a key element in that process was the communication of God’s love through an established network of social relationships which the Greek New Testament calls ‘oikos’.” (Arn, The Master’s Plan For Making Disciples).
“An oikos was one’s sphere of influence, his/her social system composed of those related to each other through common kinship ties, tasks and territory… Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette has observed that, ‘the primary change agents in the spread of faith… were the men and women who earned their livelihood in some purely secular manner, and spoke of their faith to those whom they met in this natural fashion.’ ” (Arn, above p. 37–39) This will be a very important consideration in the second part of this study.
There are two more very important Biblical teachings to consider: The Public Ministry and its relationship to Church Growth and the Church as the Body of Christ.
The Public Ministry and the Body of Christ
Jesus said to Peter concerning Peter’s confession that he was the Christ, “‘on this rock I will build my church,…’” (Mt. 16:18) All Christians are to preach Christ in their lives wherever they may be or go. The universal priesthood by God’s will gathers into congregations where pastors and teachers publicly proclaim the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. The work of the pastor in Church Growth is very important. In his life and in his words he is to be an example to the church of what it means to be Jesus’ disciple. He is to guide and guard the evangelical ministry in the congregation. He is to be a teacher and an evangelist (Acts 20:28, I and II Timothy and Titus).
Ephesians 4 is a key chapter in understanding the pastor–teacher role in Church Growth in the congregation.
“It was he (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service (ministry), so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, Joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (v. 11–16)
The Biblical picture of the Church as the body of Christ is very appropriate for understanding God’s will for Church Growth. Romans 12 is a beautiful description of God’s plan for his Body. Paul wrote that “in view of God’s mercy (that is always the motivating force for the willingness required), to offer your bodies as living sacrifices… For by the grace given to me I say to everyone of you… Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (see also I Cor. 12)
The priesthood of all believers as the body of Christ is to minister to the needs of the church and the world. Opportunities and gifts are the way God does this. Each Christian is given by God many opportunities to minister the Office of the Keys both to fellow Christians and non-Christians. Each Christian should become aware of the opportunities and gifts which God gives. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… all these (spiritual gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each man, just as he determines… God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wants them to be … Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I Cor. 12)
Let us quickly review the Biblical points about Church Growth made in this first part of the study (these parts overlap each other):
1. Our attitude is of supreme importance. It is necessary to understand that it is God’s will that his Church grow… that his lost children are found.
2. Salvation comes with the word of proclamation. “Proclaim” in Psalm 96 and elsewhere in the Bible means to announce the Good News of the Gospel. The word implies intensity and repetition.
3. The willingness required of evangelists and missionaries does not come from themselves but from God. Only through the power of his word can we be motivated to do his work.
4. God calls us to discipleship. “Go and make disciples…” A disciple is with Jesus, learns his teaching from his Word, sees his acts of compassion and perceives his will for the salvation of all nations.
5. Discipleship begins at Baptism. Here we learn who we are—children of God through faith in Christ Jesus; and here we learn what we are to do—to follow him and make disciples of the nations. “The Church needs dedicated men and women who desire deeply to get beyond nominal church membership to active discipleship, and in this way recover the dynamic power of the early Christians as described in the Acts of the Apostles.” (Oscar E. Feucht, Everyone a Minister, p. 8)
6. Part of the blessing of Baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ emphasis in John 13-20 make this gift essential for evangelism and the whole Christian life.
7. The Office of the Keys and their use is essentially what evangelism is. Here is the basis for the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
8. Our evangelism presentation will only be as clear as our understanding and proclamation of the Gospel is clear.
9. Every Christian at Baptism is made a member and minister in the Priesthood of all Believers. Understanding this is as practical as knowing how to breathe. To be a Christian priest is to have all the privileges and obligations of the priesthood of all believers. These cannot be delegated away to anyone else.
10. Oikas—Household—Evangelism is basic to understanding New Testament evangelism. We are all members of four households.
11. The Public Ministry and its relationship to evangelism. Every pastor-teacher is a missionary to his community and “a preparer of the saints for the work of ministry.”
12. The Church is the Body of Christ. “The diversity of gifts is given for the mutual profit and well-being of all Christians. In this one body the interrelationships and mutual helpfulness are to be as cooperative and complimentary as the various members and organs of the human body.” (Feucht, p. 38, emphasis his).
In 1960 our Synod convention theme was “Ye Shall Be Witnesses Unto Me.” Professor M. H. Otto preached the sermon for the opening service basing his sermon on Mt. 28:18–20. In that sermon he said that:
“we are to share the truth of God’s Word with our fellow men as Jesus commanded. We are both to preserve this truth from error and to be most aggressive in preaching it to others, remembering Who it is that has given us our task. He is our mighty, loving, sympathetic Lord and King; who can prevail over us and our work in His name? Shall we fear when our Savior is at our side? “Lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world.” He promises that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. Dare we think that Christ cannot defend us and prosper the work He has given us to do? Will Jesus be unable to free the Church under tribulations? Let us be confident our gracious Lord and King will give us the grace necessary for our task. ‘The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1. (emphasis mine. 1960 Convention Report, p. 3).
II. The Skills required of Evangelists and Missionaries
Church Growth is primarily a matter of attitude. If we accept the statement “It is God’s will that his church grow… that his lost children are found.” then we will act on it. “For the church lives by its theology… all theology is practical.” (Robert Preus in the Foreword, The Radical Nature of Christianity, Waldo Werning)
This second part of our study will deal primarily with forming attitudes among our members that will foster Church Growth. Skills and methods will be discussed. It is important to understand that Church Growth methods are adoptable for local situations. But Church Growth principles are always true and never change.
“Churches grow as they respect Biblical principals” is the title of the second chapter in Ten Steps for Church Growth, by Donald McGavran and Winfield Arn. Let us begin our study today by looking at the seven principles from that chapter that a church needs to respect if it is to grow.
