Tag Archives: church growth

The Church Is Growing!

th

The International Bulletin for Missionary Research has once again produced its global report on religious statistics. Krish Kandiah has noticed five trends of this year’s report that are quite interesting.

1. The Church is growing slowest in Europe and North America

The Church is still growing in Europe and North America, but the increase is small.

2. The Church is growing dramatically in the rest of the world.

Explosive growth has been seen in Asia, Africa, and South America. The growth of the African Church is particularly significant. In 1990 there were fewer than 9 million Christians in Africa. Now there are more than 541 million.

3. Christianity is easily the world’s largest religion.

There are more than 2.4 billion Christians worldwide which is just over a third of the world’s total population.

4. Christianity is ridiculously divided.

There are more than 45,000 different Christian denominations in the world today. In 1900 there were 1600 denominations.

5. How many atheists?

There are 136.4 million atheists in the world, which is about 1.8 percent of the population. Though info on atheists is hard to determine, atheists are the only grouping to see a downturn, though very small.

I encourage you to read the entire article. 

Can’t Keep Quiet

Unknown

There were told to quit talking about Jesus. Peter and John had caused enough trouble and the religious leaders were annoyed at them “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” So they wanted them quiet!

But Peter and John could not be hushed that easily. When they were ordered to speak no more to anyone about Jesus, they answered:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20).

Why couldn’t they be quiet? Rolland Allen in his book The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church: And The Causes That Hinder It, writes…

If we seek the cause which produces rapid expansion when a new faith seized hold of men who fell able and free to propagate it spontaneously of their own initiative, we find its roots in a certain natural instinct.

This instinct is admirably expressed in a saying of Archytas of Tarentum quoted by Cicero, “If a man ascended to Heaven and saw the beautiful nature of the world and of the stars, his feeling of wonder, in itself most delightful, would lose its sweetness if he had not someone to whom he could tell it.”

This is the instinctive force which drives me even at the risk of life itself to impart to others a new-found joy: that is why it is proverbially difficult to keep a secret. 

It is not surprising then that when Christians are scattered and feel solitary this craving for fellowship should demand an outlet, especially when the hope of the Gospel and the experience of its power is something new and wonderful.

But in Christians there is more than this natural instinct. The Spirit of Christ is a Spirit who longs for, and strives after, the salvation of the woulds of men, and that spirit dwells in them. 

The Spirit converts the natural instinct into a longing for the conversion of others which is indeed divine in its source and character. 

Some things are so good that we just can’t keep quiet. Do we understand the gospel as one of those things? Do we see gospel as something so glorious that even angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12)?

May our eyes be opened today to see what we have in Christ and as a result, be compelled by the Spirit of God to make such incredible news known!

 

The Millennials: Are We Reaching Them?

th-4

Do we have a problem in reaching millennials? 

This is a question that continues to be asked and researched. And it’s one that has risen to the top once again as LifeWay Christian Resources recently announced that for the seventh straight year, the Southern Baptist Convention’s overall membership declined.

One of the reasons for such decline is apparently due to the lack of growth among the millennials.

It has been reported that 46,000 churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are baptizing fewer people this year, and most of our churches are not baptizing any millennials (which means, depending on generational calculations, people between the ages of 14-34, or, teenagers through early thirties).

So why is this happening? 

According to a recent task force of pastors, evangelists, and other leaders, there are 5 reasons for the problem of low baptisms

Spiritual: We need a sense of brokenness and repentance over the spiritual climate of our churches and our nation.

Leadership: Many pastors have confessed to being overwhelmed in the operation and ministries of the church to the neglect of being involved in regular personal evangelism.

Discipleship: Many pastors have confessed to focusing on attendance while giving little attention to reproducing fruit-bearing disciples who are involved in intentional evangelism.

The Next Generation: Although our churches have increasingly provided programs for children, students and young adults, we are not being effective in winning and discipling the next generation to follow Christ.

