Acts 2 records one of the most ground-shifting events in all of human history… The birth of the Church. The chapter opens with the Day of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit being poured out upon 120 believers just as Jesus had promised. Then in response to the crowd that gathers Peter stands up and boldly preaches the Gospel message.
Again the Spirit moves and another 3000 souls were added to their ranks. In one day the Christian Church was born and the world as it had been was never the same!
Luke (the author of the Book of Acts) closes this incredible chapter in verse 47 by telling you and I the reader that the explosive growth that occurred in this first church came directly as “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” And it’s to this point I want to take our time this morning to discuss both how and why a church should grow!
I have found that one of the many unintended consequences of the rise of the American Mega-Church is that numbers have become seen as the most effective and largely only way to evaluate ministry effectiveness. Every time I speak with my 85-year-old grandfather the first thing he asks is “How many people do you have coming to Calvary316 now?” As if that was the singular metric we could use to judge the work God is doing in our church!
And while everything within me cringes at the very essence of such a question, the truth is that numbers do provide a tangible way to gauge success. Since this is the case, over the last 30 years “Church Growth” has become our obsession with the development of creative solutions, ideas, and programs to increase attendance our chief pursuit.
Now in fairness numbers are a tricky way of evaluating effectiveness. On one end it’s true a growing church is an indicator of a healthy church. The old saying is correct, “Healthy sheep reproduce!” There is nothing wrong with the desire to see the church grow, and it’s especially nice when the church experiencing growth is the one you’ve chosen to be apart of!
And yet, the problem with our obsession over numbers is that we’ve failed to ask one key question… Does church growth guarantee church health? As we’ve seen illustrated with the abuse of steroids and human-growth-hormone in Major League Baseball, physical growth in and of itself can actually be detrimental to a person’s health - same with a church.
Think of the complexity of relying on numbers as the sole metric of judging a church this way... Since a healthy church will always be a growing church, we can use numbers as a way to measure success. However, since a growing church is not automatically guaranteed to be a healthy church, numerical growth can actually become entirely misleading.
And it’s because this is the case that the “how” and the “why” behind a churches numerical growth is the only way you can really evaluate the “health of a church” and then determine the extent of that ministries true effectiveness. Numbers aren’t enough.
First, when determining health it’s wise that we first consider “how” the church is growing. In regards to this church, we’re told “the Lord added to the church!” This means numerical growth was to be seen as an indicator of church health because Luke directly attributes it to being a work of Jesus and not the actual church! This church grew as a direct byproduct of Jesus adding to the church. It was a work of God and not a work of man!
It’s interesting that in Act 2:43 we’re told “fear came upon every soul” because “many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” Did you notice that? People recognized the power of this church did not reside in a program, charismatic personality, or growth strategy, but was completely supernatural. The work was happening “through the apostles!”
Understand, the church described in Acts 2 wasn’t experiencing explosive growth because of a slick marketing campaign or some brilliant advertisement devised by the creative team. Numerical growth instead could only be attributed to the activities of one man… Jesus!
To this point may I ask… Do you want to be apart of a work of man’s ingenuity or a work produced through God’s direct, supernatural involvement? You see I’m of the opinion that if you can’t directly cite the growth of your church to Jesus, then why be involved at all! Such a perspective drives many of the decisions the other elders and I make.
Now I’m not saying a church can’t advertise, send out mailers, or lease billboards - there’s nothing wrong with looking for creative ways to spread the word, but this should occur in moderation and with a specific intention. Do you really want to be able to attribute the growth of your church to a billboard? And beyond this… How much of your tithe do you want being spent on a billboard? I mean how much of the budget should go towards advertising verses practical ministry? To rent space on one billboard on 316 it’ll run the church $14k a year!
Aside from “how the church is growing” being important when determining health, we’d also be wise to consider “why the church is growing.” From my perspective one of the biggest issues I have with this entire idea that numerical growth should be the primary metric is the reality that many churches with suspect methodology, theology, or leadership still grow to reach enormous numbers. For example…
Lakewood Church: Pastored by Joel Osteen boasts 43,500 attendees.
