Tuesday, December 09, 2014

church growth


A. We are getting close to the new year, and this is when people start thinking
about goals and new year's resolutions.
1. One resolution that congregations often make is to have more growth
during the new year—both numerical and spiritual.
2. Statistics show that membership, not only in the Lord's church, but
generally across the board, is in decline in recent years.
a. Of course it is normal for there to be times of expansion and contrac-
b. Smaller congregations in our area have especially suffered, as people
pass on and wage earners are driven by the economy to places where
they can find better employment.
c. And, yet, that is not necessarily a sign that church growth has ceased.
(1) Just like in gardening when we have to prune back plants
does that mean that plant growth has ceased?
(a) The dead weight has been removed and the roots are being
strengthened for the next round of growth.
(b) The purpose of pruning, whether it be in our garden with
plants or Jesus illustrating how he prunes away those who do
not abide in Him and produce fruit for His cause—the pur-
pose is to reactivate and stimulate growth for more production
(Read JOHN 15:1-8)
(2) In China there grows the Moso Bamboo tree—the largest of the
variety of the bamboo trees on earth.
(a) When the seed is planted in the ground, it is carefully tended
and watered every day—365 days a year.
(b) The farmer patiently continues this routine: The first year
nothing seems to happen. The second year, nothing seems to
happen . The third year, nothing seems to happen. The
fourth year, nothing seems to happen.
(c) The fifth year on the 1825th day from its planting, the ground
breaks open and the tree emerges out of the ground and grows
and grows and grows to 90 feet in 6 weeks—the equivalent of
a 9 story office building. It grows 3 feet every 24 hours. You
could almost sit beside it and watch it grow.
Sherman—Page 2
(d) But, what was happening in those 5 long years?
(1) Underneath it was developing the required roots
(2) and the strength to support the height and width of its
explosive growth.
(e) The Moso Bamboo tree was actually growing all the time
from the time the seed was planted, although its growth was
not visible to the human eye, until it was ready to reach out.
c. We are encouraged by the fact that Jesus says “where two or three
are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of
them.” MATTHEW 18:20
And with Jesus in the midst, something is happening—growth
is taking place, although we may not see it on the surface.
d. I remember when Lydia and I went with a group to Wellington, New
Zealand back in 1973 to help establish a congregation there.
There was only one elderly Christian man who prepared and set up
communion every Sunday in his home, in case a visitor dropped in.
He had done that for years. Our group was able through Bible
studies in his area of the city to baptize 45 souls, and from that time
on to this day, a flourishing congregation has existed in that city of
over 200,000 souls.
(1) There's a saying, “God and one makes a majority”. I'd like to
clarify that and say “God and one righteous, faithful Christian
makes a majority”.
(2) Was not the church in Wellington growing even with that one lone
Christian faithfully coming before God at the Lord's table each
Sunday-in the faith that one day the Lord would bless Wellington
with a congregation of His people? Sure it was! The root was
growing stronger in preparation for further growth one day.
(3) That one-man church was a very strong church in faith and in
preparation for what occurred years later!
e. Lee Wright tells a similar story about the church in Crescent City,
California where the church declined to only one man left. He
faithfully kept the church alive for years, with the help of occasional
fishermen who came to visit when they were in the area from time to
time. When a prison was constructed there and more families moved
Sherman—Page 3
into the area, the church began its numerical growth again.
f. We have a similar opportunity coming into our area this next year, as
the prison now under construction is to be completed in July and
employee families will be moving into the area communities and
will become neighbors and friends, among whom God may bless
us with souls interested in Bible study and salvation.
g. We at Lancaster, like many rural congregations in America, are small
numerically right now, but that does not mean that our activity or
influence has been small or weak.
(1) Over the years, the Lancaster congregation has established an
excellent reputation, both within the brotherhood and in the
area, for being a strong Bible-based congregation, standing
uncompromisingly for the truth and moral dignity.
(2) Several men who grew up in, or were a part of this congregation
went on to preach the gospel in other areas from Lancaster.
(3) Over the years, when other congregations needed substitute or
fill-in preachers, they often called upon the Lancaster congrega-
tion for assistance.
(4) For over 40 years, Lancaster has had a presence on the airwaves
from Albany to Cottage Grove through out radio program, first
on QWIL in Albany and later on KORE in Springfield-spreading
the gospel message to thousands of area residents. In fact, our
program is the second longest continuous program in KORE
history—second only to the Lutheran Hour, which is a national
(5) Our building for years was the official voting polling place for
area residents. And, over the years we have helped with
weddings and funerals for people we had never met, because
they had heard that we were non-denominational.
