On a daily basis the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
What causes churches to grow numerically? Is it the preaching? The music? The programs? The special events? The staff? The website? The social media engagement? The missions projects? The overall friendliness? I could go on and on! From a sociological standpoint, each of these variables no doubt plays a role in determining whether or not people will “show up.” Consequently, churches can become obsessed with trying to pinpoint exactly what changes will produce the greatest growth in the shortest amount of time.
Despite the attention we give to this issue, it doesn’t seem to have been a problem that troubled our Christian ancestors in the Book of Acts. We never find Peter, James, or Paul wringing their hands and wondering, “What can we do to increase attendance?!” Granted, someone might argue, “Of course they didn’t need to worry about numbers when over three thousand people were being saved at one time!” But this objection overlooks a crucial detail. The Holy Spirit, speaking to us through Luke, always notes God gave the growth. No one else can claim credit.
Does that mean we don’t need to concern ourselves with trying to improve the effectiveness of our services, ministries, and programs? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we should strive for nothing less than excellence in everything we do. The key factor is to ensure we’re using biblical criteria—and only biblical criteria—to measure our effectiveness. Our job is to ask, “Are we doing what our Lord expects his church to be doing?”
To be clear, numbers matter. We can, and we should, use them to evaluate ourselves. Yet our Lord didn’t commission us to go and see how big of a crowd we could assemble. (If he had, I can think of so many other things we could be doing to provide better entertainment!) Christ commanded us to “make disciples of all nations.” That means even if our pews were to be packed, our budget overflowing with surplus funds, our buildings multiplying, and our ministries reaching the multitudes, we could still fail to fulfill our mission.
Imagine: Jesus returns and visits Tabernacle. What do you think he would be most pleased to see? The amount of land we own? The percentage increase in worship attendance? The number of well-attended events we’ve scheduled? The quality of our fellowship? The size and quantity of our buildings? What if Jesus said, “That’s all well and good. Just one question, have you made any disciples?”
So how do we make disciples? This is what we need to ask. I hope to address it in the coming weeks based on the model we find in Acts 2:42-47. Stay tuned!