North Point Community: Pastored by Andy Stanley boasts 30,629 attendees.
World Changers: Pastored by Creflo Dollar boasts 15,000 attendees.
Until the church fired Rob Bell over his book “Love Wins” Mars Hill Church located in Michigan boasted 10,000 attendees - and that’s with a heretic serving as the pastor.
Here’s my point… When trying to wade through the complexities of evaluating church by the numbers, we would be wise to consider this important question... With whom are the membership rolls increasing? Understanding who attends and why it's just as important in determining the health of a church as how many people are showing up!
I am convinced there are churches experiencing growth because they’ve produced an environment that appeals to what I call the “Experience Junkie.” For the sake of illustration we’ll refer to the churches that cater to these people as being the “Low Rise Church” and the leadership behind them as “Dealers.”
An “Experience Junky” is a person who craves above all else the chemical high caused by a spiritual experience. As with all “junkies” these people seek out a good “Dealer” who can provide whatever stimulant is required to make them feel good. If the “Dealer” cooks up just the right fix, as with any addict, the “junkie” will keep coming back for more!
Keep in mind, these “Low Rise Churches” are designed by creative “Dealers” to be a location whereby these “Experience Junkies” come to get their next spiritual hit! Through the emotional stirring of music, the stimulating awe produced by cutting-edge technology, and the inspiration yielded by spiritual antidotes (there is often a social cause tossed in to make a junkie feel like they’re really making a difference) the “Low Rise Church” is fundamentally designed to leave the “junkie” with a sense of spiritual euphoria.
It should also be pointed out that as a matter of wise business, you will not find these “Dealers” doubling as moralists. As a matter of principle, “Dealers” never feel a sense of obligation to notify the “junkie” that their behavior indicates a serious problem exists - one that may very well prove detrimental to their long-term health and well-being.
This is why the “Low Rise Church” service aims at doing nothing more than fostering a high while avoiding any downers. As such you’ll likely never hear one of these “Dealers” addressing core problems like sin, rebellion, judgment, conviction, consequences, etc.
You see the “Low Rise Church” experiences growth because they feed the need of feeling spiritual, while never addressing the reality of being spiritual! With this in mind, these “Experience Junkies” are always looking to attend the church that is trending and most exciting. They’ll gravitate to whatever “Low Rise Church” is offering the newest product!
Though the “Low Rise Church” experiences growth, a church model with “Dealers” facilitating “Experience Junkies” is hardly a remedy for genuine and lasting health! As with any “junkie” at some point the chemical reaction you’re inducing will naturally normalize.
This means whatever the “Low Rise Church” was doing to stimulate the audience is no longer produce the same high. What happens next is messy... An unsatisfied “junkie” will either demand a new experience - forcing the “Dealer” to come up something fresh and new, the “junkie” will simply leave to find a better “Dealer” (maybe the one at the “High Rise Church”), or the church will wise up and put everyone through a necessary detox.
I am also convinced there are churches experiencing incredible growth because they’ve produced an environment that appeals to the “Run Away.” Once again for the sake of illustration we’ll refer to these churches as the “Brothel Church” and the leadership running them as “Misters.”
In most instances a “Brothel” only exists as a matter of last resort. The “Mister” in charge has no interest in the longterm health or prognosis of those who come to him, rather he exists to facilitate a mutually beneficial, temporary solution. It’s interesting, but the “Brothel Church” is successful because they create the perfect environment for people seeking to escape from accountability or authority at the church they’re presently attending.
Because this is the case, the “Brothel Church” appeals to the malcontents who find it easier to run away from their problems as opposed to addressing them head on and in a Biblical way! These “Run Aways” tend to be people who seek to be accepted as they are rather than being challenged to become something better!
Since the “Brothel” will accept anyone without preconditions and will allow that person to do whatever they want as long as their service proves equally beneficial for the “Mister,” by design the “Brothel Church” is ideal for the “no one has the right to tell me what to do crowd.”