(6) It was the Lancaster congregation that first suggested and hosted
the first area-wide fifth Sunday singings, which have offered
times of great fellowship and made it possible for congregations
to get acquainted with one another and share.
h. Also, with our 50th anniversary coming up in August, on the day
when we host the fifth Sunday area singing, we have the
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opportunity to contact former member families, with whom we may
influence for Bible study and possibly win to Christ, or restore back
into fellowship those who grew weak in the past.
(1) We'll have evangelism training opportunities to prepare for these
events for any who want to avail themselves.
(2) I'll be more than happy to work one on one with anyone wanting
to learn how to use the Open Bible Study, or who wants to
become a WBS (World Bible School) teacher on the internet,
or who may want to work with correspondence courses, or
start a tract outreach, or learn how to refer your friends and
others to have someone contact them for a Bible study.
In fact I'm set up in the fellowship room for anyone who might
want to take an hour before or after services, or at another
appointed time, to plan together.
(3) We may not be seeing a large growth in numbers right now, but
that does not mean that the congregation has been dormant.
(a) Because of the activity of several in our Lancaster congrega-
tion, through World Bible School, other internet outreach and
our support of a dynamic work in Jamaica, the gospel is
being taught and obeyed on 5 continents—helping increase
growth of the Lord's church in Africa, Asia, Australia,
Europe and North America.
(b) By way of Skype on the internet, the Ladies Bible Class often
has participation from Kuwait, England, Canada the Ukraine
and various locations in the US from Pennsylvania to Oregon
(c) Through WBS, two professional athletes in Kenya were
taught by Aiden, they were baptized, and are leading others
to Christ. They have begun preaching the gospel, and
they are being trained by Ernest, Aiden, Lee Wright, myself
and others through Bible study, by email, phone, and
mailings. We have had other WBS students in Nigeria and
South Africa. Ernest has students, and WBS is always
looking for Christians who will grade lessons, since there are
far more eager students waiting for teachers, than there are
Sherman—Page 5
(d) We have had a hard-working team improving the building
and grounds.
(e) Over the last 50 years I have the names of 142 people who
were baptized at Lancaster from 1971 through today. I don't
know the names of those baptized over the previous 6 years
from 1965. Some years from 1971 there was only one or
two per year. In other years, there were many more. And,
according to our semi-rural area statistical demographic, our
number of baptisms per capita ranks well above the average
when compared to larger city congregations.
(f) Every household in Junction City, Harrisburg, Monroe
and the rural area has received gospel mailings from House
to House, Heart to Heart. A Baptist preacher in Junction City
said he used many of the articles for his class lessons.
(g) Lancaster has been blessed with generous givers that make
possible the spread of God's Word. This is especially great
when you consider that most of our wage-earners have left
the area, in this economy, for jobs in other areas.
(h) We have teachers and encouragers and exhorters. I
appreciate Larry Wren's entree-tees for us to look first into
our hearts for changes in our lives and attitudes. It reminds
me of the psalmist David who prayed: “Create in me a
clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast
me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit
from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and
uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach
transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto
thee.” (PSALM 51:10-13)
(i) Are not all these things we have mentioned root-strengthen-
ing for growth—both spiritually and numerically? Of course
they are.
(j) Is not the growth in the areas of the world where we have
been planting the seed of God's Word , also a part of our
congregational growth? Certainly it is.
(k) As we are scattering the seed of the Word in this area and
Stanley—Page 6
abroad we must pray more fervently for the harvest and
prepare ourselves for the increase.
MATTHEW 9:37-38 “The harvest truly is plenteous, but
the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the
harvest, that he will send laborers into his harvest.”
i. God gives the increase when our faith becomes strong and our hearts
are renewed and changed. Paul said, in I CORINTHIANS 3:6
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”
j. So now let's go to God's Word and see what makes churches
grow—as God would have them grow.
B. In Acts 2 we read of the beginning of Christ's church on the first day of
Pentecost, Sunday, 50 days following His resurrection from the dead.
1. The Jews had come from all over the world for the celebrations of
Pentecost. Some historians estimate that as many as a million people
could have come to Jerusalem for Pentecost.
2. Even though many, if not most of the people, gathered there from all
over were religious people, religion in general didn't seem to do much
for them.
a. One reason for this, among other reasons, was that religion, in
general, and the religious leaders and their followers didn't stand for
very much.
b. There was ritualistic performance and religious profession, but little
spiritual depth. Their heart was not in it.
