If you are a Christian like me, then you already know the classic definition of church growth–an increasing number of people attending scheduled church services. This definition demands that most new church attendees come from another church. From the Father’s perspective, this is not church growth.
Five years ago I repented to my church family. I repented for Jesus not being the most important person in the room. I repented for valuing scripture, principles and doctrine over His living reality. Those are all good, but in their emphasis Jesus was unconsciously relegated to a belief rather than a real person. I was so committed to this change that no sermon was preached for over 4 months. We ministered to Him and one another for hours every time we gathered.
We lost over 100 people that year. And as they left, we grew.
This decision came from a personal encounter with the love of the Father. He showed me my worth as His son far greater than as a pastor or leader. He showed me the worth of His children, His family, completely different than my perspective of them as a congregation. I saw His heart. And what I saw revolutionized everything in my life.
I lost much I held dear in that revolution. And as I did, I grew.
I realized that being a minister created a ministry with a congregation. But being a father released a family whose abundant life ministered. I realized love is better than power and then discovered an infinitely greater power in love. I realized creating an environment where Jesus could be Himself was better than one I controlled so my vision could be accomplished.
I found that a gathering of sons and daughters has to be an encounter with the Father. Yes. That is all. And that is enough. So much more than enough, actually.
If such an environment is created and sustained, I’ve found there are five things that become reality. For me, these are signs of REAL growth…..
1. The love of the brethren. Jesus’ new commandment is to love one another as I have loved you. His strategy for the whole world knowing Him is the love we have for each other. This beautiful mystery is the love that covers a multitude of sins. An increase of love, forgiveness and genuine openness among the family of God is the greatest growth there is. The practice of such love will change the whole world. If there is one thing I’ve found every person is hungry for, it is love.
2. Maturity. Jesus did not start with the world. He went to the existing religious system and opened Jewish hearts to the reality of His Father. He transformed their thinking through encounter with Him. It was His disciples’ repentance and maturity that led to non-Jewish conversions. As Christians mature into the nature and character of their Father, the world experiences His heart. To baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to literally immerse people into the full nature of God. That can only happen through mature sons.
3. Marketplace encounters with the Lord. When real people walk in love and the nature of the Father, signs and wonders follow. Miracles were meant for the city square. People who have never attended a church service are to experience Jesus. That will happen in everyday life. Just like in Acts. Peculiar people, filled with abundant life, shift every environment they enter. Real church growth happens any time a lost child is awakened to the reality of a Father who loves them. It happens where they work, where they shop, where they learn – anywhere they encounter a child of God.
4. Societal shift. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Where two are more are gathered, He is there. Wherever the church is, things should be getting better all around her. Imagine a church more devoted to the excellence of the city than its own worship services. The kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord. He loves this world and the earth it inhabits. And His sons do too, looking to restore it, not escape it.
5. Sons come home. This is the most natural result of the first four. And I’ve seen it time and time again. Loving, mature sons and daughters will always turn their hearts toward those who are broken and lost. Since the Father’s heart is reconciled to the world, all people become our family. There is no “them”. It’s just “us”. Humanity becomes our community. And when people are loved from the genuine heart of the Father, they are fed what they’ve hungered for their whole lives. There is no convincing required. Just hearts opening to what they had long-hoped was real.
This is what I think growth looks like to the Father.