“In this landmark book, you will learn secret behind the fastest growing Baptist church…” is how one book cover commendation reads. According to the above statement, there are secrets to realize church growth. You want your church to grow, learn the secrets the commenter says. Church growth has always attracted interest. The amount of literature on the subject presented to these church growth movements and mega church specialists show just how much interest there is on this subject. It is infact an unwritten rule that when people evaluate the success and effectiveness of one’s Pastorate, they actually mean how big is the church under one’s Pastorate. This is not only so in our times but also in the times of our fore fathers. Listen for instance to among many statements ascribed to Spurgeon’s success and also Baxter’s success. “Long before the mega church, nearly 6000 people crowded every service to hear Spurgeon’s 38 year metropolitan ministry…he built London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle into the world’s largest independent congregation” (Lanceced, 1995, Christian living classics) “As a Pastor however, Baxter was incomparable…his achievements at Kidderminster were amazing. The congregation was always full [the church held up to 1000]…(W. Brown 1974; Baxter, Reformed Pastor)”

The prayer and desire of almost every pastor, if not all Pastors is to see the church under their oversight grow rapidly. Whether evaluation of one’s Pastorate’s effectiveness on numbers is right or wrong, the Bible gives a picture that, a church under a faithful Pastorate is blessed in many areas, one of which is, increase of membership- growth. In the book of acts, Luke tells us that where God’s spirit is at work, growth of the church is one of the things that follow. In our survey of church growth in Acts, we shall look at first the value of the book of Acts itself, the we will define church growth, give examples of church growth in the book, relevance of Acts 6:4, some factors that attracted  1st century men and women to Christianity and just before concluding, we will consider the challenges of church growth or lack of it.

THE VALUE OF THE BOOK ACTS

The value of what Luke records on church growth in the book of Acts can only be fully appreciated, if only the value of the whole book is rightly judged, understood and enjoyed. The book of Acts occupies an indispensable place in the Bible. It is important to affirm this about the book, because some people simply set it aside as unreliable history. We notice, however, that the book is valuable for a number of reasons, some of which are here enumerated.

  1. The book is important for its historical records. The book records systematic, detailed, purposed and accurate history as Luke tells in his first book (Luke 1: 1-4). This, however, does not rule out historical puzzles, but that is all they are “puzzles”. What Luke records for us is reliable, valuable and relevant. As we read about church growth in Luke’s account, we must know that this growth took place in real times and places, and events as Luke says, it did. Not only are the events real, the people are and so is the work of the Holy Spirit. Christianity has its roots in history- real space and time. The spread of the Gospel to strategic cities in the Roman world is here preserved for our benefit and the pattern of church growth is one such preservation. We will do well to take seriously what Luke says is important on church growth.
  2. The book is important, in its being a sequel to the gospel whereas as we have four accounts of Jesus or gospel, we only have one of the continuing work of what Christ began to do and teach (Acts 1:1).
  3. Acts is valuable because it provides the narrative background to the epistles. The epistles is a didactic way to have a lot ton say about church growth, but all this has its background in narrative style in the book of Acts.
  4. Act’s value and relevance is also understood in the subject of the life and growth of the earliest church. It could be said that, the everyday theme of Acts is the spread of the Gospel- life and growth of the church. Luke wrote a book, not, primarily about the Holy Spirit but about the spread of the gospel and it is in this context of church growth, that he describes the Holy Spirit’s central role in that work. What greatest relevance this is to our subject!
  5. Finally, the importance and value of the book is seen in the contemporary inspiration that it brings us. “The book enables us to compare ourselves with the church of the first century and to seek to recapture something of its confidence, enthusiasm, vision and power” (570771991:ACTS). We can with Calvin in this light call it,”A kind of vast treasure” and with Lloyd-Jones,”…that most lyrical of books” and with F.F. Bruce,” without it , we should be incalculably poorer.” May these arguments for the sake of Acts, enable us to take what Luke has to say about church growth seriously and also to desire and pray, in the spirit of the Author to learn something on church growth.

A WORKING DEFINITION OF CHURCH GROWTH           

A church in a general sense is defined as a living community of people redeemed by Jesus Christ. Having defined the church in this way, we can then define church growth as : The increase in number of the redeemed community- church, as the Lord adds to this body of believers more believers, through the means set out in the scriptures, necessary for a God blessed and spirit directed church. The definition will be unraveled as we look at the examples of church growth in the book of Acts.

EXAMPLES OF CHURCH GROWTH IN ACTS

What is considered here as examples of church growth, are strictly summaries of progress reports on church growth. There are seven church examples or summaries of church growth in Acts (2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). Acts 5:14 is an example, but if included as a summary, then we have eight such summaries. These examples deserve serious consideration, for they teach us crucial lessons on church growth. We learn firstly, from 2:47 that, the lord himself did the adding. “…And we added to their number…” Doubtless, he did it through the preaching of the Apostles, the witness of church members and other factors through human instruments, but he did the adding. He alone has the prerogative to admit people into its membership and bestow salvation from his throne. As we engage in soul winning, we must always bear in mind this fact. We must always humbly depend on him as the principal Evangelist. Our duty is to joyfully welcome in our ranks, those whom Christ has accepted.

