Method or Message – Church Growth
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).
The context of the above verse is Peter's preaching at the Jewish feast of Pentecost, or Weeks. Those gathered were questioning what had happened moments earlier – the descending of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire upon worshipers from varying backgrounds.
While delivering his sermon, Peter boldly proclaims Jesus as Messiah and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It was this Jesus the nation had crucified (2:23). The Gentiles (Romans) carried out the crucifixion. The Messiah was put to death, but arose three days later. Peter quotes extensively from the Old Testament to show that this was all of God, as prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures. Peter went on to state that the Apostles were witnesses to all that had occurred (2:32).
Peter then commands those in attendance to repent (2:38) and be baptized, as the expression of repentance and faith in the Messiah. With these words – and others – Peter exhorted the people to be saved (2:40). And saved they were: 3,000 believed!
Peter employed no methodological means, but simply the preaching of truth.
What about today? What about the current Church growth movements? Many have their own strategy, ideas, techniques, and fads concerning how to grow churches in terms of numbers. Too many church leaders flock to hear these individuals whose congregations have grown exponentially over a short period of time to see how they can implement the same strategies.
It should make us think. Why are we so focused on the method over the message? Don't get me wrong; there should be a plan, prayer, and a strategy. We see this in the Old Testament with Nehemiah. In the New Testament, Paul and Barnabas are called to travel throughout their region of the world bring the Gospel to those who had never heard it (Acts 12:25-13:3).
However, in these instances we note a dramatic difference from what occurs today. In Bible days, it was more a matter of message. Today, it is a matter of method. Too many church leaders today equate growing numbers with converts, but this is rarely true. Numbers are fine if they reflect the addition of new Christians, but this isn't always the case. We are not called to increase numbers of bodies in the seats, but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).
God, Not Man
The problem is we equate God's blessing with high numbers, and in our era of immediate gratification, getting lots of new members quickly means God is blessing us. It's true that high numbers could be a sign of God's blessing, but this is far from the norm. There are many false teachers who have tens of thousands in their congregations, so should we call them successful? If they are proclaiming a false Gospel, God calls them heretics (Galatians 1:6-9).
In the early Church, prayer and fellowship were part of the Apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42), and these were in the context of anticipation of the coming physical Kingdom. There was truth, love, commitment, and community focused on God, His glory, and His plan with the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Today, we believe it's up to us to grow the Church, but in reality, it has little to do with us. While we should be faithful and follow what the Lord says in the Bible, we must never forget that the growth of individual assemblies is the work of God, who uses His children to proclaim His Word. It is God who is the Lord of the harvest. It is God who changes hearts and grows congregations. It is God who determines what His blessing looks like.
It is our job to be faithful to keeping His message pure, proclaiming that message, and leaving the results to Him. Therefore, we must ask, Do we as individuals, church leaders, and churches focus on the method or the message? We should have methods, but, if the method eclipses the message, the message will suffer.
May we always be found faithfully proclaiming the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world!
Dr. Michael Weis is a pastor, video operator, editor, and social media manager at Zion's Hope.