HOW CAN THE INGROWN CHURCH BEGIN TO GROW OUT?
John H. Herb
As we address ourselves to the subject, "How Can The Ingrown Church Begin to Crow Out?" we must set forth some introductory statements to give us the proper prospective in our approach to this problem.
A. "Church" - When we speak of the Church we are speaking of a local assembly of believers who have been transformed and regenerated by the power of Christ. This local group of “believers” is part of the universal group of believers who comprise the body of Christ. Therefore, any growth of which we speak is not a mere calculation of numbers but is an accounting of a definite supernatural work of God within the hearts of men,
B. Growth - When we speak of growth we must recognize that growth in the life of the church is both quantitative and qualitative. Many of us have been guilty of making excuses for our lack of outreach and numerical growth by maintaining that we are concerned not with "numbers" but with quality. We maintain that many "decisions" for the Lord are not genuine and that a small percentage of people are really converted who respond in certain types of Evangelistic activity. This is most certainly true. However, we have failed to see beyond our own blind spot and have failed to acknowledge the fact that many of us have no percentage at all with which to work.
Secondly, we have erected a 'straw man' by creating a separation between quantitative and qualitative growth. No such separation is characteristic of the growth pattern of the N. T. Church and many thoughtful men who have analyzed the growth of the church in history have found that quality is linked closely with quantity.
Emphasizing "personal development' in revival should immediately lead to concern for others in evangelism and conversely discipling should inevitably develop into shepherding. Robert Guy has clearly pointed out, "A static congregation, neither bringing men into the redemptive relationship nor longing and trying to do so, lacks not merely quantity but the essence of quality. It is not concerned that men know the Saviour, and it does not become a channel for divine grace."
A third factor we must recognize is that numerical growth takes place in three ways:
(1) Biological Church Growth - in which children born to families of the church remain within the fold of the church.
(2) Transfer Growth - brought about by moving of believers from one locality to another, etc.
(3) Conversion Growth - brought about by sinners being brought to Christ through the outreach of the church.
Any church which does not increase by means of Conversion Growth is an ingrown church. Our 1967 Yearbook shows that we received an average of 4 new members per church for the year. I believe a closer analysis would reveal that a small percentage of these were through conversion growth.
C. The Sovereignty of God - We must recognize that all growth of the church is primarily due to the sovereign working of God in bringing to pass His divine purpose.
The beginning of Church expansion is in the heart of God. If we begin anywhere else we miss the source. Church expansion does not begin with better methods or money. Rather it is a continuation of redemption, in the heart of God from eternity, revealed in His Son. (2)
Jesus Christ said "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" Matthew 16:18. On this statement Christ assures us
(1) That the growth of the church is by His supernatural working in the lives of men.
(2) That the church shall triumph over the forces of evil in this world.
However the context further reveals that God in His sovereignty has chosen to work through men to bring to pass His eternal purpose for the church. Men who would be yielded, consecrated, obedient channels through whom He could work.
We must recognize the fact that the church will grow to completion, but the question is, will we be part of the channel through whom God works or will we be passed by? The institution God ordained for the growth of the church is the local church itself.
I. THE NEW TESTAMENT PATTERN OF GROWTH
We recognize that the N.T. Church experienced rapid growth both in to quality and quantity. If we desire to see the ingrown church begin out we need a pattern or a standard to follow and to use as a measurement own activity.
It is only logical that if we expect growth like the N. T. Church we will have to be N. T. churches by principle and practice. It is true that we live in a different age with complex problems nevertheless the principles remain the same. We may be completely orthodox in our theology and yet be a long way from the N.T. example in our practice.
We notice in the first place that the key to the expansion of the N. T, church was the Spirit of God. "But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The Holy Spirit not only empowered the believers to witness but the Spirit guided the Apostles in their advancement. The Apostles did not work according to carefully planned tactics but by following the directives of the Holy Spirit who was emphasizing outreach. We find the Holy Spirit moving Philip from the revival in Samaria down to Gaza to plant the Gospel in Africa through the conversion of the Eunuch. He moved Peter to include Cornelius and other Gentiles in his witness. The Spirit moved Paul from Antioch and from further emphasis in Asia in favor of expansion into Europe. The movement of the early church was outreach. The next important point is that the tool of the expansion was in the leadership and the labor force.
