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How can we grow the Lord’s church?

Last February, at the top of the front page, The Christian Chronicle asked a simple question: “Are we growing?” Since then, our staff has lost track of how much space we have devoted to the crucial subject of growth — and decline — in Churches of Christ in the U.S.
Literally hundreds of readers have responded to the yearlong special project, via e-mails, letters and personal conversations with Chronicle staff members. While a few readers — a bit too defensively, we think — have accused the Chronicle of advocating numerical growth over spiritual growth, most have understood the true nature of our reporting.
Our intention has been to use the numbers as a starting point for examining deeper issues and challenges facing the nation’s 13,000 a cappella congregations. To the extent that we have given anyone the impression that we believe humans — and not our Lord and God — are in control of the church and its growth or not, we apologize. But we stand firm in our conviction that the heavenly Father blesses his people with talents and expects them to use them to their fullest potential.
As we wrap up the “Are We Growing” series with this issue of the Chronicle, we respectfully urge church leaders and congregations nationwide to take seriously the charge that Jesus himself gave us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” If we fail to grow because we neglect to share the gospel with our friends, our relatives and our neighbors, then we will answer for it someday. May we never have to stand on high and explain why we kept the greatest story ever told to ourselves.
As we change the focus from “Are we growing?” to “How can we grow?” we point readers to the excellent examples of church growth profiled by Erik Tryggestad and Jonathan Cannon. We further suggest that the story on booming congregations internationally might offer lessons to help those of us in the U.S. rekindle our evangelistic fervor.
If you missed any of our previous articles in the growth series, we have assembled them online at www.christianchronicle.org.
Among the lessons learned:
• We must become more diverse if we are to reach our culture. Our congregations remain mostly white and have become more affluent. Reaching our society for the Lord will require creative approaches to win souls who may be a different color than we are or speak a different language than we do. We must remember that Jesus loves all the children — red and yellow, black and white.
• We must make the eternal faith relevant to the young people who grow up in our congregations. Doctrine is important, but the young won’t stick around churches mired in internal squabbles and their own way of doing things. A right understanding of Scripture is essential, but the young want more than words. They want to serve, not to simply sit in the pews and follow rote orders of worship. The answer for keeping our young in the church is not contemporary music or flashy sermons, but churches with a real compassion and heart for sharing Jesus with a lost world.
• We must plant new congregations outside the Bible Belt, in places where most folks have never heard of us. And we must be willing to try new approaches to reach a new generation, not sacrificing biblical teaching but perhaps adapting the Acts 2 model of church to include settings such as house churches or groups of believers meeting in coffee shops or parks. We must remember that church buildings are a creation of the modern church, not an ancient pattern.
Most importantly, we must pledge our allegiance anew to our first love. We must remember that God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die on a cross so that we might have forgiveness from our sins. We must never stop telling that incredible, true story of love and sacrifice. Only then will more people know Jesus and the church grow and prosper.

  • Feedback
    Meeting house-to-house seems to be the fastest growing segment of the Lord’s church, many following the original house-to-house New Testament model without any intention of acquiring a dedicated assembly building.
    January, 12 2008

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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