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Church Growth

Fruitful Formula

A lot of church leaders devote themselves to the task of growing their churches in much the same way that modern farmers try to squeeze more productivity out of their fields.  It is a pragmatic endeavor.  As a farmer, you'd be stupid to buy just plain old seed anymore.  Now they have genetically engineered seed that is guaranteed to increase your yield.  Why try just regular old evangelism when you can buy a comprehensive evangelism strategy program like FAITH that has some guaranteed results? We've become high-tech in producing fruit, and yet the church is losing ground to the worldlings in America.  In fact, it seems like the only place where the church is actually growing faster than the population is in those countries that don't have the 'benefit' of mammoth-sized denominational publishing conglomerates to tell them how to do what God has called them to do.  Instead, they have to rely on old-fashioned and low-tech Spirit-giftedness to get the job done.  They can't just hand a pre-packaged Sunday School curriculum to a random church member and have him teach his peers.  Instead, they have to train disciples in the Word and then seek out the ones who are apt to teach that can carry on the discipleship to the next generation.

Human beings like to meddle with what we're given, though.  We always think that we can improve things by our meddling, even though we have a mountain of evidence to the contrary.  Where I live, all the fields have copyrighted corporate logos at the end of each row proudly declaring the genetically-engineered pedigree of the crop growing there, but many of the farmers complain that the beans or the wheat just don't grow as high or as healthy as they used to.  Local church pastors will also testify that they've tried program after pre-packaged program but have just not gotten the kinds of results that were promised.

I wonder how excited farmers would get if you told them that you knew a way for their fields to produce triple the normal amount.  In the Old Covenant, the Israelites had just such a formula.  They were to allow their land to lie fallow for one year every seven years, and during this time God said that He would provide for them from the fallow land.  But every fifty years there would be a two-year period where the land would lie fallow: the Sabbath year plus the Jubilee year.  And to provide for His people during this long time of reduced production, God promised that He would "command [His] blessings on [them] in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years" (Leviticus 25:21).  That's a 300% increase in yield!  And what is the secret formula?  Obedience!

This is what we've lost in American Christianity that they apparently still have a passion for in those third-world countries where the church is outgrowing the population: obedience to God's commands.  It's probably also the reason why the pentecostal denominations see greater growth than the more theologically sound ones: they have a stronger focus on holiness.  Doctrine is certainly vitally important, but good doctrine is no excuse for tolerating the presence of sin.  The unanimous witness of the Scriptures is that God blesses obedience to His commands.

So here's the next laboratory experiment for our churches: instead of hiring a marketing firm to advertise our programs as if our churches were just more businesses looking for customers and profits on the American landscape, let's seek to uproot lust and worldliness and pride and gossip and fits of anger.  Let's turn all of our imagination and ingenuity to the task of studying God's Word and learning His commands.  Then let's buckle down and do the hard work of cleansing ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1).  In other words, let's take responsibility for what we're being held responsible for (our obedience) and let God take care of those things that He says are His responsibilities (like giving the growth - 1 Corinthians 3:6).