If we are to have N. T. church growth today, we have to have N. T. men who create a climate of growth. These men were completely and wholly dedicated, sold to Jesus and His cause. They had a vital faith which made the Kingdom of God as real to them as the ground upon which they walked. Their individual experience of Christ provoked a sense of personal responsibility which resulted normally and naturally in evangelism and church growth. The primary characteristic of the N.T. Church lay in its leaders. This richness existed through the intense personal reality which was naturally communicated to others. We communicate our faith or lack of faith and nurture our converts with our own spiritual vitality. Methods are no better than the men behind them, and men are no better than their contact with God. (3)
The labor force of the early church was comprised of each member of the church. Each member assumed his responsibility in witnessing and evangelization.
At Pentecost when 3000 souls were added to the church we generally see this as a response to Peter's sermon. An analysis of this passage shows that the 120 believers upon whom the Spirit came witnessed. Acts 2:4 says "all began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." and Acts 2:7 says "Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans?" Acts 2:11 says " we do hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful work of God."
Peter defends the witness of the church by saying these men are not drunk with wine but with the Spirit of God. The response of the crowd was "Men (Apostles) and brethren (lay church) what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) The 120 believers were used to win 3000 to Christ or 25 converts per believer.
We are missing a tremendous opportunity and potentiality for the Kingdom of God when we fail to develop the lay ministry. The leadership of the N.T. church strengthened the outreach of the church by expecting something of the membership rather than weakening it by carrying out its responsibility for it.
The first most important task of the leadership is to train the entire church for missionary activity rather than a select few devoting themselves to the full-time ministry. The missionary activity of this labor force took place outside the confines of a church building in the every day world in which men live and work.
They understood the nature of the church to be a refuge for the saints as well as a rescue operation for the lose. It preserved a model for life, but at the same time spoke directly to the life of the world for which Christ died. Believers must "come out from among them" but must also " go out to win them."
Printed theological positions do not create a human climate, but truth which becomes incarnated in men, in which they rejoice and for which they sweat and bleed, does create a climate. When God seizes men and lives in them, He creates an atmosphere in which churches can grow--in which they inevitably do grow. (4)
What was the prevailing climate of the N.T. church? It was a climate of expectancy. They expected results when they preached in Jesus' Name and Jesus indicated that He expected much fruit from the ministry of His followers.
The theology and doctrine of the N. T. was one of action. Evangelism is merely the expression of Biblical Theology. Jesus said, "If any man would do His will, he shall know the doctrine." (John 7:17) Theology for action and theology in action is the standard of the N.T. Paul, the greatest theologian of the Christian world, wrote his parts of the N.T. in the white heat of missionary expansion.
Four further points concerning the N. T. church were as follows:
(1) The place of training - A great emphasis in on-the-job training, Jesus taught His disciples but He also took them with Him.
(2) The personal sacrifice - Willing to give time, talents, and money for the cause of Christ.
(3) The priority of the responsive areas - When Paul saw a situation was not favorable for church planting he went elsewhere to a place that was.
(4) The prominence of prayer - The House of God was a House of Prayer. Prayer has a real place in creating spiritual climate.
II. THE PROBLEMS OF THE INGROWN CHURCH
The problems of the ingrown church are in direct proportion to the failure of applying the principles of the N. T. for church growth and expansion. The basis of the problem is spiritual. We could enumerate some of the characteristics as follows:
A. A failure to recognize personal responsibility for evangelization of their "part" of the world.
B. A failure to see that every member evangelism is the Biblical pattern and apart from this pattern only failure and degeneration. The attitude is that the witnessing, growth and outreach of the church is the job of the Pastor or Evangelist who gets paid for it.
C. A failure to realize that doctrine has practical application to their life and witness. They know truth but have not experienced it.
D. A failure to appreciate and develop the N. T. climate of expectancy. They don't expect anything to happen and it doesn't.
E. A failure to understand the nature of the church. They see the church as a place to be entertained and fed but don’t see it as a place to be trained for evangelistic activity.
F. A failure to cultivate a life of prayer and personal devotion.
G. A failure to sacrifice for the life and ministry of the church.
H. A failure to evaluate the effectiveness of present programs and practices and to give priority to methods which lead to results. Their motto is "this is the way we have always done it."
Many other characteristics undoubtedly could be pointed out but these present at least in part the problem with which we must deal in seeking to revive the ingrown church.
