Whenever we pray for our church to grow, we always pause for a second before adding a little disclaimer at the end so no one takes us the wrong way.
God, please bring new faces into our church… but for your glory, not for ours.
It’s good to have this recognition — that it’s about God, not us — but why do we get so antsy about the desire for more people. We want God to fill up the pews, but something about that desire feels wrong. Maybe it feels selfish. Maybe it feels like we’re putting our hope in other people instead of God. Maybe it feels like we’re defining God’s power by numbers instead of love.
We are right to have these concerns. If our motivation is prideful or materialistic, we need to step on the brakes. But it isn’t wrong to want our congregations to grow. It isn’t even wrong to use size as one of the measuring sticks by which we judge the church.
A dozen objections might be floating through your head right now, so let me offer a few disclaimers. First of all, growing the Church really should be about God’s glory and transformed lives, not our ego. Second, not all churches can or should have hundreds or thousands of congregants — house churches, rural churches and megachurches all operate differently, and should work to match the needs of their communities. Third, numbers don’t matter as much as many other features about a church (e.g. authenticity of worship, bearing fruit, building up members in the faith, teaching, being a prayerful and confessing church), but they still matter.
That’s right: numbers matter.
God wants his Church to grow in love and faith and righteousness. And he wants it to grow numerically.
How can this be? After all, God doesn’t put stock in the size of armies and he certainly doesn’t depend on some arbitrary number of Christians for strength or legitimacy.
God may not need more Christians — in fact, he doesn’t need a single one — but he wants them. And, what’s more, he commands us to go get them.
Jesus calls us to, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Paul left Titus in Crete so he could appoint new Christian elders in all the towns he visited. We are given Christ, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”
There are a few ways churches can grow: from within (i.e. families having babies), from other churches (i.e. transferring Christians) and from outside of the Church (i.e. converts). This last one may be the hardest, and the one we are most nervous about, but it’s implicit in the commands of Jesus to teach and reach out to the world.
In twenty-first century America, with many churches shrinking, growth may not be very high on our list of priorities. In fact, some churches don’t make numerical growth a goal at all. I think that’s wrong and unbiblical. We should make growth a goal, and we should work toward it. We should strive to be like the early church, which preached the gospel fearlessly, and through which God drew more and more people to himself.
So, let’s not be reluctant to pray for growth. And let’s not hesitate to work for it. Not so we can show off or find an excuse to expand the sanctuary, but so God can, as he did in the first days of the disciples’ ministry, “add to the church daily those who are being saved.”