Though the “Brothel Church” experiences growth, a church model that has “Misters” enabling “Run Aways” is hardly a remedy for health! It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to realize that a church full of people running from their issues is not a remedy for success.
Tragically, the “Brothel Church” ends up being nothing more than a cesspool full of hurting, damaged people serving the needs of the “Mister” while never really receiving real care themselves. Yes, the “Brothel Church” might give a person a place to go and the “Mister” might accept them as they are, but the best place for the “Run Away” is often to return home and face the very thing they were running from in the first place!
Finally, I am convinced there are churches experiencing explosive growth because they’ve produced an environment that appeals to “Everyone.” Let’s refer to these as the “Circus Church” and the leadership behind them as “Ringmasters.”
At the opening of a circus, the “Ringmaster” enters the arena declaring, “Come one, come all!” His job is to ensure everyone attending feels welcome and is comfortable. Sadly, some of the largest churches share this philosophy... In order to appeal to a wider-array of the population the “Circus Church” focuses it’s attention on everyone who attends leaving the event having nothing more than a non-threatening, entertaining, positive experience.
Though the “Ringmaster” of the “Circus Church” might teach from the Bible, he’ll never teach the Bible. As a matter of practicality, the “Ringmaster” will refrain from addressing doctrinal issues in the fear of becoming divisive or intolerant. He’ll intentionally minimize the moral stances of Scripture for fear of offending the audience - emphasizing instead the universal antidotes of love, peace, and personal improvement.
In the “Circus Church” the two-dimensional perspective of absolute truth is replaced with a unitarian kaleidoscope of being nonjudgmental making the “Circus Church” the perfect location for the “Jesus loves me just the way I am crowd.” This is why the “Circus Church” refrains from taking foundational, moral stands in the hopes of creating an umbrella large enough for everyone to congregate together comfortably.
Though the “Circus Church” experiences maybe the largest growth of all, a church model that has a “Ringmaster” attempting to appeal to “Everyone” is hardly a remedy for health!
Understand, this unitarian message of the “Ringmaster” attracts an interesting mixture of people: (A). The “Circus Church” will attract spiritual children who’d rather eat cotton-candy than ever grow up to real spiritual maturity. And (B). the “Circus Church” creates the perfect environment for unbelievers desiring religious experience without religious conviction.
Though the “Circus Church” will always reject the initial notion they attract the spiritually immature, I’ve actually heard these churches boast about how many “unbelievers” attend the Sunday morning service! For these “Ringmasters” it is a badge of honor that non-Christians feel comfortable within the walls of their “Circus Church”.
You see while the “Low Rise Church”, the “Brothel Church”, and the “Circus Church” draw a crowd, the why indicates these churches are far from healthy! And yet, what we find in Acts stands in direct contrast. Not only was this church growing numerically, but we know the growth was evidence of health because both the “how” and the “why” were correct!
Luke is crystal clear, “The Lord added to the church (the how) those who were being saved (the why).” You see the church in Acts was not a “Low Rise where junkies came for a spiritual high” or a “Brothel where people could run away from their issues!” Nor was this church a “Circus tent open for everyone to come and feel welcome and comfortable!”
No! Instead, the church in Acts was a place where those “who were being saved” could come and grow in their relationship with Jesus. And how did this church accomplish this heavenly aim? In Acts 2:42 we’re told they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
Notice Luke says “they continued steadfastly” in these four things: The Apostles’ Doctrine, Fellowship, The Breaking of Bread, and Prayer. Keep in mind, this word “steadfastly” in the Greek literally means “to be completely devoted to!” With our remaining time I want to look at the 4 reasons why Jesus chose to add numerical growth to this church.
First… They continued steadfastly in the “Apostles’ Doctrine.” In the Greek this phrase “Apostles’ Doctrine” is “apostolos didachê” which literally means they continued steadfastly in “what was taught to them by the Apostles.” Historically, we know they taught two things:
One… They taught the people who Jesus was and what He had done for them. We not only see this demonstrated by the Christ-focus of literally every single sermon recorded in the Book of Acts, but these lessons would also be complied into the four Gospels.
