Looking at the headline in one paper today, we might be excused for believing that when Jesus told us “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” He was just kidding. In the UK, church attendance continues to decline, and according to figures provided by one mainline denomination, the typical church now has on a Sunday, an average congregation of just 27 worshippers. In stark contrast to this, the Baptist Church generally in the Ukraine grows steadily. Specifically, we heard recently ourselves from two of the leaders in our twin church at Buzivka, that in their village of just 2,000 people almost 200 were members of the church. Imagine 10% of our community coming to Shirley Baptist!
Church growth is the holy grail for many in ministry. I am continually being invited to attend growth seminars, or to go online to growth websites where there are blogs on growth, written by pastors of growing churches about how their growth came about, in the hope that other churches might grow by adopting the same tactics. I am not against learning from others, but who better to learn from than the early church which shows us a church devoted to Bible teaching, worship, prayer, and ministry to the community. A church who met daily, who persevered, and who were living so differently than everyone else around them that they “enjoyed the favour of all the people” and then, as a result we are told in a word about growth, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
In this early Church, growth was not the goal. It was the by-product. God did the growing as the Church spent her time being the Church. As our culture changes, and both the patterns and pace of life intensifies, the local church must always be seeking God for the best ways to be an influence in their own communities, but surely as the first Church discovered, it must begin with believers being strengthened and encouraged in their faith as they gather together to worship around the Word and minister to one another. “Jesus loved the Church and gave Himself for it” so even within any adjustment we need to make to be more apt to reach the next generation for Christ, there is, and always will be, God honouring reasons to engage in simple regular church attendance.
To begin with, it is where the Body of Christ is. The Church is different than every other organization on earth in that it is the only one with Christ as her Head. The early Church shared resources, met the needs of those in the congregation who had them, and were daily practicing the disciplines of the faith with one another. Other organizations aid humanity and provide fellowship, but no other organization on the earth is like the Church, in that Christ Himself is the glue that binds the group together for a holy and profound purpose. It is also where the mission begins. The Church is the vehicle through which God will accomplish His mission. In obeying the commands of Christ, the Church serves the poor, shares the Gospel, ministers to those in need, cares for her own, gives generously and joyfully toward the mission of God, travels to the ends of the earth for this mission, and so much more. The Church is not chiefly a place to go, but a base from which to be sent out. It is also our ultimate eternal family. There is only one people who will survive God’s judgment to live with Him in heaven, and that is the Church. Our faith family on earth is also our eternal family in heaven. The relationships we form within the Church with fellow Christ-followers are the ones that will last, not only a lifetime, but also in the life beyond as we spend eternity together living in the light and glory of God Himself. In these days of decline then, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Your Friend and Pastor