Church Growth 101 – Sermon Excerpt

How does the church grow? (watch full sermon here)

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 is a master class taught by a master teacher (Paul) on this very important question.

4 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:1–6 (NRSV)

The church grows when they…

1) see themselves as stewards/employees/partners not owners.

Existing for the benefit of others. Seeing themselves as blessed to be a blessing and given grace so it may be offered.

2) chase truth not relevance,

Merchants sometimes “adulterated” (cf. NASB here) substances by mixing in something cheaper to cheat their customers; philosophers often accused professional speakers of doing the same, because they were more concerned about speaking ability than about correct content –  Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament.

May we never water down, cheat, or confuse the gospel with something else. May we never resolve to walk a path that Jesus did not. For it was –

the cross, not prosperity, that was Jesus’ destiny on earth.  

Anytime a group of believers preaches and/or lives out the gospel of personal comfort, the fruit of abundant resources, or the glory of personal fame as the defining evidence of God it is chasing relevance. And it is only a matter of time before the true fruit will be seen. I say this with great fear and humility not with joy or hubris.

3) persist in all seasons not give up when it’s not convenient. I don’t need to go to far here – many of you are watching worship on your devices instead of in person and have been for over a year! That, my friends, is persistence.

4) proclaim one thing…Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The more the “church” is a local body of believers gathered in the name of Jesus, the greater the chance that it can respond to the movements of the spirit in its immediate context. from Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church by Luke Timothy Johnson

Let us be careful about our identify as a church. In other words, what are we known for? If it is not Jesus then it is time for an adjustment. There are many good things but only one necessary thing that we stake our identity upon. May it not be social justice, or inspiring worship, or historic sanctuaries (nothing wrong with any of those things mind you!) but instead be clearly Jesus.

As Luke Timothy Johnson reminds, gathering around Jesus puts us in the perfect spot to respond to the needs of the world. And these responses may very well manifest itself as worship, social justice, and long-standing places of ministry among many other things.

5) understand what she is up against, or more specifically, who she is fighting against. 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)

And this battle is won with surrender and weakness and foolishness not shock and awe and strength. 1) Embrace the foolishness of the cross. 2) Surrender to the way of Christ for our lives and this world. 3) Be transparent with our weaknesses so God’s glory may shine. That is how the battle against the rulers of evil and powers of darkness in this world will be won.

By now you may be asking...but how do we increase crowd size? or grow our programming? or super-size our budget? Isn’t that what church growth is about?

The short answer is – no.

Paul realized that God is much more concerned about the strength of our faith rather than the size of our crowd. When the bible talks about growth it refers to depth. Depth leads to width and not the other way around.

And as a result, my stated goal is to not grow a church…it’s not in Scripture that way. No, our goal is to make disciples and my role as a pastor is to help us do that by “equip(ping) the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Eph. 4:12)”

My desire is to help us grow deep…everything else will be taken care of. I believe that will all my being.

Therefore I claim Jesus’ promise to his church when he commanded us to –

33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33 (NLT)

Published by Todd Nelson

I'm one of the pastors at First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Kentucky where I've served for the past thirteen years. The sub-title of this blog is "Grace is no accident" which happens to be the defining reality of my life. God's grace (gift) is the reason we have breath in our lungs and hope in our hearts.

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