Our members’ meeting May 31st mentioned the theme of how a church grows (in light of our tight financial situation). I want to follow up on that concern by examining seven key principles to pursue for Westside to grow. You find these in Acts 2:42-47:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,
and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
The first three truths come from the context of this basic Scripture. These were in place before it.
- 1. Men must grow as committed disciples
- Christ spent about three years building up twelve men as radical disciples. His example shows that a church depends on men who grow in the costly discipline of following our Lord. Men must set aside other pursuits to delve into biblical truth for themselves and become holy servants of our King. Each man’s commitment varies because each has different circumstances. For instance, the twelve apostles were either men whose children were grown or else they were single. In a church, those are the men in the ideal position to grow and serve.
- 2. We must seek the Spirit’s filling
- Acts 2 starts with the outpouring of the Spirit on the 120 gathered in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is the essential energy of a church’s health and growth. Every Christian receives Him as a wondrous gift at conversion. However, each of us must also seek His filling of our lives. Paul commands us so in Ephesians 5:18. In other words, we can expect no lasting fruitfulness unless we know His continuing powerful work in our lives. The way we receive His filling is two-fold: (1) Growing as committed disciples who seek to lift up Jesus with all our lives and (2) With God’s people, constantly praying for His filling. (These are the realities which lead up to Acts 2.)
- 3. The Gospel of Christ must be clearly proclaimed
- Out of three years of discipleship and the Spirit’s filling, we see the 120 declare God’s wonders. This results in Peter’s bold proclamation of the gospel to the curious crowds. So a church must always make the preaching of the gospel central to its existence. Throughout its various gatherings there is a passionate emphasis on the basic truths about the person and work of Christ. Likewise, individually we must saturate our daily lives with the gospel as our passion.
The last four truths about a growing church are directly in Acts 2:42-47.
- 4. We must be radically committed to fellowship together in the Word
- These new-born Christians’ personal schedules changed completely! Now they constantly gathered to learn. They even ate together (both the Lord’s Supper and regular meals, at the temple and in their homes). Thus, the church was the heart of their “socializing” and the apostles’ doctrine was the core of their “education.” Being with Christ’s people reverently learning the Word matters more than personal schedules.
- 5. We must be a people saturated with pursuing God
- Along with their commitment to the Word and fellowship, these Jerusalem believers pursued God in prayer and worship. There is no evidence of major music programs or professional teams. They simply sought God by whatever means Scripture provided. A growing church is saturated with this devotion to the Lord.
- 6. We must invest in being a community set apart from the culture
- The Jerusalem church was completely different from Jerusalem itself. They sacrificed their resources to meet each other’s needs. Economically, they were an interdependent community. Believers did not somehow burden the city or temple treasuries. And this community had a buoyant attitude of joy as they shared together. Every human being is hungry for a community in which they matter and in which they can make a difference. Thus, they are attracted to a church, not because of amazing tech or money or facilities, but due to the love they witness there.
- 7. As a result of 1-6, God adds new people to our church
- This last point is crucial to understanding a church’s growth. God’s people in the first New Covenant church did not aim at, strategize for or measure their health by numerical growth. They were committed to being a community distinguished from the culture by their devotion to fellowship in the Word, worship, prayer, sharing and joy—all supported by men who grew up as radical disciples themselves. Unbelievers saw the people’s difference in daily life and it attracted them. In that context the Christians trusted God to draw in outsiders.
Think of the opposite of these truths and you will see the things which inhibit a church’s growth:
- Few men growing in costly discipleship or
- Most people apathetic about the Spirit’s filling or
- A church neglecting or distorting the gospel and the people hiding the good news in their daily lives or
- Barely participating in the fellowship of the congregation or
- Having little interest in heartfelt worship and prayer, leaving those privileges to leaders as the experts or
- Withholding their personal resources from the needs of others in the fellowship, and not finding any joy in a shared lifestyle together or
- A church and its people desperately trying to attract a crowd because they find real satisfaction in numerical success instead of in knowing and glorifying the one true God together.
As you ponder the seven essentials for your life in Westside, notice what the Jerusalem Christians did not have for church growth. They had no building; no detailed “vision statement” or specialized strategy for growth; no printed resources other than the Scriptures; no advertising; no special outreach programs; and no fund-raising for a “budget.” These things are useful but they are not necessities.
Friends, this is totally different from culture’s idea of a healthy, growing church. Westside already shows these priorities to some extent. But we must depend solely on the Bible as sufficient for our understanding. Start praying about how to grow in these seven truths I summarized. I am seeking our Lord exactly the same way!
I will do whatever I can to help you flourish in these glorious priorities. Please let me know how I can serve you in this way. I am eager to hear your passion!
Your Brother in Christ,
Westside Baptist Church
Great Falls, Montana