The next characteristic of a healthy church that we will look at this month is: Continued Growth. We, of course, are not talking about doing everything and anything just to try and get more people into the building. That is not the kind of growth that I am referring to. How many people come to the church is completely up to the Lord. He said He would build His church. It’s not our job to try, using human methods and tactics, to try and artificially increase the numbers that we have on a Sunday morning.
Many churches have abandoned their integrity by leaving Biblical commitments and convictions and doing whatever is necessary to boost attendance. Churches such as Willow Creek and Saddleback Church in Orange County became famous for this model of doing church that puts all the emphasis on numbers. Saddleback went so far as to go through the surrounding neighborhoods with a poll asking people, who had never gone to church, what would they like to see in a church, and then tailoring what they do in the church to the results of the poll. Of course the church’s attendance skyrocketed.
The pressure on a church to grow, in terms of numbers, is always there and is always implicit. But that is not the kind of growth that I am referring to in this month’s article. I’m referring to the spiritual growth of the individuals in the church. Continued spiritual growth of each and every believer is a vibrant characteristic of a healthy church.
The enemy of spiritual growth is spiritual stagnation, or spiritual complacency. This is when people believe they are as holy as they need to be, or they know all they need to know from the Scripture, or they are just satisfied with their current level of spirituality. Some evidences of this type of complacency are: a focus more on the events of the church rather than spiritual disciplines, inconsistent attendance on Sunday morning or at Bible studies, and/or putting the responsibility of growth onto someone else like the pastor or teacher. Yes, the teachers teach, but the actuality of growth comes in the involvement and engagement of the listener to the message being taught.
The New Testament calls on us to continue to grow in holiness and to avoid spiritual stagnation. Paul prays for believers’ spiritual growth in Colossians 1:10 “We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Peter discusses spiritual growth as well numerous times. 2 Peter 3:18 finishes his second letter with a command: Grow, in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. In 2 Peter 1:5, he tells us to “make every effort to add to your faith.” There is a responsibility on each one of us to work hard at growth. How does growth happen? Through the Word of God, 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
While individuals are responsible for their own spiritual growth, it is important to note that continued growth happens in the context of the local church being in fellowship with one another. There is a relationship component to spiritual growth that occurs when believers are loving one another, serving one another, admonishing one another, encouraging one another, spurring one another on, etc. Spiritual growth shows up not just in Bible knowledge or the use of religious language, but in the practice of the New Testament ‘One Another’s.’ This was the great error of the monastic movement in church history. Men and women would go lock themselves away from society in a cave somewhere to focus so wholeheartedly on their own personal growth that the church itself suffered because all the ones growing in Scripture were nowhere to be found! Spiritual growth happens through a knowledge of the Scripture, yes, but also in the applying of that knowledge in the fellowship of the church.
Paul says in Colossians 1:28 that he wants to present ‘every man complete in Christ.’ The pursuit of holiness, transformation, and spiritual growth does not end this side of heaven. We all need to be progressing toward continued spiritual growth, to continued completeness in Christ.
-Pastor Mark Scialabba