1. RESPECTING BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES MEANS ACCEPTING THE BIBLE AS FINAL AUTHORITY.
“Scripture is the major source for Church Growth thinking. The New Testament is a series of Church Growth documents. The Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the Epistles were written by missionaries for missionaries. They were written by Church Growth people to Church Growth people to help the church grow.
“When the Scriptures are read in this light, they are really understood. When a static church reads the New Testament, it misses many important truths; but as the Scripture is read through Church Growth eyes, one discovers that it bubbles with Church Growth information, illustrations, principles, and priorities.”
Does Church Growth thinking go beyond Biblical principles, using methods or ideas not found in Scripture?
“We live in a day of a marvelous explosion of knowledge. This is in the providence of God; he intended it. God has given to man, particularly in the last few centuries, an amazing amount of knowledge about our world. He expects us to apply this knowledge in line with Biblical principles. When we use this knowledge—geography, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and many other areas—in line with Biblical principles, we are doubly right. We are using the tools God has given us, and we are using them for ends that he blesses.”
2. RESPECTING BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES SEES PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF CHRIST AS LOST.
“This is the basic reason Christians press forward with the growth and multiplication of churches. We remind ourselves constantly that people without Jesus Christ are really lost. This is the solid witness of Scripture. and it is amply supported from history, life, and experience. The only way people can come to the Father is by Jesus Christ. Every Christian needs to focus on this truth from Scripture. Respecting Biblical principles means being convinced from Scripture that men are really lost unless they believe on Jesus.
“Intellectually, most Christians and most churches believe that those outside Christ are lost, but does that truth get into every practical aspect of thinking, planning and programming? Many church members tend to see Saviorless and Masterless neighbors and friends as not lost, not condemned, not bound for a Christless eternity. But Christians who form their opinions in opposition to the scriptural view are mistaken; they need a Biblical conviction of mankind’s lostness.
“Recognizing this basic principle means that we must take seriously both the lost in general and the lost in our ministry area. We must not believe we have already won all the lost who can be found. This produces a comfortable feeling and creates a “fog” through which those who are lost cannot be clearly seen.
“Sometimes the fog causes Christians to say that the lost are indifferent and so sinful they cannot possibly be saved; sometimes the fog causes Christians to say that they themselves need to ‘get better’ before those who are lost will listen. Both these excuses are rationalizations; God wants lost people found. Found people are the precious stones God uses to build his church.”
3. RESPECTING BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES MEANS AFFIRMING THAT GOD’S LOVE AND CONCERN IS FOR ALL PEOPLE.
“Christians need to be certain that their affections are not narrowly limited to one small part of mankind but extend to all men and women. As members of the Body, we are coworkers with God in fulfilling his unswerving purpose to redeem men. God does not want any to perish. Scripture is clear on that! He wishes all men to be saved. God’s desire must be our desire. While some will reject his invitation, our heavenly Father wants all to be saved.
“His concern is for salvation of multitudes—hundreds of thousands of different ethnic and language units, social structures, geographic locations, and economic entities, all of which will some day form a bewildering variety of churches. God loves them all; he is the God of all.
“The United States is not one monolithic population. It is a marvelous mosaic made up of thousands of pieces… all kinds of peoples, a pluralistic society. Understanding the various pieces of this mosaic helps us see God’s overarching concern. Often we are blind to other cultures, including those in our own country; yet discovering God’s unwavering concern for all cures our blindness and extends our vision.
“Christians who form convictions on the sure rock of Biblical principles are just as concerned with men and women in other cultures as with those in their own. They realize that Caucasians are no more precious in the Lord’s sight than Chinese, Japanese, Chicanos, Arabs, Blacks, and Amerindians. According to the Bible, we are all God’s children, equally precious. God is no respecter of persons. The Lord Jesus died for all.”
4. RESPECTING BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES MEANS BELIEVING THAT CHRIST IS THE ONLY WAY.
“The Good News is that God has provided one way, a beautiful way, the way of his Son, the way of the cross, the way through the tomb to joyful resurrection. This one way is “whoever believes on the Son will have everlasting life.” This is the Gospel. Men and women cannot earn salvation by good deeds. Salvation comes by believing on the Savior. Believers are justified by faith. When they receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, their sins are really forgiven. This is foundational.
“No man-made religion offers a way of salvation, forgiveness of sins. peace with God, reconciliation with the Father, and the in-dwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is unique.”
5. RESPECTING BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES MEANS OBEDIENCE TO THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
“The Holy Spirit commands; it is up to us to obey! The Christian’s response is “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (see I Sam. 3:9). Such obedience is a major factor in the growth of any church.
“Involved in this obedience is the conscious desire for the Spirit’s direction. When confronted with problems and uncertainties, the Christian seeks God’s direction. A congregation or a Church Growth person faced with a problem prays, “Father, I’ve endeavored to gather all the facts available, and still I’m uncertain which is the best decision. I need your guidance and direction. I’m asking for your leading. I am listening for your instructions.” Following such a prayer, action can be taken by faith in the confident assurance that the Holy Spirit will indeed lead.
“The same Holy Spirit who walked across the pages of the New Testament in glorious acts is present today.”
6. RESPECTING BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES MEANS PRAYING INTELLIGENTLY AND SPECIFICALLY FOR THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH.
“Churches have been praying for years, but in many cases they haven’t seen growth because Christians seldom petition God for growth. They don’t pray specifically for the conversion of close friends and loved ones. They don’t pray for families by name. They don’t pray that new churches might be planted. They don’t pray specifically for the discipling of others. In other words, they don’t pray intelligently for growth.
“What a transforming change might occur if, in church after church across America, sustained, passionate praying for growth might be part of every meeting, until such praying penetrated every Christian’s conscience. God will hear and answer. Unprecedented growth of a magnitude hitherto unknown would take place.”
7. RESPECTING BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES MEANS SEEING THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST.