Celebration: Many of our churches have chosen to celebrate other things as a measure of their success rather than new believers following Christ in baptism. We have drifted into a loss of expectation.

So what is to be done?

Should we go into crisis mode? Maybe. Maybe not. I still trust in the power of the gospel and know personally that God is working and calling people unto Himself. And He is doing so among the millennials as well.

However, these reports are cause for reflection. They should lead us to think beyond our methods to what we are actually trusting in to reach today’s young people.

First and foremost, we need to ensure that we are preaching, teaching, and conversing about what Paul saw as “first importance” which is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…was buried, and was raised on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Thomas Kidd writes that if we are going to reach the next generation, we must “offer the transcendent, compelling message of the gospel.” He adds that “people have to see why church is so compelling that they would bother to get out of bed on Sunday morning. Moralistic pabulum and vague niceties don’t cut it. Pastors and teachers need to constantly trumpet the shocking claims of the gospel.

Ensuring the gospel is proclaimed does include a reexamination of our methods however. We want to speak in a way to be understood. We need to be able to relate to those around us.

Once again, Kidd offers a good word. He writes that though “getting a Twitter account and providing free wi-fi at your church is not going to win the adherence battle for you alone, neither will refusing to adjust methods and style be of any help. Churches should adopt a generous, outward-focused attitude toward young people who are making faith and church decisions, and ‘cater’ to the forms of communication that speak to them.”

I want to mention one final thought concerning reaching the millennials. It comes from Trevin Wax.  He writes that “Southern Baptists have a millennial problem because Southern Baptist millennials have an evangelism problem.”

Wax, therefore, urges his fellow millennials “to repent of [their] evangelistic apathy, step up [their] efforts at personal evangelism, and get [their] hands dirty serving people in Jesus’ name.”

Such words from Wax however, cause me to think about why millennials have an “evangelism problem?” Is it because evangelism hasn’t been modeled for them? Have they seen evangelism as more of a program than a way of life? Or could it be that their abandonment of evangelism is a reaction to past methods they deem as non-personal and obtrusive?

Regardless, we as the church, in this day and age, need to allow this SBC report to push us to pray and encourage each other in reaching future generations. We have much we can learn from each other.

 

 

 

 

The Expansion of Christianity (a list of articles)

th-1

For several days, I have posted about the expansion of Christianity in the first centuries. Below is a list of those posts with a one sentence summary. I have also included a few resources for further study.

The Growth of Christianity in the First Centuries

 The growth of Christianity in the first centuries is quite staggering when looking at the numbers.

The Growth of Early Christianity Among Women

 One attraction to Christianity was it’s treatment of women as equals.

The Growth of Early Christianity & Compassion

One of the major considerations as to why Christianity grew in the early centuries was that it provided help and compassion for those in need.

Despite The Difficulties, Christianity Triumphed

 What were some of the difficulties that the early church faced in spreading the gospel?

God Makes A Way For The Spread of the Gospel

 Was it just a coincidence that Christianity emerged when it did? Or was it divine providence that prepared the world for the birth of Christianity?

Did The Early Church Have A Plan to Grow?

The early church did not have a man-made plan. They walked in the “fear of the Lord” and in the “comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Resources

The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark

The Triumph of Christianity by Rodney Stark

The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era by James S. Jeffers

The First Thousand Years by Robert Louis Wilken

The Christians as The Romans Saw Them by Robert Louis Wilken

Did The Early Church Have A Plan To Grow?

th

Did the early church have a plan to grow? Since I have been writing some about the growth of early Christianity (you can find a summation of the articles here), I find it to be an important question.

As I began to think about it, I came across a post by Ray Ortland that grabbed my attention.

He writes…

I remember hearing Michael Green at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. He asked us, Why don’t we see anywhere in the book of Acts a man-made strategic plan for evangelizing the world? His answer: They didn’t have one.

