Summary: What are the biblical characteristics of a growing church?
Last time, as we focused on verses 11 and 12, we made note of the two essentials of church growth - gifted leadership (v. 11) and committed membership (v. 12).
A church will never rise higher than the skills of the leadership and will go no farther than the commitment of the membership.
Gifted leadership + uncommitted membership = futility.
Ungifted leadership + committed membership = frustration.
Gifted leadership + committed membership = an adventure in faith!
This brings us to a second thing Paul tells us about growing the church:
2. The essence of church growth - v. 13
Paul tells us here in verse 13 what will characterize the fellowship of a growing church.
(Show video: Deep Thoughts From a Shallow Christian: Growth)
Notice that Paul’s emphasis is not on building a big church, but on building big people! You see, as the nature of the church’s fellowship improves the number in the church’s fellowship increases!
You see, a growing church is characterized by unity. A unity that Paul describes as a three-fold unity.
A. Unity in belief - “the faith”
Paul is referring to what we believe, our doctrine, our convictions. A growing church is convinced of certain things and acts accordingly.
In Peter Wagner’s book, “Your Church Can Grow,” he speaks of the characteristics of growing churches. One of those he mentions is that a growing church will have their “priorities arranged in biblical order.”
Over the last several decades, the Southern Baptist Convention has experienced what has been referred to as a “Conservative Resurgence” wherein we have reaffirmed our commitment to the Bible and our belief that it is divinely inspired. We have affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God and is absolutely reliable and without error of any kind.
Yet, all the while we have been reaffirming our belief in the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, we have seen the growth of our churches decline. Denominational leaders estimate that around 70% of Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining.
You see, the problem was that though there was a reaffirmation in our belief concerning the Bible, what we really needed was a reaffirmation in our commitment to obey the commands of God found in the Bible; and according to Scripture, the top priority for our churches is the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” - Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
So, this year at our annual convention, Southern Baptists committed themselves to a “Great Commission Resurgence” and created a “Great Commission Task Force” to report on how we might better promote obedience to the Great Commission as a biblical priority among our churches. Specifically, they said, “Southern Baptists need a Great Commission Resurgence that will reorder our priorities, refocus our vision, reclaim our mission, and set our hearts on seeing the nations exult in the name of Jesus.” (www.pray4gcr.com)
I share this just as an illustration of this truth: What I really believe is revealed more by what I do than by what I say.
“I will show you my faith by what I do.” - James 2:18 (NIV)
In 1972, Dean Kelly, a one time sociologist of religion with the
National Council of Churches (a liberal group of congregations) wrote a book entitled, “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.” in the book, he admitted that people flock to churches who hold to a conservative belief in the Bible.
Why? Because the greatest need of man is not material or social, but spiritual; and only churches that really believe the bible will be Great Commission churches that preach the need for repentance and salvation through Christ! You see, it is our convictions concerning the truth of God’s Word which will determine whether or not we reach out to people in His name.
A growing church will be unified around a common belief regarding our need to fully obey the commands of God found in Scripture, and chief among them will be the Great Commission!
B. Unity in experience - “knowledge of the son of God”
The word translated “knowledge” here is “epignosis,” which means “knowledge on top of knowledge.” Paul spoke of this kind of knowledge in Ephesians 3:19, where he talked about growing in our knowledge of God’s love. While the Greek word, “gnosis” refers to “head knowledge,” the word “epignosis” refers to “heart knowledge.” It refers to experience as opposed to education.
What Paul is describing here is a corporate sense of God’s working. A common awareness among us of God’s direction and God’s timing. Paul is speaking of what he describes in Romans 15:5-6: