“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
When most people hear “church growth,” they think it is measured by buildings, budgets, and butts in seats. To illustrate, here is an opening statement from a popular book on church growth:
“Since 1966, [our church] has grown from 125 to over 13,500 in worship. We have gone through five building programs and two complete relocation projects, the last of which cost over ninety million dollars (including land, construction costs, and architects’ fees). We have gone from an annual budget of eighteen thousand dollars to an annual budget of eighteen million dollars.”
But is this the biblical definition of church growth? Is the goal really more people, more money, and bigger buildings?
It must be understood that the church is a people, not a place. Specifically, the church is the supernatural community of people who follow Jesus. This means that authentic growth happens when the people of the church grow into maturity (teleios) and Christlikeness.
Here is a clear way to say it: Church growth is teaching and training the followers of Jesus to become who God wants them to be so they can do what God wants them to do.
This is the message of Ephesians 4.15-16.
Church growth is about building up one another to Christlike maturity and service. A church in which the people are maturing is a growing church, regardless of how many people there are, the size of their building, or how much money is in their budget.
This means it is possible to grow a church by worldly standards and actually shrink in growth by biblical standards. If a church of 500 doubles in size, but few mature into Christlikeness, then that church is not growing.
God desires growth in maturity. Numbers are largely irrelevant. When a local church—whether big or small—teaches the truth in love, trains people to respond to the call of Jesus, and equips people for ministry in the church and impact in the world, then true growth is happening.
Trust God, do the work, and grow in his grace.
More on this topic next week …