What then did they have? Two things, for starters: the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

In the fear of the Lord, they were teachable, they were humble, they were listening to the gospel, they were open and grateful and easily bendable. They did not have a spirit of self-assurance. They were eager to learn and grow and change in any way the Lord wanted them to.

In the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were gladdened, they felt forgiven, they were reconciled to God and reconciling with one another. They saw their sins and failures, but they also saw the far greater reality of Jesus crucified for them. To put it in a secular way, they couldn’t believe their luck.

Openness in a know-it-all world, comfort in an angry world – that ancient world simply could not resist these heaven-sent powers. So the church didn’t just grow, it multiplied.

Those early churches had no master plan for their future. But they were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and it worked.

Church growth takes planning. Let’s do it. But church multiplication takes a miracle. Let’s be open to what only God can do.

When I look at church growth, I have come to the conclusion that there is only so much we can do. Consider what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. He writes:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

According to Paul, it is only God that gives the growth. This does not mean that we do not have a part as we “water” and “plant,” but as bad as we want to, we can’t make it grow. Only God can!!

I’m not necessarily against church growth books or strategies (well,  I am against a few of them), but we need to be careful not to forget to walk “in the fear of the Lord” and in the “comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

If I have learned anything from looking at the early church and their growth, I have learned that God had to have made it happen. True, God used his people, but as Paul writes, we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7).

 

 

God Makes A Way For The Spread The Gospel

th

I was listening to a young man the other day talk about his journey to Christianity. As he began to discuss his life, I became overwhelmed at how God orchestrated events in his life to draw him to Himself. Though this man grew up in a country that is not so friendly to Christianity, God made a way for him to hear the gospel.

Listening to his story, I began thinking again about the growth of the early church and how God made a way for the gospel to spread in those early centuries. Though it is true that the disciples did face difficulties (read here), there were also several things that created a path for Christianity to grow.

Here are a couple of them…

First is the  pax Romana.  Some have suggested that Christianity would have been “inconceivable had Jesus been born a half century earlier.”[1] But due to the control of the world by one power, Christianity entered the world at a time of peace, the pax Romana.

One could travel throughout the entire Roman world by the roads built by the Romans with relative ease and peace from war. Robert Wilken writes that “never before had so many different peoples enjoyed such a measure of security and freedom of movement. As Rome conquered the world, it made the world welcome.”[2]

Second is the spread of the Greek language. While the pax Romana made the “world welcome,” the spread of the Greek language, after the conquests of Alexander the Great, “provided a common language for communication, trade, education, and intellectual life.”[3]

Theologian Michael Green places much emphasis on the Greek language and the spread of Christianity. He writes, “Greek was a sensitive, adaptable language, ideally suited for the propagation of a theological message, because for centuries it had been used to express the reflections of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, and thus had a ready-made philosophical and theological vocabulary.”[4]

Was it just a coincidence that Christianity emerged when it did? Or was it divine providence that prepared the world for the birth of Christianity?

Paul writes that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4). Some have held that this “fullness of time” refers to the items listed above, the pax Romana and the Greek language, and how they made it possible for the gospel to spread. Others believe that “fullness of time” is a specific time period that must be met.

PersonalIy, I think it’s easy to see how God worked in opening doors for the spread of the gospel in the first century. Regardless of how you view God’s sovereignty and days of old working together, we all can agree that God works and moves through history and events.

I write this way because of the story of the young man from the Middle East. Thought its mysterious, God apparently opened and closed certain opportunities for him which eventually, led him to a place to hear the gospel.

Paul asked the church in Colosse to pray for him “that God may open to us a door for the word” (Colossians 4:2). Paul seems to understand that it is God who makes a way for the gospel to spread.

Therefore, maybe we should not only see our salvation as by God’s grace, but also the opportunities we had to hear about it as well.

 

[1]Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church.
[2]Robert Wilken, The First Thousand Years.
[3]Wilken.
[4]Green.

