Problems Permeating Churches (Part 3)

The following is the third of a four-part series addressing particular problems that seem to plague many fundamental and evangelical churches today. If the true church is to be honest with itself today, it must be willing to examine and evaluate its own beliefs and practices in light of the unchanging truth of God's Word and make any necessary changes for the good of the church and for the glory of God.

Problem #3—A Compelling Drive to See Numerical Growth at the Expense of Spiritual Growth

What pastor does not desire a large congregation? What congregation does not desire the prestige within the community that comes from a large and reputable church?

While the desire to minister to as many people as possible is not inherently unbiblical, the desire for popularity and prestige certainly is not a God-honoring motive for ministry. Yet even with good motives and intentions, it is possible for a godly pastor to fall into the trap of focusing on the numerical growth of a church at the expense of the spiritual growth of those whom God has entrusted to his care.

Several reasons exist as to why some pastors and even church attendees focus much of their attention on numerical growth.

1. Some are wanting the praise and prestige that comes with a large church that is embraced and accepted by the community. Pastors and church members whose motivation is centered around the praise and acceptance of men are clearly failing to do ministry for the proper reasons. They are as guilty as the church of Sardis, which had a “name” but was “dead” according to Jesus Christ (Rev. 3:1).

2. Some are striving to get more people into the church in order to meet a budget or finance large projects that are underway in the church. In other words, pastors and congregants are needing to get more people in order to bring in more money in order to keep the church functioning. In such churches, the real motivation behind ministry tends to be money and finances.

3. Some have come to believe that they are not truly doing the work of the ministry unless their church is growing numerically. Rather than being guilty of an unscriptural motivation for ministry, these pastors and church members are actually misinformed as to their ministry calling. They feel as though they are not serving God effectively if they are not reaching out to more people and filling the church pews over time. To them, ministry “success” or faithfulness to God requires visible growth.

Of course, other churches and church leaders have different reasons for striving for numerical growth. And, for the record, the desire for growth is not inherently wrong. The problem comes when church leaders are striving for growth due to a wrong motive or when they begin to use unbiblical programs or tactics in an effort to increase their numbers.

How can godly pastors and individuals within good churches avoid the tendency to become “numbers-driven”?

1. We must realize that, ultimately, God sets the size of our local congregations. Of course, as Christians, we have a responsibility to do our part to minister to others and share the truth of the gospel message. Yet we must realize that our part can only go so far. Being faithful to God may or may not cause our churches to grow numerically. Our responsibility is to be faithful rather than to strive for numerical success. Obedience to God is much more important than striving for results. God will ultimately set the size of our local churches according to His will.

2. We must realize that God calls us to minister to the ones He brings into our midst. When we realize that God is the one who sets the size of our congregations and brings people into His church, then we should understand that our responsibility is to minister to those in our midst whom He has brought along. So often, pastors and church leaders neglect feeding, guiding and protecting the ones in their church because they are too focused on finding new people and more people. Paul told church leaders to teach God’s Word and guide and protect the flock (Acts 20:28; 2 Tim. 2:2). Peter told the leaders of the church to feed and oversee God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

3. We must realize that spiritual growth means everything, while numerical growth can mean nothing. The largest churches in the world are disastrously unfaithful to the truth, if they can even be called true “churches” at all. Many small churches are faithfully laboring for God’s glory despite their small size. The purpose of the church is to bring glory to God through equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). Church leaders should realize that spiritual growth should be their focus, not numerical growth.

God’s Word makes it clear—faithfulness is more important than the pursuit of power, prestige or numbers. The church today can learn much from the small but faithful church at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) as well as the large yet dead churches at Sardis and Laodicea (Rev. 3:1-6, 14-19). — Matt Costella