Re-post: What Really Makes the Church Grow?

Photo credit: AdamSelwood (via flickr.com)I have believed for many years that the local church grows — when its growth is genuine — from the pulpit outward.

That does not mean that all a church needs is good preaching and the rest will care for itself. A local church is a complex body and there are many other standards that must be met for the church to increase both in spiritual depth and numerical strength.

Nor does it mean that the whole burden for the growth of a church is upon the pastors and if their performance in the pulpit is exceptional the church will thrive in every other respect. The growing church must also have a core of lay workers who bear the spiritual burden for growth and outreach along with the pastor.

It does not even mean that brilliant preaching is necessary for the church to grow. As G. Campbell Morgan so clearly summarized, real preaching must only meet three basic criteria: it must be true, clear and anointed.

What it does mean is that the center for spiritual nourishment for the congregation is the pulpit, and if the pulpit lacks authenticity either in content, clarity or unction, even an increase in numbers of people will not equal genuine congregational growth.

We have all seen hummingbirds hover in air, wings ablur, while they sip from feeders filled with a red liquid — sugar and water. I’m told that if the mixture is made up of saccharin and water they will continue to come and feed with equal thirst, but gradually they will become weak and unable to fly. The taste of saccharin is sweet enough to fool them, but it lacks the calories they need.

In a similar way, what is delivered from the pulpit must not only appeal to the ear of the listener; it must nourish the spirit. That is, it must speak the word of God to the deep hunger for soul-food that God puts in his people.

What can move pastors everywhere to come before their people with a well formed word from the Lord? I know of nothing but the commands of the Scriptures, and the best place to seek that prompting is in the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These were first century pastors who were assigned to oversee young established congregations. And what did the Apostle Paul say to them in writing?

“…the overseer must be…able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2)” “Command and teach these things” (4:11). “Until I come, devote yourself…to preaching and teaching. Do not neglect your gift” (4:13,14). “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (4:16).

Also in Paul’s second letter to Timothy he writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). And, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2:15). We take such exhortations as Spirit-inspired also for us today.

I cannot write this way without remembering that on many occasions I have fallen far short of doing what I believe is so needed. But God is merciful. He forgives and keeps the passion alive. So, “forgetting what is behind,” I call any pastor who reads this to join me in seeking renewal in Spirit — anointed preaching to the pressing needs and hungers of today — for the edification of the Lord’s people and the genuine growth of Christ’s church everywhere.


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Photo credit: AdamSelwood (via flickr.com)

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3 thoughts on “Re-post: What Really Makes the Church Grow?

  1. Tears came in reading your post on July 20. The church we have loved and and continue to love closed at conference time this year. My tears were not of despair but of new hope. Under the leadership of Rev. Robert Legg a replant is underway. We are elderly and somewhat confined but the love of Jesus burns within our hearts in prayer with and for the dedicated servant dedicated to His work.

  2. Indeed, good preaching is essential to the true life of the church. You hit the nail on the head when you noted sermons should be “true, clear and anointed.” Sermons off the internet may be clear but seldom are true in the sense they fit every tradition except our own Wesleyan.. And it is seldom possible to have a sermon that is anointed unless it comes through the heart of the pastor. Well done Don. Roy C. Kenny

  3. Thinking about this from a congregant’s point of view,,focussing on preaching ,what makes me grow in my Christian life ?

    I suppose I go to church around up to 2.3 or 4 times a week,maybe more in those weeks of the year not in ordinary time. On Sundays we have a sermon from the pulpit which aims to be 10 minutes,though some preachers exceed this and a sermon can be as long as 25 minutes.

    At Evensong or Evening prayer we have a short address no longer than 5 minutes,and at Tuesday ecumenical service in Unity chapel and Lord’s Supper on Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays ,depending on the minister presiding we may or may not have the preaching of a sermon,address or homily of seldom more than 5 minutes.At Sundat evening Praise,an informal charismatic service we have a 5 to i5 mutes preaching spot

    Some preachers like to add maybe a joke to illustrate their point or a topical reference from the weeks news.Also maybe an anecdote from their personal life which brings their message to life and helps us remember something,Is this the saccharin or honey which helps us digest the richer truths spoken ?

    Even so,a week later ,I’d be pushed to recall more than one central point from most sermons.

    Just sometimes an image is so vivid and memorable I never forget it.For instance one preacher,over 20 years ago told us we shouldn’t carry our faith like i a burden.Our faith should carry us.It’s not we who are carrying God,but we who should look to God to carry us ,so put all our trust in Him. The preacher mentioned a painting he had seen,of two North American tribesmen carrying a heavy canoe and showing the strain He asked us ,rhetorically,what’s wrong with this picture ,revealing that of course that the canoe should be carrying the two men,not vice versa.That image,pictured so clearly in my mind, ensured I remember that sermon even two decades later.I’ll never forget it.

    As regards our Sunday sermons,sometimes a sermon is so useful ,we want to remember every word and ooint.It would be distracting for others if we started taking notes as if we were at college,so a print out of every Sunday sermon is available for those who wish one.Once or twice a year I make use of this.

    I think good preaching shold draw us closer to God.It should make us think ,yes,this is something I could apply to my daily life to make make our heavenly Father more pleased with my life.

    I suppose every Christian dreams of being a better Christian,being closer to Christian perfection.The greatest sermons are those which help us further along on the road to achieving this.Hopefully this way our catholic and apostolic one universal Christian church will grow because we may even inspire others ,not by what we say,but what we do,

    And right down at grass roots level,in the same way,hopefully so will our local churches growThis is right and proper ,for at Baptism we all promise to outreach and grow Christ’s church.I’m sure Jesus Christ’s heart’s desire is to save all people.What better way to serve Him than spread His Word by the example of our lives.Good preaching grows us as Christians so grows our churches,as we become adverts for the Christian life.

    One further point.Sometimes I sense a preacher is really on fire.Everything said is so heartfelt and so fully involved.These are very special moments.My personal opinion is that these times are when the Holy Spirit completely fills the preacher as if the Spirit is creating or refining his or her every word.Of course there may well be times the preacher feels the preaching’s not quite working.I think the whole congregation knows these occasions ,just as they recognize those electric occasions when the preacher is wholly in the Holy Spirit.We never forget such occasions.

    I think sermons are rather like musical performances.Sometimes a recital is routine and everyday but sometimes something remarkable happens The performance of a lifetime ensues. When the Spirit descends on a preacher utterly open to ,and. n harmony with,the Holy Ghost,the whole congregation is touched and becomes alive to our Lord. These are church growing moments which effect our lives,and recall what it must have been like over a few hundred years ago ,at an open air Revival when John Wesley was on fire for the Lord

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