III. THE PROCEDURE FOR RENEWAL
The basic conclusion that every writer listed in the bibliography came to in discussing the growth of the church was essentially the same in the light of the N. T. evidence. It is perhaps best stated in the words of Ken Strachan, "The growth of any movement is in direct proportion to the success of that movement in mobilizing its total membership in the constant propagation of its beliefs." (5)
Or as Leighton Ford has expressed it, "If our goal is the penetration of the whole world then for the agents to carry out this task we must aim at nothing less than the mobilization of the whole church.
A church which bottlenecks its outreach by depending on its specialists, its pastors or evangelists, to do its witnessing, is living in violation of both the intention of its Head and the consistent pattern of the early church." (6)
Nothing would so strengthen the churches as to measure up to the responsibility of Christian witness. This principle would undoubtedly bring renewal and growth to the church and all areas of deficiency in the life of the church would be brought of necessity to the place of correction.
When the church has integrated this principle into its life, stagnation gives way to growth. For example Costa Rica had its first Protestant mission in 1891. By 1920 or a period of 29 years there was still fewer than 200 Spanish-speaking evangelicals in Costa Rica. In the last 15 years through lay witness the Christian community has grown to 6,300 or a nine-fold growth. The same kind of growth is being experienced today in other parts of the world. It can also happen here in the States. Calvary Gospel Church, in Newark, N. J. through an extensive lay ministry of personal evangelism reported 1000 conversions for last year. This church had averaged about l00 in attendance and is in the heart of the city with all its attendant problems.
How can we proceed to develop this kind of life in the church? In a hard and difficult field where the churches are bogged down in indifference, and inertia and the program is not moving forward, my recommendation is that the first emphasis must be a spiritual one.
The most obvious condition of renewal is repentance. We must become sufficiently dissatisfied with what we have came to accept as standard behavior and confess our disobedience in failing to be concerned with our retarded growth.
The most obvious starting point in renewal is the pastor.
He must correct the thinking of the church and create a N. T. climate in the church through his various aspects of ministry.
A. His preaching ministry - whenever we find, even in this day, a vital living congregation we find at its center vital preaching. The pastor must reconstruct the congregation into the pattern of a Bible Institute wherein Biblical Theology and a practical knowledge of God are taught. He muse convey through the instruction of the Word of God,
(1) The personal application of Biblical truth.
(2) The Biblical pattern and methodology of evangelism,
(3) The personal responsibility of each individual to the work and witness of the Church.
(4) The reality of the power of God In bringing triumph and victory to His church.
B. His pastoral ministry - If the church is to be effective in its outreach the Pastor's personal counseling, instruction and example muse be present,
He has the responsibility of dealing with the personal problems of the church. He must redefine his role to the members through personal contact. He must train the church to do the work of witnessing. In one aspect he must develop a broad training program directed towards the largest number of believers possible, and in a narrower training program give special attention to the select few who will become leaders in the expanding church. He must convey to them the idea that he is a "coach" directing a team to victory or that he is helping them to evangelize the community rather than that they are helping him. He must teach both by instruction and by example.
C. His personal ministry - The pastor must be an example to the flock in the work of the ministry. The best way he can help them in the work of evangelization is through personal example. He must convey by his personal life and conduct that he is a man of God, man of prayer and a man of obedience. His personal spiritual vitality will do much to create the atmosphere and climate in which growth can take place in the church.
D. His practical ministry - The pastor must use his time to be conversant with trends and principles of church growth to help the church mold an effective program and keep things in proper perspective.
(1) He must help them to focus on a particular geographical area of outreach.
(2) He must help them to realize that churches in different localities grow at different rates and growth is usually not a steady progression but rather fluctuating between periods of expansion and periods of leveling off. The pattern is build and then strengthen.
(3) He must make them aware of prospective areas of growth. For example, the Lord seems often to work along family lines.
(4) He must help them see the relationship of social structure and culture to the expansion of the church.
(5) He must help them to set definite goals - example, 10 per cent growth per year.
(6) He must help them to evaluate the church program. It should be a set principle of administration that when evidence shows a piece of work is inadequate, it must not be maintained just because much money and devotion have been poured into it. A good question to ask is, How many and what quality of converts come from this aspect of the church program? We should evaluate our program by the cost/result ration. we must learn to delete unproductive parts of the program and concentrate and develop the areas which produce results.
