May I share some brief reflections on church growth and the wonderful Bible pattern that we find in the church at Antioch?
Church growth is not produced by a program, plan or marketing strategy. Our church's greatest need is not a clearer understanding of its demographics, but a clearer understanding of its God. Church growth is not something we do or produce in the church. Church growth is not the result of any program or plan. Church growth is the by-product of a right relationship with the Lord of the church. Church growth is by definition a supernatural activity and thus is accomplished through the church by the Lord himself. When Jesus founded the church, he promised that he himself would build the church (Matthew 16:18). Paul, recounting his ministry in Corinth, declared, "I planted, Apollos watered but God was causing the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:6).
I am not arguing against methods, models, marketing strategies or programs. God is not a God of confusion. He works through human beings and uses strategy and organization. The Scripture is full of illustrations where God worked supernaturally through persons with clear strategies. I am simply suggesting the the program is not the first or most crucial issue in prompting church growth. The vast variety of methods and programs being employed successfully across our nations bear powerful testimony to this truth. The critical issue is the supernatural empowering of the church that occurs when the church dwells in right relationship with his head, Jesus Christ.
The church at Antioch was at the center of much of the mission activity recorded in the Book of Acts. Several unique statements are made concerning this church. First, the hand of the Lord was on the church, and as a consequence, great numbers of people were being saved (Acts 11:21). Second, when Barnabas arrived from Jerusalem to strengthen the church, Luke noted that Barnabas saw the grace of God (Acts 11:23). How does one see the grace of God in the church? Barnabas saw Jews and Gentiles enjoying fellowship together. Who would have believed that would have been possible in the first century? Third, note that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). This attested to their witness before the pagan community.
When you study the church at Antioch (Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3, 14:21-28), you will find the following things: the first Gentile-Jew church, they were called Christians first at Antioch, and this church commissioned Paul for his missionary journey. Also, I noticed in my study of this church that there were some "key words" that described this church's growth and success.
The following list of key words or phrases are not necessarily in order but they "will preach": God's power on them (11:2), a spirit of praise and worship (13:2-3), preaching the word (11:19-21), a ministry of teaching (11:26), a praying church (13:3), they fasted (13:2-3), a growing church (11:21, 26), fellowship and love (11:22-23), a witnessing church (11:26) and an outreach ministry (11:29-30).
This church experienced great growth because they had a close, spirit-filled relationship with their Risen Lord. Looking for a New Testament model of church growth? Look at the church at Antioch.
(The opinions of this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Inter-Mountain, the Randolph County Ministerial Association or the author's church affiliation.)