“The Church Growth perspective takes a high view of the church. The church is absolutely essential. It is not just one organization among many through which God works. It is the Body of Christ, not just a Body of Christ. It is not just a Bride of Christ, but the Bride of Christ.
“Respecting Biblical principles means that we hold the church to be a necessary part of God’s plan for the salvation and discipling of men and nations. They must not only believe in Jesus Christ but must become responsible members of his church. The Bible requires that. If we take the Bible seriously, we cannot hold any other viewpoint.
“It is definitely the purpose of God that his church become the instrument of salvation and discipling for the entire world. We must live in the light of that hope. We must be optimistic, not foolishly, unthinkingly optimistic, but realistically assessing the difficulties and, more importantly, the opportunities.
“Let the church be all that it was created capable of becoming. This calls for reproduction, part of the Church’s basic function. A sound body is reproductive; reproduction is a normal God-given function of the human body. Reproduction of the church is also a God-given urge, and the church should not suppress it. But we are expected to do so many things.
“God expects his church to do many good things, but these must be arranged in order of priorities. The church needs to see its various options and then order its priorities. Any church sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, taking the authority of the Bible seriously, praying intelligently and systematically about its mission, will be able to arrange its priorities in a way which will please God.
“The church serves in many different ways; however, it must never forget its primary and irreplaceable task—bringing lost children back to the Father’s house. Winning the lost is a fundamental function through which the church is re-created. The church, both as individuals and as organizations, is continually dying. Unless it is re-created by winning the lost, it fails in its greatest service to mankind, and soon there will be no church.
“Christians often mistakenly assume that their church is always going to be there. They have a beautiful building and wonderful Christian brothers and sisters. Of course, their church is always going to be there! But the church is always just one generation away from extinction. Unless there is continual reproduction, there isn’t going to be any church. Evangelism is a top priority. God uses it to create the church. When the church is created, it does God’s work in the world.”
Is building the church man’s work or God’s?
“In answering that question, keep two concepts before you. First, God is immensely concerned that lost men be saved. He sent his Son to live and die that the lost be found and restored to communion with God. Second, our Lord left the carrying out of his program entirely to twelve men, and then to the church. We must act as though we alone were responsible and pray as though God alone were responsible.
“Paul’s words are helpful. He wrote to the Corinthian church, “I … planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (I Cor. 3:6) When a church grows, God has given the increase. Yet man has planted, watered, and nurtured. God has given these tasks into men’s hands, they are man’s responsibility.
“There is a beautiful combination of God and man in the growth of his church. Churches intensely conscious of God’s presence, and God’s passion for the salvation of men find they have all kinds of unsuspected resources in themselves. Conversely, churches in which the vision of God’s concern for the lost world grows dim gradually wither and die.
“A good theology of the church should be fulfilled in day-to-day personal experience. In worship, in committee meetings and in home and business life Christians should think of their congregations in dynamic, not static, terms. We must see not only a church building on the corner but a church whose people are obedient to Christ in their daily lives.
“Yes, churches that wish to grow must respect Biblical principles. They will go astray in mere activism, statistical concern, or self-aggrandizement. But when they respect Biblical principles, they can press forth under our God to vigorous growth, conscious that they are in the will of God and that what they are doing is pleasing to God-the one thing that matters!”
The Unchurched American
Since it is God’s will that “all man be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth” (I Tim. 2:4), we need to ask ourselves who is that person out there that we are trying to reach? In order to acquire the necessary skills for evangelism we need to study and understand “the Unchurched American.” A study by that title was published in 1978 by the Princeton Religion Research Center and the Gallup Organization, Inc. The information gathered and assessed in that study is helpful in understanding whom it is we are trying to reach in our mission work. The following is from their report.
— About 61 million American adults are not members of any church or religious organization. —Eight in ten Americans believe that a person can be a good Christian and not attend church.
In this study an “unchurched” person is not a member of a church or has not attended church in the last six months. In this number are deeply religious people “who do not happen to be drawn to the institutional church—or who, for some valid reason such as health problems—are unable to attend church regularly.
Using the above definition, 41 percent of all adults (18 years of age and older) can be classified as “unchurched” and 59 percent as “churched” (about 89 million).
I. GENERAL ATTITUDES (abbreviated) (p. 5)
The results of this study show nationwide acceptance of traditional values.
The 1980’s may come to be regarded as a “return to normalcy” period.
* Nine in 10 (89 percent) say they would welcome more respect for authority.
* 91 percent would welcome more emphasis on traditional family ties.
* 6 in 10 (62 percent) would oppose more acceptance of sexual freedom.
* 7 out of 10 (70 percent) would welcome less emphasis on money.
(These include both churched and unchurched.)
Younger adults (18 to 29 years old) and those with a college background tend to be more liberal in their outlook. However, differences in terms of age groups and education level are not as marked as might be expected (p. 6).
II. ATTITUDES TOWARD ORGANIZED RELIGION
A. Public confidence in the Church or organized religion is higher than in eight other key institutions of society. This is true of 80 percent of churched people but only 38 percent of the unchurched. (p 7)
B. Organized religion is widely criticized by the unchurched as having lost “the real spiritual part of religion” and for being “too concerned with organizational as opposed to theological or spiritual issues.” Large majorities of the unchurched believe that “most churches are not effective in helping people find meaning in life” and fail to be “concerned enough with social justice.”
* Significantly, these criticisms are shared by large proportions of the churched, as well. (p. 8)
* Perhaps most telling of all is the finding that 86 percent of the unchurched—and 76 percent of the churched—agree that “an individual should arrive at his or her religious beliefs independent of any church.”
* The churched and the unchurched are in close agreement that “commitment to a meaningful career is very important” and that “depending on how much strength and character a person has he can pretty well control what happens to him.”
The churched, however, are much more likely than are the unchurched to say they have “discovered. clear cut goals and a satisfying life purpose” and to say “facing my daily tasks is a source of pleasure and satisfaction.”
