CHURCH GROWTH (VI)
Factors in Church Growth (3)
Christians Who Move into the Area
A church may grow for various reasons. Some churches grow because they are located in a city or in an area where many people are moving to. Some of these people may be members of the Lord’s church, so the congregation located there may experience growth as a result. Many congregations get most of their growth in that way. Often, most of their growth is not based on people being converted from the community. Converting people from the community is, in a way, the best kind of growth. The “shifting of the sheep” which can occur from people moving into an area or from people simply changing congregations within an area is a type of growth where one congregation grows at the expense of another congregation, and there is no real “net gain” in the Lord’s kingdom.
A similar principle exists in the retail world. A man, for example, who owns the only grocery store in town, might decide to build a new store across the street from his old location. When it is finished, he moves to the new location and closes the old store. People may be excited about the new facility, but do they have an extra grocery store in which to shop? The answer is “no.” They still have one grocery store, plus, now the town has an empty building. When growth occurs in a local congregation due to people moving their membership from another congregation, not a single person has been added to God’s kingdom— no overall gain has occurred.
Nevertheless, this type of growth typically does occur in most rapidly growing congregations. This form of growth can be very encouraging, and it can very quickly supply (like a trade in the sport of baseball) some missing elements which are needed to make a congregation strong. A man might, for example, move in who is qualified to be an elder (Acts 14:23). Also a good song leader, personal worker, or Bible class teacher might move in. Women who place membership may very well become an important part of the strength of a church.
Some churches do not experience very much growth in this way because their building is not in a growing community or is in an economically-depressed area. However, some churches may be in a growing area, but due to their strict adherence to the Scriptures or due to the doctrinal looseness so prevalent among weak Christians today, may not gain many new members. We must not, however, compromise the teaching of God’s Word for the sake of numerical growth (Eph. 5:11, II Jn. 9-11).
It is not uncommon for Christians to visit a small congregation in order to decide if they want to place membership. In talking with these people, the members there should point out the good attributes of their congregation, not dwelling on the negatives. They should emphasize the positives, not presenting a picture of doom and gloom. There are certain good qualities regarding a small congregation which can be emphasized. It can be pointed out that although the church is small, a person who is a member of a small group has more opportunities to participate in the worship service, and thereby develop his skills. It can also be pointed out to the visitors that they are greatly needed. Further, it can be emphasized that a small group will tend to have a very close, tight-knit, family type relationship. These factors might appeal to some.
It is important to gain the growth that can come from Christians moving into the area. But, to do this, we need to make sure the congregation we are a part of is the kind of congregation a newcomer would want to be a member of. First, we must strictly adhere to the truth (Phil. 1:17). We must strive for the unity spoken of in the Scriptures (Phil. 1:1-2). A spirit of love (I Pet. 1:22) and kindness (Eph. 4:32) ought to prevail as most people would prefer not to be a member of a church which is full of hatred, strife, and dissension.