How have we missed this gaping hole in the apostles’ teaching? And why do we spend so much time, money and energy on something the apostles could have addressed, but didn’t?
Of course, the New Testament church was growing exponentially. Could that be why church growth teaching was absent? Because it was unnecessary?
No. Not every church was growing. Many were barely hanging on, while staying faithful. But there’s not even a hint that the apostles saw their lack of numerical growth as evidence of a problem.
Meanwhile, the churches in Corinth and Laodicea were famous for their complacency, sinfulness and lack of evangelical fervor. Yet they were experiencing enough growth to keep their offering plates full, at least.
The apostles weren’t shy about confronting a church’s problems. If they never addressed lack of congregational growth, maybe it’s because they never considered it to be a valid measure of a local church’s health – or lack of health.
In fact, unless you’re looking at the New Testament through a modern, western church growth lens, it’s impossible to miss the fact that small, suffering churches were given far more praise for their faithfulness than large, growing churches were given for the numerical increase.
Make Church Health the Priority
I am not saying that churches shouldn’t grow, that church growth is bad, that we shouldn’t structure for growth, or that church health doesn’t produce growth.
I’m merely raising a much-overlooked point about where we place our priorities.
Today’s western evangelical church likes to talk about individual congregational numerical growth as evidence (usually the evidence) of church health. But there’s no indication that the New Testament writers ever thought that way.
We need to do what the New Testament writers did. Stop insisting on numerical growth as the best evidence of a church’s health and start looking at faithfulness.
If we did that, maybe the Lord would do through us what he did through the New Testament church - despite their faults, and ours.
Use us to start turning the world upside-down again.
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