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 tough 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 challenging, 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 Early writes, "These are tough times, but the Church thrives in tough times. It's when the Church is at its best because it's when we remember who has authority over everything and put our completely trust in Him alone." Christians have to consider giving their prime time to their church prayerfully. Not what remains 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 loses one of her ten coins, diligently seeks 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 carefully search until she finds it?" The "silver coins" mentioned were the Greek "drachmas" and were each worth a day's wages! One of her wedding coins 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 story emphasizes Jesus' teaching that growth is an essential 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 Jesus condemned the person who buries his portion in the ground. 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 are 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 essential to understand that God frowns not upon being a small church but one that wants to remain small! In Jesus' parable of the bags of gold, the third servant makes an error of judgment. In Matthew 25.14-25, the story recounts, "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 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 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 is "talent." A talent is worth about twenty years of a laborer's pay! A talent of silver is the value of nine years of skilled work. Five talents or even one talent is worth a fortune to most servants in Jesus' day! However, the third servant is thinking that maintaining his gold bag matters most, rather than putting it at risk to grow in value. Church people must realize that even though their faith in Christ is like precious perfume in earthenware pottery, 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), the 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 must continually practice giving away their love and 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."
I always recommend that every local church hold one dedicated evangelistic work every year and set aside part of their budget accordingly. Better still, that every organization has one church growth activity and an effective campaign together! Before this can happen, however, we need to shake off the idea that churches need to be small, which is an obstacle to giving away growth.✞
Some churches want their clergy to become the shepherd minister to 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 draw out their 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 worship leader and certainly not the treasurer, gardener, or choirmaster. They should 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 took 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. Fearful 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 following 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 somebody else's responsibility. It's incredible 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, and they phone for the Rector. Mrs. Smith has a fall and needs a visit, and only the clergy can go. Some ministers tell their people how much they dislike this kind of dependence on one person in a church yet get upset when people do something without telling them!✞
"Littleness" is defined as "The state or quality of being little; as, the littleness of size, thought, duration, power, etc." David Pawson (1930-2020), the British Bible teacher, 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 reaction comes from the mistaken and subtly deceptive notion regarding the local church that "small is beautiful." "Glorified littleness" argues that numbers of people are not significant. It is the spirit or the atmosphere in a church that counts. Jesus says in Matthew 18.20, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Some people misquoted this verse with the patristic axiom, "Ubi tres, ibi Ecclesia" or "For where three are, there is the church."✞
It is interesting to note the Bible's attention to counting in general and counting people in particular. Not only is there an Old Testament book named after counting called "Numbers," but Gideon, David, and others carefully count the number of people in Israel. The Bible introduces us to Jesus at Bethlehem, where his parents had gone for a census or a counting of the number of the people in each Roman district. 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, "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!✞