* Can a person be a good Christian or Jew if he or she doesn’t attend church or synagogue? Seven out of 10 of the churched segment, and eight persons in 10 of the unchurched, answer in the affirmative. (p. 9)
C. While there has been little decline in the proportion of Americans who hold to basic beliefs, a smaller proportion of people today than in 1965 and in 1952 say religion plays a key role in their lives. About half (53 percent) of the current sample say religion is “very important” in their lives. The comparable percentages were 70 percent in 1965 and 75 percent in 1952.
Among the churched, 70 percent say religion is “very important” in their lives, while the proportion is considerably lower, 30 percent, among the unchurched.
III. RELIGIOUS COMMITMENT (p. 10)
A. The proportion of BELIEVERS has remained constant over the last quarter century. Today, as in 1965 and 1952—
* About eight Americans in 10 believe that Jesus Christ is God or the Son of God.
* About seven in 10 say they believe in life after death.
* About nine in 10 say they pray to God (but not as often as in 1965 or 1952).
B. The unchurched are overwhelmingly “believers” and it is not a loss of faith, in most cases, that has caused people to become unchurched.
“The proportion of Americans who are unchurched for philosophical reasons is not great. Other forces seem to be more determinative, such as interpersonal influence, community relationships and life styles.” (Dean Hoge, Catholic University of America)
IV. RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND (p. 12)
A. Most of the presently unchurched have had a traditionally religious background-in fact, to about the same extent as the churched.
* About nine in 10 (88 percent) among the churched have received religious training of some sort as a child, compared to 77 percent of the unchurched.
* The sharpest difference found between the churched and unchurched in terms of the KIND of training is “instruction by your parents at home, “cited by the churched considerably more often than by the unchurched.
* Those comprising the churched segment are far more likely than the unchurched to say they have received some religious education as an adult, other than during a worship service, within the last two years.
* Forty percent of the unchurched say they have been confirmed.
* An overwhelming majority of those in the “churched” category (95 percent) would want a child of theirs to receive religious instruction. Seventy-four percent of the unchurched give the same response.
In terms of the total sample, a decline is found in the percentage of Americans who say they have received religious training as a child, 94 percent in 1952 to 91 percent in 1965 to 83 percent today.
It is interesting to note that this down-trend in religious training parallels a down-trend in the percentage of Americans who say religion is “very important” in their lives. (P. 13)
B. The basic reason why one half of the churched joined the Church is because they were brought up in the congregation.
The other half joined because “I was invited to this church by a member, and I liked the people.” (A most important Church Growth point.)
C. Factors which led returnees (churched, unchurched and rechurched) to resume attending, include (1) self-need; (2) so that children could have religious instruction; (3) a matter of faith and (4) a personal religious experience.
D. A significant proportion (one in four) of the PRESENTLY CHURCHED indicate there was a period of two years or more when they were among the unchurched—that is, did not attend church.
* “I moved to a different community and never got involved in a new church.” (p. 14)
* “I found other interests and activities which led me to spend less and less time on church-related activities.”
* The unchurched are most likely to say “when I grew up and started making decisions on my own, I stopped going to church.”
(The outline points in the Study are followed, so, no E, etc.)
F. When those who have moved to a new community were asked why they never became reaffiliated with a new church, the chief reason given (42 percent) is that “seeking a new church was not a matter of urgency and 1 never got around to it.”
* “none of the churches near my home was to my liking.” (14 percent)
* “There were no churches of my preferred denomination at a convenient distance from my new home.” (10 percent)
* Of particular significance is the finding that about one individual in five is critical of the church because “1 wanted deeper spiritual meaning than I found in the church.”
I. Many of the unchurched-while not drawn to organized religion-nevertheless have positive inclinations toward organized religion and feel that “religion is a good thing.” For example, the overwhelming majority of the unchurched would like to have their children receive religious training. (p. 15)
J. At least half of the unchurched, (52 percent or approximately 20 million adults) say they could see a situation where they could become a “fairly active member of a church now” and would be open to an invitation from the church community. (A most important Church Growth point.)
K. Differences between the churched and the unchurched also include the following:
* Those who are churched are more likely than the unchurched to have all or most of their closest friends living in the same community. And they are four times more likely to say that all or most of their closest friends attend church on a regular basis. (A most important Church Growth Point.)
* The churched are more likely to be men than women, young than old, single than married. Levels of formal education does not appear to be a major factor. Nor are sharp differences found between Protestants and Catholics.
POSSIBLE STEPS TO HELP BRING ABOUT RENEWAL (p. 20)
1. Re-evaluate your religious education.
Survey evidence indicates that many adult Americans have a shocking lack of knowledge about the Bible and key factors of their religion.
“Are teachers of Christianity not only dealing with information about Christ but also with the formation of His character in today’s youth? Are children putting their beliefs into actual life situations? Is belief followed by commitment? Is Christianity presented not only as a creed but also as a relationship with a living Christ? Is the teacher a dedicated Christian—or simply the only person available?”
2. Strengthen your program of spiritual counseling.
Among those who could be brought back to the church, most cite as an important motivation: “If I can find a pastor with whom I can openly discuss my religious doubts and my spiritual needs.”
3. Re-examine the status of religion in the home. (p. 21)
One of the greatest differences between the churched and unchurched found in the study is that the former are more likely to have had religious training in the home.
“It clearly behooves the clergy and others involved in religious education to gain insight into the conditions in the home in terms of religious training. Does the family talk about God and religion? Is the Bible read regularly? Does the family pray together? What is the nature of devotion in the home? Are efforts made to apply the Gospel precepts to the formation of character in the home?
“What do parents themselves know about their faith? Do they practice their faith? How do they deal with the tough questions asked by their offspring? How many parents, particularly if they themselves do not go to church, can give a good answer to the child’s question: ‘Why should I go to church?’
