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Theology of Church Growth: A Look at the New Testament

Profile image of Luke A Johnston

“We may not have a lot of people at our church. But, we don’t care about quantity. We aren’t all about the numbers like some other churches. We care about quality people and ministries.” Unfortunately, this seems to be a pervasive attitude among many plateaued and declining churches in North America. The argument can go on all day concerning quality versus quantity in a church from a philosophical perspective, but for those that hold to Scripture as instructive and authoritative, the church must develop a more robust theology of church growth. In other words, what does the Bible have to say regarding outreach and numerical church growth? This lesson will seek to provide a summary of the biblical perspective of outreach and church growth.

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BACKGROUND AND DEFINITIONS OF EVANGELISM But what does this word evangelism really mean and what is its origin? Well, let's start with a definition. Evangelism is the presentation of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit so that others may come to put their trust in God through Him, accepting him as their Saviour and serving him as their Lord. (1) The word comes from the Greek noun euangelion which means gospel or good news. The verb form of the word is euangelizes that which means to preach the gospel (2) or to tell good news. A related Greek word is marturein which means to bear witness. (3) Less frequently used is a third Greek word kerussen or to proclaim the gospel used by Paul. EVANGELISM IN THE DAYS OF THE APOSTLES AND THE TIME OF EARLY CHURCH FATHERS What did this good news mean to the first century church and to the people with whom they shared? They knew the good news concerned the Messianic promises that God would bring salvation to His people, make it available to the gentile world and would be the Sovereign King of all. Luke records that it was in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth that Jesus announced the coming of His kingly rule. "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was His custom. And He stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and He began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'." (Luke 4:16-21) In this passage we see the careful interaction of the three words we have defined. Jesus, using the written words of the prophet Isaiah, proclaimed the good news of His appearing to the people in the synagogue. They were the ones who then bore witness to what they had seen. The good news we have in written form, the four gospels that we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, came from the first-hand accounts of witnesses to the original events. Many in the synagogue had their doubts about this man who grew up with them. Sometimes the disciples themselves had doubts about who Jesus was. However, Jesus was shown "through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead"(Romans 1:4).This is what His followers witnessed, and then they bore witness by proclaiming what they had seen and heard. So several reasons emerge for the fervour of the disciples as they went bearing witness of Jesus to the world. First, there was the deep and abiding faith that they had for the Lord. They had been witnesses to His claims of kingship of a kingdom that was not of this world. Then He appears to them after His death in a glorified body! I would be convinced, how about you? This faith was strengthened after His resurrection when He shared with them the Scriptures which He fulfilled during His life before their eyes (Luke 24:27). Jesus had shared these Scriptures with them during His ministry but the disciples and His other followers did not understand them until after the resurrection (Luke 9:43-45; 18:31-34; Matthew 16:21,22; 17:11,12).Secondly, they had a deep and abiding love for the Lord Jesus. We do tend to love those we choose to be with. He cared for them, taught them God's truth and loved them (1 John 4:19). The disciples and other of Jesus' followers wanted to show their love in response to His love by obeying Him. For Jesus said "If anyone loves me, he will obey My teaching" (John 14:23).Thirdly, it was God's clear and consistent command to His followers to take the good news out into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. This command to His followers and through them to all believers is found recorded for us in the following verses: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; and Acts 1:8. We, too, are commanded to show our love for the Lord by obeying this command to share our faith with those with whom we come into contact with .Fourthly, Jesus promises to be with us to the very end of the age as we carry out this command (Matthew 28:20). Not only that, but He promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us, to empower us, to be with us (a Divine Blessing in and of itself!) to remind us of Jesus' words, and to teach us all things (Acts 1:8, John 14:25). Sharing your faith with another person is indeed a scary thing to do by yourself. But these verses promise that the Lord is doing the hard work and we are but His mouthpiece or spokesperson. 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    Dr. Taek Soo Kim in his dissertation notes that the growth of a church is not an option, but a necessity because the growth of a church is recognized 1 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondetvan, 1995), 102. 2 Ibid.,17. 130b Moorehead, The Church Growth Factor (Manila: Christ for Greater Manila, 1988), 1-131.

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    Relational discipleship is found to hold a great potential for church growth. The Methodist Church Ghana uses Small Groups, referred to in the Methodist tradition as the Bible Class as effective tool for relational discipleship for church growth. Bible Class has been used from the inception of the church for exponential growth of the church.

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