John Balchin celebrate 60 years of preaching this year! Have the benefit of hindsight of what has been happening:
- A time of progressive decline – numbers attending churches have gone down.
- Forgotten how many ‘evangelistic initiatives’ we’ve been given to halt the decline but fail to halt it. The USA imported ideas are difficult to translate.
- The Billy Graham crusades were the biggest Christian thing in years, many people joined churches and even into ministry. Alpha is one of the home-grown formula and Soul Survivor have been very useful. But many have drained away into the sands of time.
Is there a biblical pattern for church growth?
Hardly any commands to evangelise – yes the Great Commission – which is all embracing and never been rescinded – but not much else – the apostles weren’t pushing the churches to share faith with their neighbours. The church was growing exponentially – they didn’t need to be told.
When you examine the letters the first Christians weren’t all evangelists – some had the gift of evangelism e.g. Philip and a more modern example is J. John. But not necessarily preaching evangelists, the God given ability to make the good news clear and to bring people to a conviction of faith – that is not everyone’s gift. Many books have been written saying that we should do this and that to lead people to faith.
What was happening in those days?
- Acts 2 – it went back to an individual experience of Christ – in one sense it was too wonderful to keep to themselves and on the other they shared something for God’s love for them. It led to spontaneous witnesses – we may not be an evangelist- but being a witness is part of our basic experience of being a born-again Christian – we share our holidays or our operations – why not the most experience of all? To share our faith is just part of our faith. That is what they were doing without being told. We also need to recognise those who are gifted and release them.
- The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitude as transformed Christian character – this is renewed Christian character. Immediately Jesus says “you are … salt of the earth, the light of the world.” If our experience is real it should be self-evident. It is obvious. There are some people in 1 Peter 3:15 – “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”. Why would they ask – because you have hope, meaning in your life there should be something about us that leads for others to ask questions. We don’t want more Christians we want better ones – as then more will naturally come.
A stress on quality
- Church growth is a science today – not programme, communication, method although all of these have a place. The key thing is quality. If you look at churches that are growing, that buck the trend. Schwarz canvassed a 1,000 growing churches that had characteristics such as structures that really work, small groups that really cater for those who belong to it, and passionate spirituality. Asked a question “Do the Christians in this church live committed lives and practice it with joy and enthusiasm?” – it is essential to see this naturally spilling over into prayer and more.
- Translate into action – inspiring worship, relevant applied biblical teaching and preaching, full programme for children and young people. People don’t ask for denomination – we’re quite a heterogeneous group in terms of this. Children are the church members of the future – but maybe not our church – they may not come back after university.
- Something like that has been happening here over the last few years. We’re doing a lot of the list of aspirations. Compared with a lot of churches we buck the trend – we have people coming to faith, we have a wide age range (we have gaps), we have a crop of children and young people having invested in that, we’re linked well to the community.
- People talk about being “missional” – that’s not english! But we do need to be outward looking, there are some churches where people regard the church as hteir private chapel, they have a private faith, and don’t cope with anyone who want to meet with them. Frustrated when hear young people being told to learn 1662 faith because we don’t live in 1662. It is very sad – they are cosy club waiting for their members to die.
- Thank God by His grace we are not that, equally we are not perfect, but we are missional and we would like to do much more. We can’t be complacent, when we think of the need of those living without God and hope in our local community. They need Christ.
A Couple of Riders
- The material we deal with – most young people 60 years ago went to Sunday School. Now we deal with much more ignorance, we need to start much further back, we are facing more what the first Christians faced. We have to be realistic that many don’t have a clue about the Christian faith or how we do church – the media don’t help.
- The spiritual climate – growing grapes seems to be a struggle based on the climate often. One of Schwarz’s research weaknesses is the spiritual climate differs place to place and time to time. The USA has some very large churches but the spiritual climate is different – they assume most people go to church, they wouldn’t expect to elect a President with no faith – it varies across the country, not all churches in the USA are large – the average church is only 70 people.
- We’ve seen times of spiritual awakening, but it is God’s work. The bottom line is we are working with those who are spiritually deaf and blind – only the Holy Spirit can make God’s truth true for them. We are living in a war-zone where the devil is contending for the soul of our nation. We can’t rely on human interactions. We need to focus on prayer – without prayer nothing worthwhile happens – whereas when people do pray often surprises happen.
- When you read Paul’s work in Acts and the letters not always large numbers came to faith – we are responsible for letting them know – they are responsible to God for their response.