“What is called for is a ‘team effort’ between clergy and parents-to find out how churches can complement and reinforce what is taught in the home, to educate parents, to educate youngsters and to aid in their spiritual formation.” (p. 22)
4. Develop an active program of evangelism. Clergymen should do more to encourage church members to feel that evangelism and witnessing are key aspects of religious commitment.
Factors to consider in evangelism include
* One of the key reasons given by those who joined a church is that someone invited them to do so.
* Every church has some people who are particularly gifted in reaching others.
* Evangelism can also be understood in terms of a counseling relationship with those who wish to mature in Christ.
* Evangelism often fails because the particular spiritual or physical need of the unchurched is not recognized or met. (p. 23)
Those involved in evangelism should indicate how church involvement could help those presently unchurched to:
* Deal with the problems of life.
* Strengthen the religious and moral development of their children.
* Understand the meaning of life.
* Enrich their own spiritual lives.
Many of the unchurched—and churched as well—feel that churches are “spiritually dry.” This is particularly true among the young adults. People are looking for others who will share in their religious struggles.
5. Reach out to new people in a COMMUNITY.
Sometimes all that people need is an invitation. The study indicates that many people have never been asked to try a new church, but would do so if they received an invitation. The potential for new members may be more encouraging than in the past, since many people apparently are spiritually restless. In addition, denominational lines are not so strong as they have been in the past. (p. 24)
7. Examine and evaluate the effectiveness of your mission. Are you getting through to your congregation? What are the levels of religious practice, belief and knowledge?
What about the future?
While the challenges facing the churches of America in their efforts to reach the unchurched are immense, the study offers reason to be encouraged. Donald Kimick sums it up in these words:
“Look at this recent Gallup survey! I am a parish pastor and a social researcher and the results show me great opportunity for the church.
“Of the 61 million Americans who are not members of a church, 52 percent say they might see themselves becoming fairly active members now. What would bring these people into the Body of Christ?
– A church that would listen to religious doubts and spiritual need.
– A church with vital worship and preaching.
– A church with a real thirst for Christian education at its best.
– A church that will simply invite them to join.
May God help us achieve these worthwhile goals.” (p. 26)
Lyle Schaller, one of the most respected church planners of today, in an article entitled “What’s Ahead?” subtitled “These seven emerging trends will have an important impact on your congregation and your life,” speaks about the concerns that a long-range planning committee should consider. Four of these are:
1. Christian Day Schools
All over the country parents who are dissatisfied with the public schools are sending their children to Christian Day Schools. The question is not will there be a Christian Day School in your area but who will open it. The Princeton-Gallup Study emphasizes this interest again and again. The Christian Day School is today an important door for Church Growth.
2. Decline of denominational loyalty
In 1952 seven of eight adult members in the main-line denominations had been born into them.
Today the average protestant congregation is finding that of its last 20 new adult members, 3 are former Roman Catholics, 6 are from another Protestant denomination, 3 had no previous church affiliation, and only 8 are from the same denomination. In general the younger the new adult member, the greater the chance he or she was not reared in the same denomination.
“This trend has significant implications. We must learn to be open to ‘church shoppers’ from other denominational backgrounds. We have to recognize that many new members will not automatically be comfortable with our beliefs, traditions, customs, hymns, and order of service. And we will have to reshape our new-member orientation classes so they emphasize our church body’s doctrine, policy, history, and worship tradition. Congregations that continue to look to transfers from other churches of the same denomination for ‘replacement’ members are likely to decline in membership.”
3. Whose needs?
Another trend emerges when we ask new members, ‘Why did you pick this church?’ As in the three most frequent responses are—
* “I was invited by a friend (or relative or neighbor).”
* “I married a member.”
* “I’m here because of the pastor.”
But when questioning goes beyond that first response, a new set of factors appears.
“During the ‘50s and ‘60s, many parents said they wanted a church with a good program for their children. Today, increasing numbers of young adults are shopping for churches on the basis of what the ‘congregation can offer them.’ They are seeking a church that can respond to the needs they encounter on their personal and spiritual journey in life. Often this means that congregations with a strong evangelistic thrust must strengthen their adult ministries to attract such church shoppers.”
4. Adult Bible Study
Growing churches have tremendously increased the number and variety of Adult Bible study groups that meet at times other than Sunday morning. The Princeton-Gallup Study emphasizes the interest in Bible Study for adults. A growing church must develop classes that meet individual needs.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GROWING CHURCHES
Growing churches believe that “it is God’s will that His church grow—that His lost children are found.” Biblical convictions direct believers to work for the growth of the church. ‘‘Primarily, it is recognizing that God wants the church to grow; that the church was made for growth; that it is normal for the church to grow, and to bring people to the knowledge of salvation. The growth of the church is dependent upon men coming to feel about salvation the way God feels about it, and yielding themselves to God as ready instruments for His will.”
What can a congregation do to teach the skills necessary to be an evangelist and missionary? What can I take home to help me set up a mission program in my congregation? These are very complex questions. There are so many things that play into Church Growth. During this last part of our study let us consider three characteristics of growing churches that we can go home with and talk about and start to work on in our congregation.
1. The necessary attitude for church growth. Again, the most important point. Churches grow as they wish to grow and put growth (reaching people for Christ) as their number one priority. Waldo Werning says that we must understand that “we are not called merely to do or give something, but we are called to a mission.” “God calls not for mere talk but for a radical (route) nature and embodiment of divine power and Christ’s voice in the world through His Church in the daily activities of the congregations.”
We need to understand spiritually—and only God can give this understanding—that evangelism is the mission of the church. As in Psalm 96:2—Evangelizomoi is “to bring or announce good news.” This is a verb, an action word. We are to be in the process of evangelizing people. We are on the King’s business. We have an authoritative, saving, and life-giving word to proclaim and Jesus Christ is the heart and center of that message. Evangelism is presenting the Gospel in such a way that people are invited to take hold of Jesus Christ in faith.