3. You see, the during this time the Roman Empire was in its “heyday”.
a. When Rome conquered a nation, they did not wipe out the existing
religions practiced in those countries.
b. Instead, Rome would simply tolerate them and absorb these religions
into their own culture, with the result that they became somewhat
complacent and compromised within the society.
C. But, the church of Christ was different. It did not compromise and it was
not complacent.
1. From the day of its establishment on Pentecost it began exploding
from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire, and shook the very
foundation of the empire from one end to the other.
a. We know that ACTS 2:41 says that 3000 obeyed the gospel on the
Sherman—Page 7
Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church.
b. By ACTS 4:4 the number of believing men was 5000 not counting
the women, who may have even outnumbered the men in being
baptized into Christ!
c. ACTS 6:7 says that the number of disciples continued to multiply
daily in Jerusalem.
d. And as the disciples were scattered abroad through persecution,
ACTS 16:5 says that the membership of the church “increased in
number daily”.
2. The church of Christ was such a militant, dynamic force of influence
that ACTS 17:6 says it was referred to as those who had “turned the
world upside down”.
a. ACTS 28:22 says Christians were “everywhere spoken against”.
b. However, In spite of opposition, by the turn of the first century, its
estimated that throughout the Roman Empire Christians numbered
around a million!
c. About 30 years after the day of Pentecost, COLOSSIANS 1:23 says
that the gospel had been preached to “every creature under heaven”
3. How did this happen? Why was the church of Christ such a powerful
and forceful influence? How did it grow so rapidly, dynamically and
D. The answer to why the church of Christ of the first century grew so
impressively is found in simple, plain Bible teaching. And when it is
applied consistently today, we will also see impressive results.
1. To illustrate this as true to fact, I would like to go back nearly 50 years
ago to a wide-spread study that was featured in newspaper articles
across the nation.
I'll be quoting from an article as it appeared in the Memphis,
Tennessee Commercial-Appeal newspaper dated June 17, 1967.
The fastest-growing major religious body in the United States is the churches of
Christ, an evangelical protestant communion which has its greatest strength in the
South and West.
Its membership has increased 135 percent—from one million to 2,350,000—since
During the same period, a UPI survey showed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
Day Saints (Mormon Church) registered a membership gain of 61 percent, to make it
the second fastest-growing major body.
Sherman—Page 8
Other fast growing denominations were the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, 60
percent; the American Lutheran church , 58 percent; and the Southern Baptist
Convention 58 percent.
The average growth rate for all Protestant bodies during the 15 year span was 31
The Roman Catholic Church showed a gain of 37 per cent.
Of the 14 Protestant denominations with memberships larger than one million,
only one showed a dedline during the period, That was the American Baptist
Convention which had two-tenths of one percent fewer members in 1965 than it had
in 1950.
Growth rates for other denominations were: Episcopal Church, 35 percent; United
Presbyterian Church, 31 percent; Lutheran Church in America, 29 percent; National
Baptist Convention, Inc., 24 percent; Methodist Church, 15 per cent; Disciples of
Christ. 9 per cent; United Church of Christ, 8 percent; and National Baptist
Convention of America, 1 percent.
If any pattern can be discerned in the statistics, it is that the highest growth rates
are found in the more conservative Protestant bodies, which place a great emphasis
on personal evangelism.” (emboldened emphasis mine--SS)
2. A similar report was cited by Time Magazine in 1975, when the
churches of Christ were still number one. But in the 1980's the
growth rate began to plateau out and began to trend down.
a. By 2006, churches of Christ were the 6th fastest in in growth.
Today we are ranked number 13 in America.
b.The current fastest growing groups are the large mega community
churches with little doctrine and an emphasis on what's called the
social gospel. They attract the ignorant and folks more interested
in programs and entertaining, feel-good services than the Truth.
E. Looking back to these articles about church growth statistics, the question
arises--How did churches of Christ have such phenomenal growth--to
number one in the USA? And this brings up the second question, Why
aren't we still there now? As we answer these questions we will learn
some important insights of what makes the church grow—God's way.
1. First of all it's obvious that we did not grow because of highly
educated theologian-type preachers.
a. You may have noticed that the denominations that require seminary
training for their preachers were among those that had a low rate of
b. During the period of the survey, between 1950 and 1965 very few
gospel preachers in the church had theological degrees. Also...