We learn secondly, that those who were added were those who were saved. Jesus did not add them to the church without saving them, nor did he save them without adding them to the church. Salvation and church membership belonged together, and they still do. Recently, I listened to a programme called Open Forum on Family Radio, one of the American radio stations. The speaker argued that, the church age is passed, people no longer get saved in the church and there is no need of belonging to a local church. One could never be far from the truth than this man. There is no such a thing as solitary Christianity, NO! Luke is very clear on this. “ More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were add3ed to their number (5:14cf 9:31; 16:5)

Thirdly, we learn that this growth was a continuous recurring act. ” The Lord added to their number daily…” (2:47cf 16:5). Luke is telling us that faithful diligence does not lack effect. Rapid church growth was a phenomenon of the early church. Despite other obstacles, the church grew. This also says something about the early church’s evangelism. It was not an occasional or sporadic activity, rather it was a daily activity, just like their worship was. As their outreach was continuous, so continuously converts were being added. We must recover this expectation of steady and uninterrupted church growth. We are here called to evaluate our diligence in evangelism.

Increase, to the church growth, must be addition to the church of saved people. A people that will have repented and trust God for their Salvation (2:37-41; 3:19-26). This growth to the church growth must be brought about through Biblical means, means that are holy and spirit directed and God glorifying.

RELEVANCE OF ACTS 6:4

“— and we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word”

In this text within it’s context we learn a vital principal which is, that, “God calls all his people to ministry and that those called to ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ must on no account allow themselves to be distracted from their priorities”(stott) Pastors are  called to the ministry of prayer and the word, it is to this they ,must dedicate their life. Negligience or begin distracted from this ministry, leads to low standards of teaching and preaching, a decline of this ministry because the pastor has little time to study or pray.  This was not only true yesterday, it is, if not more so to day.  Preaching is one area that has been neglected and, a great injustice has been done to it.

Biblical church growth, thrives of effective and faithful preaching of god’s word.  Preaching is indispensable to Christianity. Christianity is, in it’s very essence a religion of the word of God.  The relevance of preaching to church growth is very clear in Acts.  The rapid church growth in Acts is always related to the preaching of the word. The 3000 increase in 2:41is the result of a great sermon by Peter/(2:14-40).  The addition in 2:47 is in the context of devotion to among other things, the apostles teaching 2:42.  The rapid increase of disciples in 6:7 is as a result of the spreading of the word.  Saul’s fearless preaching in Damascus, and Judea, Galilee and Samaria and that of other disciples is responsible form the increase in 9:31.  The increase of the word is equated to the spread and increase of the church (19:17-20).

The apostles after Pentecost gave priority to the ministry of preaching.  There has never been church growth that has never had preaching at the center, as it’s crucial and essential aspect of its ministry.  The direct result of preaching in Acts 6:4 is church growth.  (6:4-7:12:24).  “At the heart of a of a dynamic church is solid teaching and preaching.  The heart beat of the church is a dynamic presentation of the of the truth of God; says Mc Arthur.  Acts 6:4 is calling preachers to a sincere conviction about the place of preaching in church growth. Preaching is the primary means by which church growth is attained.

CHALLENGES OF CHURCH GROWTH

It is one thing to say, size is not a factor to consider in analyzing the success of a church and another to ignore the written rule that success has to do with numbers. The desire of every pastor is to lead a growing church. When what is desired and prayed for is not forth coming, there are all kinds of pressure especially on the Pastor. Lack of visible church growth can lead to several things, such as:

  1. The amputation of the apostolic gospel. One, who has been faithfully preaching the gospel, may be tempted to think that there is something wrong with what one preaches. In a number of cases, people abandon what is true for the fake. Ministers become unfaithful. Our straggle as we embark on the journey of church growth, is how to be faithful to this apostolic gospel, while at the same time presenting it effectively in our contexts. It is not enough to proclaim Jesus, but we must proclaim the Jesus of the Bible.
  2. Pressures from church growth movements. The majority of these groups abandon a God blessed, spirit directed means to church growth. The Jerusalem church employed no gimmicks so that it can grow. Today, churches often use gimmicks and entertainment to try to get people into the church, but they will have been brought in not by Christ but man’s entertainment package.
  3. An unhealthy emphasis on church growth may swing to a result-oriented ministry as opposed to being faithful. God is first and foremost in our faithfulness; results come about as he blesses our faithful service to him.
  4. Pragmatism is another danger or challenge of church growth. Unfortunately, even in the church today, people believe that the truth or value of a conception or assertion depends upon its practical bearing upon human interests. Because it works, it is therefore true. No, even lies work, we would have no conmen.

CONCLUSION

In my conclusion, let me quote John Blanchard as he comments on David Eby’s book entitled “Power preaching for church growth.” He says, in recent years, nothing has weakened the church more than the neglect of preaching in favour of the pragmatic techniques for church growth. The book of Acts has valuable and indispensable lessons on how a church grows and what man’s role is in that divine work. Lets heed Paul’s challenge to Timothy- “Preach the word.” Lets do our part faithfully. God will add to his body. If the church in Acts grew rapidly right from the start, if in spite of the reluctance of the unsaved to join the group of believers, “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” Why is it that most churches today do not grow meaningfully? What has gone wrong?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. F. Bruce: 1954: Commentary on the book of the Acts, WM. B. Eerdmans publishing company-Grand rapids.

John Mac Arthur: 1990: Marks of a healthy church “Grace to you”; Panorama city.

Gene A. Gezt: 1974: Sharpening the focus of the church, Moody press, Chicago.

Lawrence O. Richards: 1991: The Bible reader’s companion, Chariot Victor Publishing, Colorado Springs.

John Stott: 1982: I believe in preaching, Hodder and Stoughton, London, Sydney, Auckland.

John Stott: 1991: The message of Acts, Inter-varsity press, England.

  1. W. and T. F. Torrance (Editors): 1965: Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, The Acts of the Apostles Vol. 1 & 2. WM. B. Eerdmans publishing company-Grand rapids.

John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck: 1983: The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Chariot Victor Publishing.