(7) He must help the church to avoid the problem of becoming stereotyped and inflexible in its outreach to the community. He must help them to develop a sense of discernment and sensitivity to the movements and operations of the Spirit of God as He works in the life of the community. The church must be mobile enough to rapidly enter an open door of opportunity which the Holy Spirit provides.
The procedure is to move from the Minister to the ministers. There are many historical examples of the effect of the life of the minister upon the life of the local congregation. In the life of the church one comes to the conclusion that, in all of the ups and downs of vital church life, the difference arises primarily, not from external forces, but from the quality of leadership. Leadership is basic to the outgrowth of the church.
In many instances the same people, with the same social environment, the same facilities to work with, demonstrate growth under one pastor's leadership and degenerate under the leadership of another. The pastor plays a very important part in the correction of an ingrown church, The pastor must help others to be pastors. There can be no vital church without a multi-pastoral system. (7)
IV. THE PRACTICAL PLAN OF CHURCH GROWTH
The church must formulate a practical plan of outreach based on the principles of the word of God. If a local church does not have a definite plan or strategy of forward movement she will do very little in actual outreach. We must aim at particular goals with particular methods directed towards particular areas.
The goal of evangelism is to bring people, through Jesus Christ to walk with God. Evangelism is involved in presenting directly to those outside the church the message of the gospel and guiding them to a definite, personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Anything less than this is not in the true sense of the word "evangelism."
In developing a strategy of outreach George Sweazey suggests a four-fold plan: (1) Contact, (2) Cultivation, (3) Commitment and (4) Conservation. (8)
A. Contact - The basic goal in contact is to saturate the area with information concerning the church and its ministry. You will never be able to minister to those who do not know that you exist. This aspect of outreach is pre-evangelistic.
Full use should be made of mailing programs, canvassing, radio and newspaper advertising and other forms of publicity. This contact should not only introduce something of the program of the church, but also of its message. The strength of this part of the program is not in a "once and done approach," but in an accumulative effect. This first step should lead to interested prospects to be cultivated.
B. Cultivation - The basic goal in cultivation is to work in a concentrated way with those who have shown same degree of interest in the ministry of the church. Full use should be made of evangelistic visitation, home Bible studies geared to the unconverted, and any other type of activity which would be effective in bringing the interested individual to faith and commitment to Christ.
C. Commitment - The basic goal in commitment is to bring those you are cultivating to an allegiance to Christ and His church. It is not merely enough to get a person "saved," but he must also be developed to maturity. He must be brought to the place of usefulness in service wherein he can reproduce himself. Personal Bible study, counseling, in-service training, and discipling programs must be developed.
D. Conservation - The goal of conservation is to preserve the results. If we are to grow as effectively as we ought to grow, then we must reduce the number of spiritual dropouts from the church. This can only be done through a continuing Bible-centered ministry to those within the church and actively involving each member in its outreach and witness.
The most important factors in the whole strategy is first of all laymen vitally involved in each aspect of the program and secondly, to sanctified imagination in the methods of outreach employed.
CONCLUSION- We have seen that according to the scriptures the purpose of the church is two-fold. It is to be at one and the same time the "city set upon a hill" - the gathering together of the faithful, and the "salt of the earth" - the scattering of the faithful throughout the world. It is a tower of strength and refuge and a disciplined army going out to do battle with a numerically superior enemy.
The hope of the growth of the church is found in God's promise that triumph was certain.
(1) Donald McGavran, editor, Church Growth and Christian Mission (New York: Harper & Row, - 1965), page 138.
(2) Donald McGavran, editor, Church Growth and Christian Mission (New York: Harper & Row, - 1965), page 27.
(3) Donald McGavran, editor, Church Growth and Christian Mission (New York: Harper & Row, - 1965), pages 28-39.
(4) Donald McGavran, editor, Church Growth and Christian Mission (New York: Harper & Row, - 1965), page 28.
(5) W. Dayton Roberts, Revolution in Evangelism, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967) page 34.
(6) W. Dayton Roberts, Revolution in Evangelism, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967) page 97.
(7) C. Elton Trueblood, The Incendiary Fellowship, (New York: Harper & Row, 1967)
(8) George Sweazey, Effective Evangelism, (New York: Harper & Row, - 1953) pages 13-18.