Two… They taught the people the very things Jesus had taught them from the Old Testament Scriptures. In essence, the apostles taught the Bible! It’s important to point out that the New Testament doesn’t really present anything new. Since we’re told Jesus came to “fulfill the Law and the Prophets” every concept discussed or expounded upon from Romans to Revelation finds its origin in the Jewish Scriptures and its fulfillment in Jesus.
You see since the person and mission of Jesus was the key to understanding the Old Testament, the Apostles were able to look back at the Scriptures with the benefit of the cypher. In a way their New Testament writings were simply a commentary on the Old. As such a healthy church teaches all Scripture with the same intention - revealing Jesus!
It’s not an accident the “Apostles’ Doctrine” is listed first. Though there are other things important to the health of a church, none was more important than the teaching of God’s Word. Because we’re told in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” as a fact of church history there has never existed a revival or spiritual awakening that did not have as a key emphasis the faithful teaching of “the whole council of God!”
Second… They continued steadfastly in “Fellowship.” Once again in the Greek this word translated as “fellowship” is “koinônia”. Though this word is common throughout the New Testament, this is the first time we find the word used in Scripture. It should also be pointed out that “koinônia” is one of the most difficult words to translate from Greek into English.
Honestly, “fellowship” is a rather poor translation for “koinônia.” The word itself is so complex it can also be translated into English as “community, joint-participation, oneness, community, or togetherness.” Think of “koinônia” as “life-sharing.” The word speaks to the reality that the Christian experience was designed by Jesus to be shared or lived with others.
The early church found it essential for spiritual growth that they continuously placed themselves under the encouraging influence of other like-minded believers. In some ways you could say they made it a priority to hang out with one another - which naturally resulted in increased accountability as well as discipleship. And yet, the word describes a deeper connection than this… “Koinônia” transcends simply spending time with one another. It describes sharing life in a Christ-centered community with one another.
Realize this koinônia connection among believers is the second essential component for a healthy church directly following the faithful teaching of God’s Word. Think about it this way... If together we are all one body in Christ Jesus, but we’re made up of separate, individual parts than we either grow together or face deformity!
Sadly, the “loner mentality” to the Christian experience is a growing trend in Church circles. Ironically, this is why a lot of people gravitate to larger churches because it’s easier to attend without ever actually connecting with another human being. It’s much harder to attend Calvary316 and fly under the radar. And yet, “Koinônia” is not presented in Scripture as a suggestion. Instead, it’s an essential component for lasting spiritual health.
So… How do we develop this koinônia connection? First, the Bible presents “koinônia” as being a manifestation of the Holy Spirit working organically through the natural connections of ordinary church-life. “Artificial Koinônia” is nothing more than an illusion.
Let me explain how “Organic Koinônia” develops… A person comes to church, meets someone the didn’t know, only for that connection to then move outside the walls of the church building. You see the act of grabbing lunch with someone after church, inviting a family to your home for dinner, setting up a play date with the kids, getting together to watch football can all be forms of sharing life with one another... Building koinônia organically.
If you’re struggling to develop these type of meaningful connections, can I very quickly give you a little advice? First, you’re never going to develop friendships if you’re not willing to be friendly! There is something fundamentally off when a person accuses a church of not being a “friendly place” when they never stepped out to introduce themselves.
Secondly, it’s virtually impossible for you to see koinônia develop organically if you aren’t willing to attend church regularly! Thom Rainer, who’s field focuses on statistical research related to church growth, made this interesting observation concerning the decline we’ve seen in church attendance. He said, “The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago. If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if one-half of those members miss one out of four weeks, the attendance drops 12.5% to 175.”
Rainer’s study revealed that church attendance is in decline not on account of a decrease in visitors, but because members are attending less frequently. He finished his example by saying while “no members left this church and everyone was still relatively active, attendance still declined because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”
And we wonder why so many people struggle to plug into the church community! Consider… If everyone attended Calvary316 only once a month, you’d only stand a 6% chance to even see the same people each week. If everyone only attend half the time you’d only stand a 25% chance to see the same people each week. If everyone attended 3 out of 4 Sundays you’d still only have a 56% chance to see the same people week to week.