So—the necessary attitude that we must have for church growth is that Evangelism is the task of the church. All other aspects of church life and activity must support this task and are methods for carrying out the task. “The indispensable condition for a growing church is that it must want to Grow.” McGavran.
Waldo Werning writes, ‘‘Leaders of local churches, aware of the Great Commission, should be traimng, equipping, and leading people to become world Christians. “(Vision and Strategy for Church Growth, p. 22) “This is not an expression for a foreign missionary. It means a believer committed to Jesus Christ and who, through personal witness, generous giving and prayer, evangelizes his community and missionizes the world. He is ready to do anything and go anywhere, anytime, as Christ leads.”
“Unfortunately, most church members have a limited vision and a limited commitment, and a very narrow view of their responsibility. Such persons have a tunnel vision, seeing only themselves, their families, and their immediate surroundings. (Acts 1:8 requires us to be world Christians).”
World Christians means to serve the Lord with a world perspective whenever and wherever He wants us to work. The World Christian will give realistic answers to the questions: where is anywhere? when is anytime?
The World Christian will apply crucial tests to all that he is doing in order to determine the relevance and usefulness of his activities by asking: If not I, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?
The World Christian will ask, concerning both his evangelistic and mission responsibility in life, where am I going? What shall I do to get there? What does God’s Word teach me concerning my task?
Leaders of local churches, aware of the Great Commission, should be training, equipping, and leading people to become World Christians who will help reach the three billion people yet to meet Christ through saving faith, starting in their own area and culture. Only world Christians can change that tragic statistic. That’s the biblical perspective, not tunnel vision.
The World Christian considers himself to be a citizen of the world and gives loyalty to the total world community rather than to a single section of it. His eyes are wide open to the needs of his community and the world, and he has a sense of urgency about meeting those needs. He offers all human, material, and spiritual resources for Gospel outreach by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is concerned about the tragedy of people who spend their time and money on causes related to themselves while they are blind to their responsibility to help reach the three billion unreached people with the Gospel.
This necessary attitude means for our Synod that—
A. A priority in teaching, in prayer and at worship is given to world missions. The Lord has called us into Peru. This is priority work. It deserves our best planning, our best manpower and our best publicity. No other thing we do as a Synod is more important than Peru. This is part of what it means to be a World Christian.
B. A second and equally important part of being a World Christian is the establishment of home mission congregations. A church body grows mostly through new congregations. A new congregation has its eyes set more on outreach than an older one does, it is not as plagued by the seven last words of the church, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Our Synod must be a steward of the priorities of men, of money and of prayer for the opening of new home missions. Nothing is more spiritual for the church to do than open new home missions.
The future will require doing home mission work in new ways and among new people. It must take into very serious consideration the large ethnic groups, like the Hispanics in America. Our Seminary must have Church Growth as a priority in preparing our new pastors for the Lord’s Work.
“Holiday Inn’s” and restaurants will become more and more commonly the location for the new congregations. The following is an article by Pastor Daryl Fenton entitled “The Gospel Goes Downtown (“Leadership 100” March-April 1982, p. 5).
“I unlock the doors of the old building like I have a thousand other days. The night crew has gone. They have removed the traces of 4,000 people who passed through these oak-paneled rooms yesterday. The aroma of wiener schnitzel and tobacco, coffee and beer has largely been replaced by the smell of wood polish and glass cleaner. The silence is heavy in contrast to the symphony of china cups and saucers, glasses and ice that accompany waiters with 30 different accents who play these halls six days a week. It’s Sunday, and The Berghoff Restaurant is closed.
“Passersby look hopefully at me, key in hand. I explain, ‘No, the restaurant won’t be open today, but we’ll be having a church service soon. You’re welcome to join us.’
“I’ve worked at The Berghoff, a half block off famous State Street, for 12 years. As each year passed, I became increasingly aware of my limited ability to meet the needs of the people with whom I rubbed shoulders each day. Christian friends, including Craig Burton (now our pastor), felt that same immediacy of need throughout all of downtown Chicago. So when I asked the Berghoff family if we could use their landmark building for a church, I witnessed a miracle in their wholehearted response.
“The Burtons were ready to move to the city and take the risk of starting a new work. Last summer we moved a few tables, told a few people, prayed a great deal—and Loop Evangelical Free Church was born.
“Why start a church in the heart of Chicago’s business district? Ten thousand people moved here to live during the last several years. Thirty thousand more residents are expected within the next five years. Tens of thousands work here each day. There aren’t enough churches to meet a challenge this large. These people live out their lives, as do all city dwellers, in an intense, intemperate environment. The need for proclaiming and living a sin-deflating gospel in an atmosphere of care ,and warmth is great.
“For that reason, each Sunday morning finds us turning a dining room into a sanctuary. The entrance on the lower level becomes a nursery. Just around the corner, past the display table, you’ll find the primary class. We roll the stage into the large west dining room and put it under the mirror. A music stand substitutes for a pulpit. Guitars, banjos, flutes and an electric piano stand in for more traditional instruments.
“Somehow, in the inimitable way the Holy Spirit always works, when we’re all done it feels like a church. Even the stained-glass windows, with their beer steins and grapevine designs, lend pastel hues to the transformation.
“The people will be coming soon. The core group of committed Christians who began this adventure with us will arrive, some from forty miles away. There will also be those who week by week have joined us. City people for the most part, but not as many from the neighborhood as we first expected, they have enlarged Loop Church to about 60 people. Many are Christians, but more and more come who need Christ’s love. Our reason for existing is beginning to emerge.
“The Berghoff is proving uniquely appropriate for the job God wanted done. Its familiar name and location simplify directions to Loop Church. The informal atmosphere, with its patina of old Chicago, provides a non-threatening place for people unaccustomed, or even hostile, to church. The solid oak tables automatically promote a sense of warmth and intimacy that greatly enhances a stranger’s ability to worship.
