I believe there are two types of small churches. One of them desires to grow but does not. The other desires to grow and does. The reason for this difference is the amount of work done toward the goal. Growth is driven by a broad spectrum of reasons, I’ll briefly discuss a couple of them here.
Growth is driven by excitement. As a congregation gets a little taste of growth, the excitement level soars, causing even more involvement in inviting people to church or a bible study. This excitement level can easily continue as long as new faces continue to appear and commit themselves to the Lord.
Growth is driven by the word of God. This is a much richer reason than just pure excitement and requires a level of spiritual maturity to be driven by this. A disciple of Christ is to understand the function they serve as soul winners. Bringing souls toward salvation is the purpose of Christ and therefore the purpose of all those who follow Him. He has called His disciples to be fishers of men. This is our trade. It is something that we learn how to do; it is something that we become better at with continued learning and practical experience. The more we learn how to do it well, and the more experience we gain, the easier it will be to talk to others in the world about their salvation.
There is no problem with growth itself, the problem really lies in the character of the congregation. There may not be any problems, but there generally are. While a church has a great desire to grow, once the growth starts to take place, a sea of concerns and fears begins to surface among the long-time members. The status quo is being violently altered. While a congregation should never be content with the present and should seek a future of growth, there is still an inevitable form of complacency that exists among the members. Do not get me wrong; contentment is not wrong in itself; it is at what point where we are content that can be wrong. A congregation that is working hard to grow and is content with their efforts is different from a congregation that is not working to grow because they are content with the group staying the same.
Growth is driven by the commitment of the members to learn the skill of handling a growing church. There will certainly be some trial and error for each one of us, but it is important that we do our best to encourage personal growth in ourselves and the new converts. New converts will never know as much as you do, at first. Dealing with ignorance properly is important. When new folks say things that are not accurate or ask a question that has a very simple answer, we must be cautious not to discourage or hurt that individual by the way in which we respond to them. You may disagree, but with the few years of experience that I’ve had myself, my current conclusion is that not every error needs prompt correction. It takes time for people to learn, and just addressing a little mistake at a later date can make all the difference in the world with their ongoing relationship with you. It takes skill to help others to grow, it takes skill to influence people. In fact, the old best-selling book “how to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie is a book that I would recommend to every Christian who wants to be a part of helping others come along.
There are many challenges that come with a growing church, and a congregation must be able to address these challenges with grace. One of the larger challenges, especially during rapid growth, is the number of ideas that can be brought up for the church to be a part of. It takes a while for anyone to know exactly what Christ has authorized His church to do. So, during rapid growth, a congregation can expect to hear suggestions from zealous new converts, some suggestions may be perfectly scriptural while others may not be. Again, it will take skill to properly address this challenge.
If rapid growth is experienced by this congregation, and hopefully so, then handling the way that church decisions are made will become apparent. If we were a congregation with elders then this paragraph would not be written, but we do not have elders, which means that we have non-appointed individuals who come together and make the decisions for the whole group. While this is scriptural (as the example of the church at Corinth had to operate this way without elders), it can become a big problem during growth. When there was once a room of a few men in a men’s meeting, all of which have been Christians for a long time and know the scriptures well; let’s say that there are now twenty men in the men’s meeting, and those who are still green as to the scriptures outnumber the number who have a more mature understanding of what Christ has authorized the church. If a congregation is not careful, then it can end up looking like just another denomination in short order. Obviously, this is the worst-case scenario, but we must be prepared soldiers for all advances of Satan. One of the things that Paul encouraged the elders-less church in Corinth is to appoint certain men of wisdom and knowledge to make certain decisions (not all the decisions necessarily). Notice how, in 1 Corinthians 6:4, Paul talks to them about the shame in appointing the “least esteemed among you” to decide on a matter. By least esteemed he meant those who lack a certain level of biblical wisdom, we know that from what he says in verse 5: “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” As a congregation grows, one thing that can never change is the stand it takes for truth. Those who are still unfamiliar with the scriptures ought not to be deciding the fate of the church; their time will come and one day they will be pillars in the church and maybe even elders and deacons, but until that time they need spiritual nourishment for their own personal growth.
While I do not wish to be negative, especially about growth, we’d be fools to not suspect that Satan will always be up to something to harm us. The best resource a congregation has when it is enjoying good growth is the word of God. A steady stream of studies will be the quickest way to a like-minded group. We must trust in the power of the scriptures to not only bring souls to salvation but to make them strong in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. The Christian is to be committed to studying the bible with their families, and with other members who make up the church. If these things are so, then a church should overcome all trials and enjoy the wonders of the working of God.
Article by Tanner Campbell.