My point is rather simple... You’re going to find it impossible to take advantage of the opportunities to develop genuine fellowship within the church community if you are not first willing to make it a priority to come to church every Sunday!
With this in mind, as a deliberate ministry model for Calvary316, we believe one organized meeting a week is all people really need in order to make a real connection (one that manifests into interactions outside the church - genuine koinonia). Tragically, many churches fill their calendar with activities aimed at fostering community when the basic solution to the “community issue” is actually nothing more than encouraging consistent Sunday attendance!
Here’s the honest truth... As we evaluate Calvary316 in order to plan for the future one reality is unavoidable! We have found there to be only one singular difference between the people engaged in the church community (people who have found and are developing real Christian companions) and the people struggling to make these important connections... Consistent attendance on Sunday morning!
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand not everyone has the ability to make these kind of connections at church on their own. Some folks, mostly introverted personalities, have a difficult time connecting with others. This is why at Calvary316 we’ve created various venues of structured fellowship designed to aid people as they attempt to develop “organic koinônia.”
You see Sunday Potlucks, Sisterhood Events, Band of Brothers, and Youth Events all exist to create a more personal, intimate environment with the goal of helping you create and foster koinônia. But here’s the kicker: We cannot create koinônia for you! We can provide you with opportunities, but until you see this as something you need and are willing to step out and make an effort koinônia will never happen and you’ll be worse for it!
Sure, it might be awkward to go to an event where you literally don’t know a single soul. But understand, some of the greatest companions you will ever have in your Christian experience are those you had to work hard to develop and even harder to maintain!
Thirdly… They continued steadfastly in “the breaking of bread.” Because “the breaking of bread” is in the emphatic tense, Luke is describing something much deeper than simply sharing a meal together. It would seem this church made it a priority to remember what Jesus had done for them on the cross by partaking of the elements whenever they gathered.
This is why at Calvary316, aside from teaching the Bible and encouraging fellowship, it’s important that we make communion available every Sunday morning - for at the Lord’s Table we are reminded that we have one commonality that transcends all other differences.
Finally… They continued steadfastly “in Prayers.” The idea behind “in prayers” isn’t that believers spent time in prayer on their own, but that they were doing something corporately. In using this word “prayers” Luke is describing a moment when the church communicated as one with God. He’s describing what we’ve come to define as the worship portion of the service… When the church, in one voice, cries out to God together.
One commentator observed, “In the Greek the definite article occurs before the word ‘prayer.’ The text actually says, ‘to the prayers.’ Obviously, that is a reference to something formal – to worship in which the people got together and praised God.”
In conclusion, make no bones about it… It is the longing of our hearts to see Calvary316 grow, but it’s more important to us that we see this growth manifest the right way. While we want to see the “Lord add” to this church, we understand for this to happen in a healthy way it’s something Jesus must accomplish - the how! This means instead of trying to make it happen, our focus centers more upon the why it should happen!
The church described in Acts 2 grew was because they had created an environment Jesus wanted to add to! This church didn’t care about numbers. Instead, they were committed to “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” knowing such a place Jesus would “add those who were being saved.”
It is a matter of reality that since we teach the whole counsel of God the “Experience Junkie” will not find Calvary316 as exciting as the “Low Rise Church.” It’s a truth that since we find it essential people deal with their issues rather than “Run Away” from their problems C316 will not be seen as accepting as the “Brothel Church.” It’s a fact that since we spend our time equipping believers not “Everyone” will find us as entertaining as the “Circus Church.”
And if these realities hinder the speed in which we grow... So be it! While there might be a shortcut to increased attendance, there is no shortcut to the development of a healthy church! That said... I do believe with all of my heart that Jesus will add to our church IF we’re found faithful to “continue steadfastly” in the teaching of God’s Word, open to the Spirit developing organic koinônia, willing to gather at His Table, and worship together in both Spirit and Truth! Never forget the how and the why behind the growth of a healthy church… “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
No Additional Links.