“Because we can use The Berghoff only on Sunday, small groups must meet in homes. The place compels us to be the kind of church Craig believes we should be—a “go” church. We are forced to carry our faith and our church life into the various worlds in which we live. We don’t have a place where all the activities of the church can take place. Therefore we must take those activities to the places we have.
“The informality of the surroundings spills over into the Sunday morning format. Worship and instruction precede a coffee break. The break, made possible by gleaming stainless steel urns, introduces a discussion time. Small groups, using questions coordinated with the sermon, wrestle through incorporating a specific Biblical principle into their lives. Tables make for good and comfortable discussions. Topics like “making room in your schedule for prayer” and “how to live in the Kingdom of God if you’re a Democrat” bring those discussions to life.
“By using a facility that isn’t always a church, we have “invited” people into our church who might not otherwise come. We feel a responsibility to make cultural, though not theological, adjustments for those people. In a limited and modest way, we try to look at the culture of the neighborhood around us as missionaries would see it. We adapt as many of our church forms as we can and explain what we can’t adjust.
“We are rank amateurs, of course, but the learning process has been exhilarating. The greatest beneficiaries have turned out to be those of us in the church who have been Christians for some time. Rethinking and reworking the ways in which we express our faith has forced us to deal very seriously with our own Christianity.
“Worshiping at our church in a restaurant produces one other benefit. We feel it most when a potential customer finds the restaurant closed but decides to stay and join us for church. There is a special pleasure in seeing the Holy Spirit transform Chicago’s most famous saloon into a fit place for the King of Heaven.”
A Biblical Church Growth attitude means that we will intend to find the lost not just be content in searching for them or letting them come and find us. By God’s guidance some do come to our church. But for most of the lost sheep we need like Jesus’ Shepherd in the parable of the “Lost Sheep” to go out and find them. Our lights have to get from underneath the bushel basket of our church building—the salt has to get out of the shaker—Church Growth is to be out spreading the seed of God’s Word in the world, not being locked in a building or office. Jesus said, “I will make you to become fishers of men,” not fisherman clubs for only sitting and discussing fishing—but to go out and do it!
The people in the New Testament expected that God would use them as they evangelized their world. They believed that God’s Word was powerful and that some would become Christians. We need this same attitude. We live in this world so that we may share the Gospel with others and that through the Gospel some will become Christians. That is what we are to do, no matter what our vocational calling in life is. The church will never change its priorities unless and until it realizes this. This is why we exist, this is what the body does—it grows! A church is not a healthy church unless it is growing.
2. Effective Leadership for Church Growth
A congregation that wants to grow will be building Church Growth leadership. The pastor is to be an “equipper of the saints for the work of the ministry.” This means in his sermons, in all the various Bible study classes, in his personal connections and example, he will be a missionary and teacher of missionaries. The pastor, as an effective leader in Church Growth, will understand and accept the Bible vision for evangelism. An efficient leader or manager knows how to do this in the best way.
The congregation’s leaders will set goals for Church Growth. They will see to it that the whole church “owns” the goals. They will monitor the progress of each group in achieving their part of the goal. Growing churches have Church Growth goals.
Church leaders will develop leaders who are particularly gifted in outreach. They will see to it that part of the time in each board meeting is devoted to outreach considerations. They will understand that the normal tendency for congregations is to spend almost all of their time and resources on “maintenance” and very little on outreach.
The pastor is the key in congregational leadership. He is by no means to be the only leader or do most of the work. But his vision, study, prayer and dedication to Church Growth are essential for the church to grow. Werning said: “The Good Shepherd, who gave his life for the sheep, is pleased only when we watch and work for the health and growth of the flock.”
3. A congregation that wishes to grow will take Christian education very seriously.
Jesus said that we should go and make disciples…. He didn’t say “go and gather decisions.” “Decisions” can be for the moment, disciples are for a lifetime. “A disciple is a person who has made a commitment to Jesus Christ. as Lord and Savior, who is learning and practicing his teachings, and who maintains a meaningful relationship with His Body—the Church—and its mission of spreading the Gospel.” (McGavran).
Bible study is essential for making disciples. Teaching in the home is most important (Gallup Study). Then comes teaching in the church. We need many types of Bible study and on several levels of difficulty. We need lecture-type classes, we need discussion classes, we need them for youth, young adults, men and women, singles and families. We need to develop more lay Adult Bible Study teachers. We must expect adults in Bible class to do homework and to share questions and insights with the class. This is essential if we wish to be properly motivated and teach the skills for evangelism.
The Christian Day School will become increasingly a most important element in Church Growth (Gallup Study and Lyle Schaller). Development of our Day School Teachers and Day School Program must be a most important aspect of our Synod’s work.
4. A congregation that wishes to grow will understand evangelism methods.
A. We will understand that the primary Church Growth method is the Priesthood of all Believers and the natural framework of people God has placed each of us in. We all have four basic “OIKOS” or households: 1) our relatives and family, 2) our neighborhood, 3) our jobs, 4) our interest groups, (Senior Citizens, Athletic teams, PTA’s, etc.). God has given gifts to each Christian to use in the opportunities for evangelism with our four “OIKOS’s.” Each of us know ten-twelve people well in our households. Some of them are not Christians. We must ask ourselves “If I do not talk to them, who will? If I don’t do it now, when?” We must see those outside of Christ as truly lost and the Gospel as the only means for their salvation. Every Christian has a ministry to bring Christ to his various households. We must understand this as natural and normal and the only God pleasing discipleship life-style.
How many adults become active church members through this method of evangelism? Many surveys have been taken asking “why did you join this church?” The results are almost always the same. Here they are:
|Evangelistic Crusade||1/2 of 1%|
B. Congregations will need to understand that there will be many non-Christians in their ministry area of responsibility that do not have a Christian in their “Household” who will bring them the Gospel. The congregation will develop leaders and gifted members in this area of work. Our Synod’s Evangelism Committee is working on this important area and will share evangelism program ideas with us.
