This article is about church growth and success for the church. What do we really need for our churches?

Source: Witness, 2009. 3 pages.

A Successful Church

We all want to have a growing successful church, so how do we set about it? Search the Scriptures and see what God wants. But that is not what most evangelical Christian people think today. Rather the sort of answers they give are the following:

  1. Look at other ‘successful’ churches and imitate them. A successful church is one that has lots of people. Sadly few ask whether the crowds are truly converted, sanctified, well taught, godly, pure, heavenly minded, prayerful, humbly serving God, truly honouring Him and filled with His fear. Should we not rather imitate faithful churches even though they be small in size? Follow those who follow Christ and only in what they follow Christ. Surely they glorify God most? Paul said, 'Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ' (1 Corinthians 11:1).

  2. Another common approach is to try to assess what will please the world around us. What will the unconverted like? What will they find entertaining? What will be non-threatening to them? Is there a type of worship, a show which the man on the street would find attractive? Spurgeon talks of preaching which amuses the goats, and the hungry sheep look up unfed. Our question rather should be, What will please God and what does His word say?

What is Usually Proposed?🔗

In order to be successful it is argued that a number of things must change:

  1. Women should stand at the door to welcome visitors. Old elders there could put people off.

  2. The congregation should dress casually and so take away all formality. Get rid of head-covering. Try to create an informal atmosphere, with nothing awesome and frightening.

  3. The mix of ages present is seen as vital. There must be lots of young people.

  4. The music should be contemporary, with guitars etc and led by ‘cool’ musicians.

  5. There should be audience participation so that folk do not feel left out. Different individuals are appointed to lead different parts of the worship.

  6. The preaching should be short and non-confrontational, e.g. no hell-fire preaching, rather not too demanding teaching, possibly using an overhead projector. It’s a kind of ‘take it or leave it preaching’, or simply providing folk with information.

  7. Constant change and variation in the order of service is seen as vital to appear fresh and to avoid boredom. What they call the old hymn (or Psalm) sandwich is despised.

  8. In many places so-called prophesying, tongue speaking and miracles add greatly to the emotion and excitement and are seen as indispensable to success.

Sad Example🔗

A few weeks ago on a preaching trip to England I was saddened to meet an old man recently excommunicated from his church where he had been a member for 72 years. Was it over doctrine, I asked, or was it over immorality? Neither. He explained that his church had been planning to set up a church plant, a new congregation. He was very happy with that idea but argued that the new church should hold to the Confession of Faith of the mother church (in this case the Savoy Declaration which is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith) and follow the pattern of worship in that church. However, the existing pastor wanted to lead the church plant and have freedom to decide what they would believe and how they would worship. Obviously the pastor thought that changes in beliefs and worship would lead to success. The old deacon was seen as a barrier to progress as was another elder and deacon and so the whole group were cast out of the church in the interests of success. Sadly one hears of increasing numbers of similar cases.

But is it the Recipe to Success?🔗

I know another minister who says, ‘Let them come and ask us. We have tried it all and found it a failure’. This old minister in earlier days had tried modernising and becoming ‘user friendly’ and had discovered that it hadn’t worked. These past more than 100 years have been marked by innovations in worship and where has it got the church? Things are worse in Britain today than they ever have been. Sensational churches like comets have shone brightly for a little time and then vanished while God’s true stars continue to shine.

Man-made hymns, supposed to be far superior to the God-inspired Psalms, have been accompanied by man-glorifying music and the churches have continued to die. Serious preaching has been replaced with joking and entertainment without reversing the trend. The fear of God has been got rid of. Women have been made elders and even preachers. Young people lead the worship – indeed in many churches it seems that the young people themselves are worshipped. The Charismatic churches are the fastest growing and the fastest dying churches.

What Do We Really Need in the Churches?🔗

  1. What we really need in our churches is God’s blessing. No true conversion takes place without the working of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. Additions to the church obtained by human persuasion will fall away or be mere hypocrites who will end up in hell. We need His presence in the church and must seek it above all else. The last verse of Mark’s Gospel states that the disciples ‘went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following’. We are instructed to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The success of the church’s mission is not down to psychology, to being ‘user-friendly’, to contemporary music, to dumping-down the preaching or to accommodating the world but rather to the presence of Him who has all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).

  2. We must make sure that there is nothing that will offend God. Paul warns, ‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God’ (Ephesians 4:30). This refers first to the individual but also collectively to the church. It is possible to grieve Him to such an extent that His powerful, blessing presence is withdrawn. Israel were at times guilty of such behaviour as caused God to withdraw from them and leave them to their own weakness in the face of their enemies.

  3. There must be no hidden sin tolerated in the church. Isaiah warns, ‘The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save – but your iniquities have separated between you and your God’ (59:1-2). Achan’s sin left Israel weak before her enemies.

  4. Pride is particularly obnoxious to God. He detests all performance and showing off. He must get the glory. The church exists to worship and glorify Him. If instead we seek the glory for ourselves we can be sure that the chastening of the Lord will come upon us rather than His blessing. All our hard work, our pulpit performances, our amazing music, our entertainment and our superb catering will be in vain. All boasting of our achievements or intentions to do so are sure to incur His wrath.

Our Duties🔗

What saith the Scripture? What is the church’s business?

  1. The first duty of the church is preaching. That is laid down by Christ in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). God’s word is to be preached in all its fullness leaving nothing out. The pulpit is not for ‘I think …’ but for ‘God says…’ It must not be preached boringly as if reading a telephone directory. Rather it has to be heralded by God’s ambassadors with all the earnestness and passion they possess – ‘as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Along with the preaching must be witnessing both by holy loving consistent godly lives and by communicating with our lips the gospel to all. The New Testament church was also deeply concerned to relieve the needs of the poor, especially poor Christians. Children too have their place in the concern of Christ and his apostles, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not’. But preaching and evangelism have the primary place.

  2. Prayer is vital. If we are aware that without God we can do nothing substantial to build up the church then we have to plead for His presence and help. Social work, youth work and musical rehearsing can be very time-consuming, and if it detracts from the time that should be spent in prayer no lasting good will be done.

  3. Let us strive after holiness of life because this is where so many modern churches fail. Let us daily practice repentance. Let us strive after Christ-likeness. Let God’s Word be our constant study and our daily practice.

  4. Instead of being like cows looking enviously over the denominational fence at other churches thinking the grass is greener there let us concentrate on living out the Christian life to the full in the place where the Lord has called us and do what we can to gather in the lost, realising that it is the Holy Spirit who saves and not user-friendly tactics. We must remember that God’s first aim with us is our sanctification and not our success.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.