Church Growth – How important is it to The Church?
I know in writing on this subject it may ruffle a few feathers or even create a sense of rage amongst the readers, but I truly believe in my heart that as a bible-believing Christian, that hard questions should not be avoided, but specifically tackled by those who are able to do something about it i.e. all bible-believing Christians.
In recent days, I have done a little digging around to try to find quality statistics on Church growth. Whilst it has been almost impossible to find statistics that are “fresher” than the past six years, upon making the comparisons over a period of around twenty-five years, the results give a ‘good’ indication on how the growth of the church really looks. For the moment, as it is currently my home country, my research has been only on the UK. But in the Western world, I’m confident that the statistics would not be too far wrong in other major nations.
Let me at this point enter into the discussion my actual purpose of looking at this subject. If one looks at Church History over an expanded period, even dating back as far as the newly established Church in post New Testament times, there have been times of considerable growth, and then there have been periods of considerable decline. I don’t think it can be lost on too many Christians in the era in which we live, that the means by which we have to put over the good news of Jesus Christ, is vastly different to any other era prior to this. What is most important, in my view, is that the preaching of the gospel and biblical truth is as of great importance today as it was at the establishment of the Early Church. So given all the means at our disposal to put over The Truth of the Gospel, the question needs to be put over, why is there not considerably greater growth, even exponential growth, within the UK Church? There are those who would respond to say that church growth isn’t everything, what is important is for those currently in regular attendance getting a solid grounding in The Word. My response to such an argument is that The Church has been telling that same argument for the past twenty-five years (or more), and there is little to show that actual growth is no more significant over that same period. There are others who argue that we need more outstanding individuals to stimulate Church Growth i.e. a few more Billy Graham’s or Luis Palau’s. Here again, the statistics don’t show too much to be positive about when it comes to long-term growth, even coming out of “big campaigns”. I would just add another thought in connection with this type of argument – in the establishment of the Early Church, there were no “big names or campaigns” – it was ordinary everyday individuals full of the Holy Spirit that went out to put their lives literally on the line to win over those in their communities.
So let’s bring the title question back on track a little. At this point let me throw in a few stark statistics that highlight my purpose for writing; Between the years 2000 and 2006, the Church across all denominations within the England, had just 6.3% of the population attending on a regular basis. That’s right, less than 10% of England’s entire population attend church on a regular basis. What the stats don’t tell us is what is considered to be “regular basis”. Presumably attendance is considered to be “most Sundays and to at least one service per Sunday”. However it is actually broken down, it still doesn’t make for particularly encouraging reading. Another stat to throw into the mix; The Statistics report that in 2006 there were a total of 37500 churches in existence, with average size of congregation being 84 people attending these churches. Also stated is that in terms of the population of England, there is one church for every 1340 people. Now, the maths is not that difficult to work out: near to every church in England, there are 1256 people who never or very rarely attend church.
Now even allowing for considerable growth in the period between 2006 and 2011, for which, as stated, the statistics are currently unavailable, and also given the trend over a twenty-five year period, the figures don’t make for seriously positive reading. Don’t get me wrong here, I am sure there are numbers being added to the churches on a regular basis, but unless there those amongst the readership who have wildly different statistics, the numbers being added to the churches are not in such significant proportion to sway the balance in favour of those regularly attending church.
So one might be forgiven for asking of our churches, what are they (am I) doing about the majority who don’t attend? There might be some who say, well it doesn’t really matter, as there is still time to get the majority into church. There might be others who say, it’s actually not my mission/purpose/calling in life to bring others into the church. There could still be others who are simply frustrated by the lack of purpose/vision amongst church leaders to create programmes/activities to encourage people to be drawn to the church. Actually, if we’re really blunt with ourselves and know exactly what every Christian is purposed for, it is to glorify God in all respects of our lives, including drawing others to Jesus Christ. Now that can take on many different forms, but ultimately it is brought down to one central form, none other than our lives demonstrating the Love of Jesus Christ to draw all people to Jesus Christ.
For me, it is this last statement that often leaves me helpless and wondering how can I/should have more influence to draw people to Jesus Christ through my life and example. Surely this is one distinct way in which people will be drawn to Jesus Christ and into the Church. When the riots took place in various cities across England, it was fantastic to see a positive movement by people in their communities cleaning up the streets. What I was saddened to read alongside so many positive things happening, were many examples of people writing critically of the Church and its lack of support to the ‘ordinary’ people who got out their brooms and bags to clean-up the streets. Now I’m certain that there were many church groups and individual Christians who were directly involved in the clean-up. The question I was left to ask in relation specifically to the riots and its aftermath is, if the Church had a stronger relationship with the community it exists in, a) would the riots have even happened, b) what role was the Church playing to try to calm the rioters in the streets? There has been much tv and printed press coverage of other faith groups seeking to play their part in protecting business property and the public at large in their streets and homes. It’s great to see, but what influence or part did the Church play to do similar things across the UK’s cities? Of course the Christian Church plays its part in praying for the people in its communities, and I’m not doubting even for a split second the power of a praying church/community. But there must be a point in which prayer turns into direct action, isn’t there?
This leads me into mentioning other parts of the world, where the Church is opposed, oppressed, persecuted and evenly directly attacked, YET, that same Church is growing exponentially. The Church in Communist lands, the Church in Islamic governed countries are places where Christian growth and the expansion of the Church, is at such unprecedented levels never seen before in those same countries. One could argue that the UK Church doesn’t face such vehement opposition and therefore there appears not to be the urgency by the UK Church to see lost souls won for Jesus Christ. My prayer for Christians throughout the UK is that they would never lose sight of their mission in life, to draw others into Christ’s Kingdom.
Let me conclude this now long blog. I was recently ‘challenged’ by friends regarding a post I redistributed stating the position of a Lost Generation. Whilst I accept the counter arguments presented regarding how much great work was happening in many communities and how young people are at the heart of so much positive action taking place in those communities, and I would never seek to be a discouragement to what these young people are doing, it equally must be pointed out, especially related to what has been presented in the main content of this piece, that the vast majority of churches are simply not having the kind of impact in their communities to be credible in their primary task for existing. I don’t take any pride whatsoever from writing such things. In fact, truth be known, it grieves me enormously that the UK Church is really not having the kind of impact seen in past generations. When I hear in other parts of the world that even President’s are coming to faith in Jesus Christ and the influence that such a President can have on his country as a professing Christian, imagine what could be in the UK if such similar things happened. Sadly to say, Christians spend a lot of time being critical of the UK Prime Minister and our politicians. How about we spend a great deal more time praying and being a credible witness as Christians to our Prime Minister and our politicians, in order that God’s saving grace might become a reality for so many of those who lead our country.
I would welcome feedback of whatever nature to this piece. Suffice to say, I don’t have all the answers to so many of the UK’s problems, but I do know, that in petitioning Jesus Christ with the issues and concerns, there will be great results that come about.
Thanks for reading.