Church Growth vs Individual Maturity
A couple of years ago I attended a pastors conference where I remember the main speaker relating a story of how a young minister had, within the space of about 5 years, built a church of 4000 people. His comment was, “Now that’s my kind of minister.”
I have thought about this saying many times over the years and I have come to believe that the emphasis on church size is generally misplaced and ill advised. While our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had only twelve close disciples and no church building today’s ministries sometimes have congregations numbering more than twenty five thousand housed in building complexes costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
While having a large number of people gather together each Sunday has the appearance of success I believe that it is impossible to promote individual maturity in these types of settings. The reason that the twelve disciples we able to be used by the Holy Spirit to start the New Testament Church is because they were intimately acquainted with Jesus and personally discipled by Him. It is written,
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
Individual attention is crucial in developing true spiritual maturity. Those who are coming into the kingdom of God cannot be effectively discipled in mass but must be individually nurtured. Moreover, large ministries invariably mean large bureaucracies. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is not free to move in individuals because of the scale of the groups that must be managed by the leadership.
The trend towards large churches means that large facilities must be built and maintained. These massive expenditures drain God’s people of what limited funds are available and tie up God’s resources. I sat one day having lunch with a minister who was praising God that he had just receive 40,000 dollars to resurface the churches parking lot. At that time I was having trouble raising money for my plane ticket to continue missions work in Africa. I noted that even though the minister knew about our mission’s need for funding it did not seem to occur to him that investing in eternal souls was more important than a fresh coating of tar for his asphalt.
I was in Kenya and I happened upon a minister from a mega who church was holding a crusade. He was speaking at a small market and handing out tri-fold flyers printed on nice glossy paper telling of how he had just completed a nineteen million dollar sanctuary. Interestingly enough, the cost of the flyer he was handing out probably cost more than any of those people listening to him made in a couples of days work.
Large ministries also limit individual access to leadership. It is not that the leadership does not want to interact personally with the flock but logistics make such personal attention impractical. This minister I saw in the crusade was just such a situation. He was so important that the common people could not even have access to him with being approved by his personal secretary. He had a large contingency of people with state of the art High Definition video camcorders but for all that wealth when he gave the alter call only one person came forward to accept Jesus out of a crowd of several thousand.
While I read the brochure about this new sanctuary I wondered how much could be accomplished for God’s kingdom in Africa if that same nineteen million was used in the mission field. Here is a truth:
“Most of the funds that God wants to use to reach the lost are tied up in the buildings and real-estate of the churches.”
I believe that in our rush for success that some are loosing sight of the main goal: to bring about maturity in individual believers. Maturity means that a person listens, hears, and obeys their Father’s voice. Maturity comes from personally experiencing God and becoming His love slave. It is not enough to simply have numbers inside four walls but rather we must seek to mature each person so as to present them as a spotless bride to Christ. This type of intense personal work cannot be done wholesale from a pulpit.
I believe the true church model is still the house to house church model as seen in the book of Acts 2:46,
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,”
It is in close and personal fellowship that the insights and values of those who are mature in the Lord are transmitted to the new generation. It is in small groups that the Holy Spirit is allowed to move and minister to individual needs. Let us not become caught up in the outward show of these large monuments to man’s religion but rather seek to go out into the highways and byways of this world to work in small and easily accessible groups to accomplish His will.