God cares about multiplication:
“The first essential principle [of church growth] is to realize that God wants his lost children found and enfolded. Church growth explodes from the life-giving nature of the eternal God. Jesus Christ gave his disciples the Great Commission, and the entire New Testament assumes that Christians will proclaim Jesus Christ as God and Savior and encourage men and women to become his disciples and responsible members of his church.” (Gary L. McIntosh, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, 15–16)
Say what you want about certain aspects of the Church Growth movement, all Christians should agree that making disciples is top priority. After all, this is the Great Commission (cf. Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:8). Making disciples, simply defined, is the process of forming new converts who, over time, learn the ways of Jesus and become more and more like him. Becoming Jesus’ disciple means that we respond to his offer of the kingdom and the invitation to follow him. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer states, “Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.” Discipleship is the invitation of the king to enter the kingdom.
Valid Excuses for Lack of Multiplication
I understand the plight of struggling pastors. I am one and will likely continue to be one. The church I serve has no golden parachutes, does not produce magical water that people drink and become “transformed,” and struggles financially.
Furthermore, I join Jonah in declaring that “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9) and that while we plant and water seeds, God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). We do not manipulate people into the kingdom; rather, people are drawn to Jesus by the Father through the work of the Spirit (John 6:44).
That being said, there are no valid excuses for the lack of multiplication.
That might seem harsh to some of you, and I certainly don’t intend for that to strike you in a mean-spirited way. But over the years I have heard a great number of “excuses” concerning why Christians and churches are not multiplying (making disciples) and I’m afraid none of them have ever been what I’d consider “valid.”
Here’s the deal. God is at work redeeming our world and granting salvation to men and women, young and old. It is the very nature of God and the nature of the gospel that his family grows!!! We need to have better theology than “We’re not growing because we just can’t find the right people” or “Our context is different than anywhere else.” Theology always shapes practice in that if you show you bad praxis I can show you bad theology. Hence, I think many Christians need a robustly pneumatological understanding of soteriology, ecclesiology, and the Missio Dei. Might I suggest a little Jürgen Moltmann, John Stott, and John Wimber for you? These may be unlikely theological dialogue partners, but each of them has some very important stuff to say about these subjects.
My point is that I’m not sure there are any valid excuses as to why churches aren’t growing. I’ve heard more than I care to admit and I’m convinced that most of them are simply bad theology followed by bad praxis.
Healthy Things Grow
For the last ten years I’ve heard this phrase numerous times from numerous people in numerous traditions with numerous theological views. One thing I’m convinced about is that as we read the New Testament, growth is implicitly and explicitly assumed. Read through the Book of Acts and you see churches multiplying.
And this is why I take seriously the need for churches to pursue health. If the eight Dimensions of Discipleship are an indication of being healthy, we need to take them serious enough to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples that are all growing in these eight areas. But here’s the catch… that process starts with the first. If you are healthy, you’ll grow… both inwardly and outwardly.
Why? Because it’s the nature of God and the nature of the gospel to multiply and healthy things grow.
So here’s your homework. Go read the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts and fall in love with Jesus and the church that changed the world.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Great post Luke on growth and multiplication. I also think an important perspective is on how time is involved in this topic. Miles Stanford’s book, The Complete Green Letters, has a great chapter on Time. Growth is not uniform in nature or in Christians so this can help some of us who struggle in this area. Bobby Clinton from Fuller Seminary has helped me in this area on growth and multiplication in that God does sometime set us aside, to do deeper growth, or that fruit ripens in both the storm and the sunshine. When a gardener starts removing parts of a plant it can seem like the opposite of growth and multiplication but then the bloom and new growth the following growing season shows that growth and progress can sometimes appear after loss and decline. What are your thoughts on how time can help or hinder the perspective of growth and multiplication in a healthy church? I always enjoy reading your thoughts and writings. Thanks for taking the time to share and write. I am not trying to make “time” be a viable excuse for the lack of growth but suggesting that the perspective of time can help us realize that when God wants to grow a squash it only takes six months but when he wants to grow an oak it can take a hundred years. Growth in trees, when the woody fiber is being formed and deposited in between the bark and the trunk, usually occurs between four to six weeks and then the rest of the year the tree solidifies and protects this growth. Staying encouraged during all of these processes can help us. Thanks for your post.
Yes… especially true in the context I am in!