Sherman—Page 9
(1) Most Christians then were known as people of the Book, and
they had a great love for the church—to keep it pure, just as the
Lord said to do in Ephesians 5:27; and, free from the worldliness
that has now become commonly accepted in the church today--
and is one contributing reason for the church's decline today.
(2) Gospel preachers of that era preached the truth without apology
and were not afraid to declare the whole counsel of God.
(3) They exposed sin for what it is and sought to bring folks to
repentance. And...
(4) You will notice that it was the conservative churches that grew--
Why? Because honest souls are hungry for truth and righteous-
ness, and can easily spot the arrogance and phoniness of
liberal soft-soap preaching and the social gospel.
2. Secondly, you notice the church of Christ was not the fastest-growing
church in America because of expensive and ornate buildings.
a. Denominational buildings are often very expensive, expansive and
ornate and meant to attract. And those denominations that were in
decline in the survey were housed in these palaces of worship.
b. But, during the years of the survey, most churches of Christ had more
functional and modest places of worship.
(1) Christians then knew that truth, through simple gospel preaching
and teaching, attracts those who hunger and thirst after
righteousness and want to worship God in spirit and in truth,
more than ornate buildings will.
(2) And, the church grew to number one in America without style and
3. A third important observation is that the church of Christ did not soar
to number one in church growth because of seeking fellowship with
denominations or joining with the ecumenical movement.
a. The ecumenical movement seeks to bring denominations together.
(1) However they want to do it through union and compromise
instead of the unity Christ prayed for.
(2) And the participating denominations are still in membership
decline today.
b. One reason we are in decline today is because of the progressive
Sherman—Page 10
movement in the church is seeking common ground and implementa-
tion of denominational ideas to promote themselves.
4. A fourth observation is that we did not grow to number one by
seeking to avoid prejudice, persecution and bad press.
a. The church has always been hated by the world and by denomina-
tionalism. In the first century it was “everywhere spoken against”.
b. Jesus said, “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake; but he
that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (MATTHEW 10:22)
c. The early church grew like wildfire under the fire of hatred, opposi-
tion and persecution, and so will we—if we equip ourselves with the
armour of Ephesians 6 provided for us by the Holy Spirit.
d. The church of 50 years ago did not grow because of compromise
and the attitude of surrender—peace at any price.
e. James DeForest Murch, a church historian, in his book—Christians
Only (page 313)tells why the Lord's church has grown, in these
Its people have stood like the Rock of Gibraltar for the faith that was once delivered
unto the saints, amid doubt super-induced by liberalism. They have challenged the
spirit of compromise and worldliness and dared to be a peculiar people teaching
and practicing what they believe is the Bible way of life.”
A. The Lord's church has always had periods of growth and decline
throughout its history.
1. Thousands were added to the church shortly after it was established
and it grew rapidly because:
a. In great faith it trusted the one true God consistently and without
b. Early Christians were totally committed to the Word and taught the
gospel with faithfulness and zeal.
c. The church defended the faith whenever the Word of God was
challenged without fear or favor.
d. Those early Christians lived the gospel with all their being—they
wanted people to see Jesus through their lives. So, they sought to be
personally faithful in their lives.
e. And, church members, being the body of Christ, were united in love
for one another (Acts 4:31-33) and for lost souls (Acts 8:1-4 5:42)
Sherman—Page 11
with a positive, optimistic outlook.
(1) They recognized that their mission is to continue Christ's mission
on the earth.
(2) They did not see their Christianity as “Lord, what can you do for
me?” but “Lord, how can I serve you today?”
2. There are many books written on ideas for church growth.
a. Somewhere I have a publication entitled 104 ways to grow a church.
b. But, if we start with only two:
(1) Being united in our love for the Lord and for each other;
(2) And you developing a love for the lost that causes you to realize
you are an instrument of God with the mission first of all to seek
and save the lost...
(a) Watching for opportunities,
(b) Having a prayer list of people you would like to have with
you in heaven,
(c) And asking for help from a fellow Christian work with you in
reaching out to these souls—until you gain the
confidence of Hebrews 5:12 “When for a time ye ought to
be teachers...”
c. If you do these things, we will grow as God would have us grow.
B. A poet has written:
Don't be concerned nor be surprised if what you do is criticized
For there are always those who usually can
find fault with every different plan.
Mistakes are made, we don't deny,
but only made by folks who try.
God bless you in your trying.
Stanley Sherman
541-998-8989 541-729-2329 (cell)
29285 Lingo Lane Junction City, OR 97448

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