Summary: A practical message on outreach using the early church’s growth as a model for us.
The Church: It’s A Productive Place
I want to introduce you to “the plant.” The reason I say, “The plant” is because it is the only plant in our home that is alive. In fact, it’s probably lived longer than any other plant we’ve ever had. My wife will tell you that we don’t have a green thumb.. If it’s any color we have a black thumb. The only plants that do well in our house are the plastic ones. But this plant is different. This one is special. We’ve cared for it very carefully because it was given to us by the nursing home personnel who took care of Deb’s mom who passed away in September, 2004. So, we have done all we could to nurture it and it has grown. Now, it wasn’t always this size. It started small, we’ve had to transfer it to a larger pot, we’ve put a couple of sticks in it to hold it up. We’ve watered it, given it plant food, made sure it has sunshine. We even carried it with us in the car 1800 miles when we moved from Colorado Springs. All because we wanted it to live and grow. And why has it grown? Because of a very simple and true principle: healthy things grow! We all understand that’s true of all living things.
I have 3 children. They looked like this when they were young. But they grew. They grew into young men and women and now they two of them are married and have children. The youngest one isn’t married yet but wants to be! So why didn’t they stay small? Well, because they did what all healthy humans do... grow. If a living thing doesn’t grow, we know something is wrong. And whether it’s a plant, a child or a pet... we know it’s true: healthy things what? Grow!
The same is true of the church. When a church is healthy it will naturally grow. You say, “Yeah but is a church a living thing?” According to the Bible it is. In fact the most often used metaphor to define the church is a body. Eph. 4:15-16 says, “ We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”(NLT) That’s what we have been talking about this month. We’ve been looking at the first century church in the book of Acts and seeing that it’s health barometer was good.. Dennis taught us it was a peaceful and powerful place. Last week Arron helped us understand it was a positive place. Today we want to look at the final phrase in our study from Acts 9:31. Let’s read this together.. Would you read it out loud with me? “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”(NIV)Today, I want us pay special attention to the phrase, “it grew in numbers,” and to see that the church was a productive place, a growing place.
I. CRITERIA FOR A GROWING CHURCH:
Let’s begin by looking how a church should grow. I want to spend the majority of our time together talking about the practical side of this but let’s start by mentioning two ways this early church grew and that we are to grow too.
A. We are to grow spiritually. In our theme verse for this series it says that the church “was strengthened.” By looking at other descriptions of that church I take the word “strengthened” to mean that they grew spiritually. That is, they grew deeper and deeper in their faith. You see, the church is not just about how many attend. Oh, I know, numbers are probably the most tangible measurement of growth but they cannot be our only criteria. We need to see lives transformed, growing deeper in their relationship with Jesus and with each other. That’s exactly why we have some of the things we do. It’s why we have Adult Bible Fellowship classes where you can learn in an informal setting. In the very near future we are going to offer some electives that will invite people to attend by their interest in a topic. For example we are going to have a class that will emphasize how you can mature by helping you learn how to study your Bible, pray effectively, grasp the principles of fellowship and giving. There will be other classes that will study a book or Biblical topic. We offer special interest classes like our S.H.A.P.E. class that helps you find where you can serve, or our Peace University Class that helps you look at your finances from a Biblical perspective. We have small groups that meet during the week that not only study the Bible together but enjoy rich community and care for one another. There are children’s classes, youth activities, Celebrate Recovery and more. All this to help us grow spiritually. If we only measure numbers we’ll have a church that is a mile wide but only an inch deep. Our goal is not just to have a big church but a great church! As the Hebrew writer wrote: “We must go on to maturity and think about more than just the basic things we were taught about Christ.”(Heb.6:1 CEV) Like that early church we must be strengthened, grow spiritually.