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A Biblical Stategy for Church Growth

One of my mentors and friends, Rev. Roland Barnes, has written a very helpful pamphlet for the Savannah River Presbytery (PCA) on biblical church growth. I would encourage every minister and seminarian to read it. You can download it here. Roland notes the two indispensable keys to growing churches:

There are two major or fundamental elements of ministry upon which the Church must focus if it is going to experience quantitative and qualitative growth.  In Acts 6 the Apostles encountered a difficulty in the church with respect to the care of widows.  The Apostles chose not to deal with this problem themselves but instead men were chosen by the congregation who could devote themselves to this important aspect of ministry.  Some have referred to these men as the first "deacons" of the Church.  The Scripture sets a high priority on ministries of mercy that manifest the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  James goes so far as to declare that this is a mark of true religion in the sight of God (James 1:27).  However, as important as this is, the Apostles did not believe that it was wise for them to use their time and energies to meet these needs.  They said, "...we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." It is the conviction of this writer that all efforts to plant and grow the church must be founded upon these two fundamental ingredients of ministry:  prayer and the ministry of the word.  If a church is not praying it is living out its ministry in the flesh.  Prayer is at the foundation of any ministry that is honoring to God.  Prayer demonstrates a dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit.  It demonstrates a conviction that only God can build His church, and it must be done by His power at work in the hearts of men.  It is in prayer that we develop a heart of compassion for the souls of men.  We can do more than pray, but we must not do more than pray until we have prayed!  Any effort to grow the church that neglects a devotion to prayer is not pleasing to God.  When prayer is neglected the success of methods, if indeed there is any success, is either fleshly, or it is an evidence of God's grace in blessing us even when we are employing methods that displease Him.  We are sometimes prone to think that we can make a church grow if we just get our methodologies correct; if we use the correct style of music, etc.  This writer has not often encountered the suggestion that more people praying more often might be the solution.  It is easier to change and manipulate a worship service or employ some new methods than it is to get people to devote themselves to prayer.

The other fundamental non-negotiable ingredient of ministry is the ministry of the word.  In Acts 6 the Apostles would not let anything prevent them from pursuing the ministry of the word, not even the crucial and most necessary ministry to widows in their distress.  At the very heart of our efforts to grow the church is the faithful ministry of the word.  In fact, in the book of Acts the growth of the Church is often represented in terms of the growth of the Word.  (See:  Acts 12:24, 13:49, and 19:20)  The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as means of grace, should be closely tied to the preaching of the Word.  They are means of God  used to communicate His grace to His Church; to grow it and strengthen it.

Every effort must be made to get the word out as broadly as possible, and every effort must be made to get people as deeply into the word as possible.  Preaching must be fundamental to the growth of the Church; preaching that is undergirded by much prayer.  Preaching is not the only way in which the word is to be proclaimed, but it is certainly central and non-negotiable.

It is the conviction of this writer that any discussion of church growth must begin with prayer and the ministry of the word.  These two essential ingredients comprise the foundation upon which the church is planted and grown.  These two ingredients come together as the church gathers for worship on the Lord's Day.  Theocentric worship on the Lord's Day is also a non-negotiable attribute of a healthy growing church.  Jesus has established leadership in the church to insure that these two ingredients are at the foundation of the church.  Elders are to be men who are devout.  Certainly this includes devotion to prayer.  Elders are to hold fast the faithful word that they may be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.  Elders are to provide the leadership that the church needs in order for it to increase its devotion to prayer and the ministry of the word.  Leadership involves planning and strategizing.  It must address questions such as these:  When will we pray?  Where will we pray?  Who will pray?  How often, and on what occasions?  How will the word be proclaimed?  By whom?  In what circumstances?  How can we get more people praying and how can we get the word out more broadly and deeply?  How will we evangelize and where will we evangelize?  What will we teach?  What material will we use?  Why preach this particular doctrine, book of the Bible, etc. at this particular time?  In answering these questions strategies are developed!  Psalm 78:72 says of David, "So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands." The strategies that are developed are the skillful means employed by the shepherds of the flock to promote ministries of prayer and the word so that the church will grow!

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