 

Despite The Difficulties, Christianity Triumphed

th

I believe that for those who claim to be Christian, discovering Christianity’s unique beginnings should be continually sought and made afresh with new understanding and study. Why? Because I think we will be encouraged and challenged.

This doesn’t mean you need to get a Ph.D. in the subject. Maybe you should just read a few things such as a blog post or two (consider what I have written about the growth of early Christianity over the past few days: day 1, day 2, day 3). Regardless of what you read, the book of Acts should never be left out.

One of the ways I think studying the early church will encourage us is that we will be reminded of the difficulties the early disciples had to overcome.

Consider what Michael Green wrote in Evangelism in the Early Church:

It was a small group of eleven men whom Jesus commissioned to carry on his work, and bring the gospel to the whole world. They were not distinguished; they were not educated; they had no influential backers. In their own nation they were nobodies and, in any case, their own nation was a mere second-class province on the eastern extremity of the Roman map.

If they had stopped to weigh up the probabilities of succeeding in their mission, even granted their conviction that Jesus was alive and that his Spirit went with them to equip them for their task, their hearts must surely have sunk, so heavily were the odds weighted against them. How could they possibly succeed? And yet they did. 

So what were some of the difficulties the early disciples faced?

  • The early disciples were nobodies.
  • They were seen as atheistic as they did not honor the customary gods.
  • They were believed to be guilty of both incest and cannibalism. The reason for this is that they met in secret, spoke about feeding on Christ in the Eucharist, and spoke of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • Their idea that Jesus’ death on the cross was the key to the wisdom of the ages was laughable.
  • Their ethical lifestyle was not appealing.

      (see Chapter 2 in Evangelism in the Early Church)

Basically, “Christians were opposed as anti-social, atheistic, and depraved,” writes Green. “Their message proclaimed a crucified criminal, and nothing could have been less calculated than that to win them converts.”

And yet despite all of this, the message spread throughout the Roman Empire. Though the message of the cross was folly to those who were perishing, to those who were being saved it was the power of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:18).

What difficulties does the church face today? What difficulties do you personally face in sharing the gospel? Is it easy to get discouraged? If so, it will do us good to remember the early church and the hardships they overcame as the proclaimed the gospel–the gospel which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

The Growth Of Early Christianity & Compassion

th

So why did Christianity grow in the Roman Empire? In a world full of religious options and a plurality of gods, what was the attraction to Christianity?

As was written earlier, one attraction to Christianity was it’s treatment of women. Many have said that Jesus’ “attitude toward women was revolutionary as for him the sexes were equal.” So the early church, as it modeled Jesus, viewed men and women as equal as well.

But there is one more consideration as to why Christianity grew in the early centuries.  It is because Christians provided help and compassion for those in need. This is evidenced by the help Christians provided during the plagues (see chapter 4 in The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark).

In the early years, plagues tragically hit the Roman Empire. In 165, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a plague swept through the Roman Empire in which the mortality rate was so massive that Aurelius wrote of “caravans and wagons hauling out the dead.”[1]

Christians sought ways to help during the plagues as seen by a letter from Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria to those who had nursed the sick and to those who were giving their lives in doing so:

Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…. The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that in death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal to martyrdom.[2]

Evidence of Christian’s helping others is not only found among  Christian writings however. In 362, the emperor Julian launched a campaign in order to help start pagan charities in order to match the Christians. In a letter to the high priest of Galatia, Julian urged the pagans that they needed to “equal the virtues of the Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their ‘moral character, even if pretended,’ and by their ‘benevolence toward strangers and care for the grave of the dead.”

In another letter Julian wrote, “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans [Christians] observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence.”

Julian also wrote, “The impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”[3]

So what can we learn from this? How important is it for us to be compassionate? Should not the church be in the midst of the suffering of the world?

Jesus said, You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world…so let you light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16).

 

 

[1]Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 116.
[2]Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 117.
[3]Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 84-84.