Evangelism Programs will need to be adapted to the congregation and the community. They can be tailor made, none are perfect. What counts is not waiting until the perfect program comes along, because it probably never will, but getting to work in the best way that you can now with a congregational outreach program. If you don’t begin now, when will you begin? If you aren’t willing to pay the price in prayer, time and training, who will?
God will not be pleased by the excuse that his servants are doing something more spiritual than seeking for and finding the lost sheep. Nothing is more spiritual than the actual reconciliation of the lost to God. The New Testament knows nothing of the comfortable doctrine that a Christian can be a witness without consciously intending to share the Gospel and bring the person to faith in Christ.
To be a healthy Christian, to be a healthy congregation, to be a healthy Synod we will imprint on our hearts and lives “It is God’s will that His Church Grow … that His lost children are found.” No other attitude will do.
Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations …” (Ta ethne)
Romans 1:5 “Through him and for his name’s sake (“Jesus Christ our Lord”) we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles (Ta ethne) to the obedience that comes through faith.”
The church has been directed by Jesus to disciple all tribes and peoples, (Rom. 16:25–27, Rev. 7:9)-the whole world!
The world’s population now numbers four billion people; approximately three billion are non-Christians, and one billion, Christians. By the year A.D. 2000, a short time from now, there will be some six billion people; approximately four billion will be non-Christian. Against this backdrop the church of Jesus Christ must hear the Lord’s command: ‘Disciple the peoples of earth.’ Against this backdrop the church of Jesus Christ must measure its obedience and see its enormous opportunities.
What does it mean to disciple “ta ethne” in America? What does it mean to our sixty-four million practicing, active Christians? For purposes of analysis we will divide the two hundred fifteen million Americans into three segments. Three different kinds of evangelism are needed to reach these multitudes.
1. Assimilated Americans. Those who view themselves in the mainstream of American culture. Many of them belong to some church or denomination but their commitment to Jesus Christ is vague and indifferent, they tend to grow more and more alienated and secular. Even though they consider themselves “Christians” they are living without Jesus and salvation. They feel uneasy about their relationship to God and think they will do something about it-sometime! This group of nominal or marginal Christians number approximately seventy-one million!
2. 36 million Americans are just like us—they are hard-core secularists and humanists.
There are about 107 million lost Americans in 1 – 2. Prayer is urgently needed for them. Every congregation must study ways to reach them. They are all around us and or in the churches.
3. Culturally distinct Americans. They are Americans who maintain a culture, and sometimes linguistic practice which arises from their ethnic heritage. These minorities—Koreans, Arabs, Lebanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Argentineans, Mexicans, Japanese, Asian Indians, Africans, and on and on—are part of the rich and multistranded fabric of American Society. Many of these are faithful Christians—about 14 million are included in the 64 million active Christians.
|Assimilated Americans||Culturally Distinct Americans|
|Active, Practicing Christians||50 million||14 million|
|Nominal, Marginal Christians||71 million||34 million|
|No Claim To Be Christian||36 million||10 million|
|Total||157 million +||58 million = 215 million|
How are the “active Christians” doing in reaching “the ethne?”
* In the U.S. it takes 1,000 Lutherans to win 1 person to Christ
* In some denominations it takes 5,000 members to send out 1 foreign missionary (we have 3, it takes 6,600 of us).
Church Growth is not optional; it is commanded by God. Growth must be our goal. Churches must grow by expansion of existing congregations and by extension in establishing new congregations. Churches must grow by winning to Christ:
1. Assimilated Americans who are nominal Christians.
2. Assimilated Americans who are confessed non-Christians.
3. Culturally distinct Americans who are not believing, practicing Christians.
4. Very different kinds of people, mostly in other lands, who have yet to hear and believe.
All four kinds of evangelism are required of all Christians by God’s unchanging mandate.
Establishing a congregation of the redeemed in every community, in every neighborhood, of every class and condition of people is what our Father has sent us here to do.
Let us be about his business!
From Chapter 3, Ten Steps for Church Growth, Donald A. McGavran.
Arn, Win & Charles, The Master’s Plan For Making Disciples. Pasadena: Church Growth Press, 1982.
Arn, Win, ed., The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook, Pasadena: Church Growth Press, 1979.
Berner, Carl W., Spiritual Power for Your Congregation, St. Louis: CPH, 1956.
Berner, Carl W., The Power of Pure Stewardship, St. Louis: CPH, 1970.
Feucht, Oscar E., Everyone A Minister, St. Louis: CPH, 1974.
McGavran, Donald A., & Arn, Win, How To Grow A Church, Glendale: Regal Books, 1973.
McGavran, Donald A. & Arn, Win, Ten Steps For Church Growth, New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
McGavran, Donald A., Understanding Church Growth, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.
Werning, Waldo J., The Radical Nature of Christianity, South Pasadena: Mandate Press, 1975.
Werning, Waldo J., The Stewardship Call, St. Louis: CPH, 1965.
Werning, Waldo J., Vision and Strategy for Church Growth, Chicago: Moody Press, 1977.
Werning, Waldo J., Winning Them Back, Minneapolis: APH, 1963.
CHURCH GROWTH SOURCES:
Parish Leadership Seminars, Inc.; 5601 S. Meridian Street, Suite B; Indianapolis, Indiana 46 17; (317) 783.4156
Abdon, Donald A., Organizing Around the Great Commission, Indianapolis: Parish Leadership Seminars, 1977.
Abdon, Donald A., Training and Equipping the Saints, Indianapolis: Parish Leadership Seminars, 1977.
The Institute for American Church Growth; 150 South Los Robles, Suite 600; Pasadena, California 91101
Win Arn/Donald McGavran, “Church Growth News” (free) Information on Seminars, Books, Movies.
W. Charles Arn, “Church Growth: America” Magazine.
The Princeton Religious Research Center; 53 Bank Street; Princeton, New Jersey 08540
PRPC and the Gallup Organization, Inc., The Unchurched American, 1978.