Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) the American reformer and educator, writes about personal relationships, "Stay, is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary." It is however also a very hard word for a regular churchgoer to say to a visitor. To say "stay" to a visitor means making room for them and taking a risk on a new personal relationship. Hard church growth can be time-consuming and difficult to fit in especially with commitments elsewhere. Church people often get involved in too many outside organizations and the problem comes in trying to sort out priorities. As a church, growth should be a priority. Mark Earlywrites, "These are tough times, but the Church thrives in tough times. It's when the Church is at its best because it's when all of us are forced to remember who has authority over everything and to put our trust completely in Him and Him alone." Christians have to prayerfully consider giving their prime time to their church. Not what's left over like the loose change in one's pocket for the offering, but the first part, the best portion. They do this before God as a minister of his goodness.✞
Effective evangelism always brings about beautiful church growth and gives glory to God. This approach reinforces Jesus' teaching. The most damning rebuttal of the "Small is Beautiful" concept in the church comes in our Lord's parables. The shepherd left the ninety-nine and looked for the one lost sheep. Luke 15.4 contains Jesus' teaching, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" Similarly, the woman in Luke 15.8 who looses one of her ten coins seeks diligently until she finds it because it is precious to her, maybe even part of her wedding headdress. The scripture reads, "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?" The "silver coins" mentioned were the Greek "drachmas" and were each worth a day's wages! This is no small loss for her! The "Small is Beautiful" approach however would have probably written off the loss! In the parable of the stewards in Matthew 5.14, Jesus says, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden." This emphasizes Jesus teaching that growth is an important element in God's work. In this parable, the master leaves his stewards in charge of his wealth and then when he returns expects to see some addition in his investment. Those who double their accounts of five thousand and two thousand silver coins are congratulated on this growth as good and faithful servants, whereas the person who hides his portion in the ground is condemned. Note that the one who increases is called "the faithful steward." Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4.1, "You should think of us as Christ's servants, who have been put in charge of God's secret truths. The one thing required of such a servant is that he is faithful to his master."✞
It is important to understand that it is not being a small church that is bad but wanting to remain small that God frowns upon! In Jesus' parable of the bags of gold, the third servant makes an error of judgment. In Matthew 25.14-25 the story recounts, "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money." The Greek word for a "bag of gold" in this parable means "talent." A talent is worth about twenty years of a laborer's pay! A talent of silver is the value of nine man-years of skilled work. Five talents or even one talent is worth a fortune to most of the servants in Jesus' day! The third servant, however, is thinking that it is maintaining his bag of gold that matters, rather than putting it at risk so that it might grow in value. Church people must realize that even though their faith in Christ is like precious perfume in earthenware pottery to them, to keep it they have to keep on giving it away! Every church should be striving for growth, and the only effective means is evangelism. Malvina Reynolds, (1900-1978) an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist wrote the beautiful "Magic Penny."
"Love is something if you give it away.
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more."
Each church and every individual needs to constantly practice giving away their love and their faith to people and their money generously. As the second verse of the song says,
"It's just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won't have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many.
They'll roll all over the floor."
For this reason, I always recommend that every local church hold at least one dedicated piece of evangelistic work every year and set aside part of their annual budget accordingly. Better still, that every organization within that church has one church growth activity of its own as well as a major campaign together! Before this can happen, however, we need to shake off the idea that we were meant to be small. This is an obstacle to giving away growth.✞
The clergy are intended to become the shepherd minister to the other shepherds who guide their congregation. They don't need to have all the gifts and skills of the Archangel Gabriel. The shepherd minister should be primarily a "shepherd of the shepherds." He should be the builder of the laity and the one who draws out their evangelism and other gifts and skills. The word "shepherd" comes from two Old English words "sceap" meaning "sheep" and "hierde" meaning "herder." The shepherd minister is the herder of the sheep. Ideally, the shepherd minister should not also be the administrator, nor the leader of worship and certainly not the treasurer, gardener or choirmaster. They should be able to look for leadership skills and other gifts in laypeople in the congregation and use them to the fullest. I am always amused to read the list of qualities required by an appointment committee for a new minister for a congregation. Invariably, the list contains all the gifts present in the committee members and then some. The only possible candidate for some positions would be the Archangel Gabriel himself, and then only if he was prepared to take some night classes in furnace maintenance! As shepherds, individual Christian people could take up their responsibilities. Jesus tells Peter in John 21.17 to "feed my sheep" and in John 21.15, "Feed my lambs." Shepherding is everyone's job but it is also hard work!✞
To be effective in any sphere, timid people have to overcome their shyness. Both the laity and the clergy need to know it is not somebody else's responsibility. Timid church people are another roadblock to church growth. During the Civil War, the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) complained that he could get any number of men who were "willing to shed their last drop of blood for the nation." The problem, said Lincoln, was that he found it difficult to get anyone willing to shed their first drop! Christians are also prone to talk about what they will do for Jesus by and by, but not now. Timidity and lack of confidence cause some declining churches to defer a decision until the next meeting or the next year. Perhaps if they sit tight, they imagine, something or somebody new will come along to save them. They keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best.✞
Another excuse used for not getting on with church growth and evangelism is that it is seen as somebody else's responsibility. It's amazing how many lay people feel that the only one who should work in a church is the minister, and how many ministers agree with this assumption! When the photocopying machine breaks down, they ring the minister! There's a leak in the roof, they phone for the Rector. Mrs. Smith has a fall and needs a visit, only the clergy can go. Some ministers tell their people how much they abhor this kind of dependence on one person in a church, then get upset when people do something without telling them!✞
David Pawson (1930-present) the British Bible teacher and author wrote of the modern church, "We have glorified littleness." Glorified littleness is a problem when church people prefer being small in number rather than growing. When new people begin attending a church, there is a tendency among existing members to resist them. This is often founded upon the mistaken and subtly deceptive notion in regards to the local church that "small was beautiful." "Glorified littleness" argues that numbers of people are not important, it is the spirit or the atmosphere in a church that counts. "Littleness" is defined as "The state or quality of being little; as, the littleness of size, thought, duration, power, etc." Jesus says in Matthew 18.20 "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." This is often misquoted as, "For where two or three gather in my name, then there is the church." ✞
It is interesting to note the attention the Bible gives to counting in general and counting people in particular. Not only is there an Old Testament book named "Numbers" but Gideon, David, and others carefully count the number of people in Israel. Jesus himself is introduced to us at Bethlehem where his parents had gone because of a census which is counting of the number of the people in each district by the Roman authorities. Numbers of people are recorded everywhere in the Bible. We read of the "Twelve Apostles," and "the feeding of the five thousand" in Matthew 14.13-21. In Matthew 15.29-39 we find "the feeding of the four thousand." The church counts five hundred in 1 Corinthians 15.6 who met Jesus after the resurrection. Jesus certainly does not glorify littleness but instead delights in growth. "Somebody on the day of Pentecost was so full of the Spirit," writes David Pawson, (1930-present), "that they counted heads!" David Pawson also wrote the masterful book surveying the whole of Scripture called, "Unlocking the Bible." Saint Peter counts the fish as he pulls them out of his net according to John 21.11, "So Simon Peter climbs back into the boat and drags the net ashore. It is full of one hundred and fifty-three large fish, but even with so many the net is not torn." Peter or someone nearby must have meticulously counted the number "one hundred and fifty-three" fresh fish one by one! The Early Church certainly takes great pride in counting the number of people who commit themselves to Christ and so should we!✞