by Bob Whitesel, 10/20/14
Church growth. Some people distain the term, wrongly believing it is all about numbers. Such a perspective belies a naïve understanding of the real focus of the Church Growth Movement. You can gain a perspective on four types of church growth by looking at Acts 2:42-47 (quoted in the middle of this article).
Donald R. McGavran, missiologist and father of the Church Growth Movement, was sensitive to this misconception and in his later years was trying to find an alternative to this appellation. He was working with the idea of re-labeling church growth as “effective evangelism,” for effectiveness in evangelism is something we sorely need, and for which most churches have few tools to effectively measure. But God called Dr. McGavran home before he should codify an alternative name. And thus, in at least this present authors’ viewpoint, God may have been voting in favor of the more controversial, yet accurate appellation: church growth.
However, to ensure in your personal and professional ministry that church growth does not get an unwarranted and inappropriate designation; remind yourself that church growth as seen in the Book of Acts incorporated the following four foundational types of growth (adapted from Whitesel and Hunter, 2001):
Acts 2:42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together 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.
- Growing in Maturity (Acts 2:42, 43). Immediately after the Holy Spirit’s visitation at Pentecost, the young church drew together in a time of maturation growth. The significance of its members’ devotion to teaching and fellowship, combined with the attesting miracles, testifies to a congregation maturing in its understanding and practice of spiritual principles.
- Growing in unity. (Acts 2:44 – 47a). The early church drew together in a unity and harmony that led to selfless acts of inter-reliance. Though pooling their money was not the norm for all or even most New Testament churches, unity and interdependence is certainly a growth goal of all Christian communities. Unity and harmony create an atmosphere of mutual dependence and reciprocity, that bonds participants to the community and their Lord.
- Growing in favor. “…and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47b). Church growth includes growth in testimony and respect among the unchurched people of the community. The result can be openness to the Good News. Too often however, an adversarial role develops between the church and the community. In reality, the role should be one of mutual respect, appreciation and communication. When a church is meeting the felt needs of the community, the church will receive the community’s gratitude and acknowledgement. This gratitude then becomes a powerful conduit through which the Good News flows into a community.
- Growing in numbers. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” ( 47c). The aftermath of the first three types of church growth is the last; growth in numerical size.