Quick Focus: “Growth”

I’ve received comments from a couple of people for whom I have a great respect, reminding me that a church can appear to grow numerically without ever growing spiritually, and this is true!  Please, let’s understand that for the purpose of these posts on church growth, I am using the term “church growth” to mean BOTH spiritual and numerical growth TOGETHER, not separately.

To address the issue of simple increases in attendance without spiritual growth, yes this can be done in much the same way a sports team might increase attendance; by providing a more entertaining product.  This is NOT what I am talking about!  A huge church that is a mile wide and an inch deep is NOT growing for the purposes of this discussion, because it lacks the attribute that must be present for their numerical results to qualify, at least in my mind, as building the Body of Christ.  That attribute (result, really) is lives that are changed for Jesus Christ.

In the same way, a church that claims that its people are growing spiritually, but where numbers never increase is also not growing for the purposes of this discussion, because they bear no fruit, and we know that branches that do not bear fruit are cut off from the vine.  In short, they might just be mistaken about the growth of their people.


About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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14 Responses to Quick Focus: “Growth”

  1. mike and brandy says:

    I think you may inadvertantly have stumbled onto an example of how church growth has been ‘Made to Fit’ modern ‘Success’ mentality. A church growing in number or size is nowhere equated to ‘brearing fruit’ in the scripture. the phrase ‘bearing fruit’, whether from an individual or a Body perspective, always ties into the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5), and while i get what you are saying… the phrase is misused when you are deprecating churches who grow in the Spirit, but not necessarily in the numbers of people attending.
    not meaning to contradict just for argument, but i think “bearing fruit” should remain with the NT biblical definition.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Oh really? Matt. 28:18-20 is the imperative command of Almighty God through the very lips of Jesus Christ. It is a command that must necessarily result in numbers of souls added to the Body of Christ. If this is not taking place, that command is not being followed, and did not our Lord tell us that to love Him is to obey His commands? This is not “modern made to fit success” nonsense, it is the very command God gave us; it is His eternal purpose for which He gave His only Son! We really must use caution to avoid seeing things in such an individual context that we forget the we are charged with building His Body.

      Brother, please prayerfully consider this


      • mike and brandy says:

        i understand and agree that soul winning and making disciples is the mission. no problem with that definition. but the use of ‘fruit bearing’ to equate a churches growth in numbers and using that to determine the ‘health’ of a church… not there brother. and it shifts the focus back to the ‘numbers game’ to determine a successful church ministry.
        my comment was on your misapplication of the term ‘fruit bearing’ to growth in numbers, not the mission and mandate to disciple others to Jesus.

        • Don Merritt says:

          Brother, there is no misapplication of the term “bearing fruit” in the context in which I used it. The error is in confusing the Archetype of the vine and the branches with the Prototype of the fruit of the Spirit. If you don’t see it that way, you might want to use the “Contact” tab rather than having us converse for the world to see; it’s up to you of course.


  2. Bargo says:

    Well OK than,the gauntlet is dropped.
    What is our measuring stick for both areas of growth? Just so I am clear. Total souls, repeat of attending souls, number of verses memorized, time spent in the word, outreach, funds on hand etc?
    For me, the best indicator for both is…
    “When one soul gets displaced two stand-up to take their place”.
    I find there are times one must intentionally stand down to let two stands up. (For all churches)

    • Don Merritt says:

      Hey Bargo! I love it!

      The simple answer is that the “measuring stick” is lives changed for Christ.

      As lives are changed more and more and maturity increases, those souls get busy to help others change their lives for Christ, so yes you are correct. We (you and I) see this on a weekly basis do we not?

  3. mike and brandy says:

    Brother, good respectful discussions can be open for all, right? no need from my perpective to wall it off as private just between you and me. like i prefaced my remarks, not meaning an argument, but you did ask for an exchange of ideas…

    but your reference to john 15 doesn’t fit either. jesus is not pointing to a church body being cutt off, but (if you’re a Conditional Security guy) the individual ‘christian’ being pruned, or (if you’re an Unconditional Security guy) an individual ‘christian’ being shown for what he really is… a false convert. the passage about the branches of the vine is not about churches (small ‘c’) within the Big Church, but about christians (small ‘c’) within the One Church, which is In Christ.
    hope this helps you understand where I’m coming from. again, the term ‘Bear Fruit’ or ‘Bearing Fruit’ is never used in the NT in regards to growing numbers. and the matt 28 Commission to make disciples doesn’t reference numbers or growing sizes of individual churches that may be established ‘as we make’ those disciples.

    • Don Merritt says:

      OK Mike, no problem, just making an offer…

      Now, as for bearing fruit. I see where you are coming from: fine and dandy. Here’s where I’m coming from in using the term in relation to church growth and numbers. First, if a given body of believers has grown sufficiently in their walk with Christ that they are exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit in their lives, and to the point where they can ‘make disciples” and bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, the number of believers within the given body will increase by the number of people they have led to Christ in response to our Lord’s command. Second, in this sense, that church body as well as the One Body will have borne fruit for the gospel. This is not a stretch of John 15 by any means. Paul uses the same terminology in his letter to the Colossians in chapter 1. Now of course I realize that you will come back and say that no, the body didn’t bear fruit, the gospel did. That would be logical enough, except for the fact that John 15 is being used in Col. 1 by Paul as Archetypal. If you reject this notion, then you will reject my use of the term. However, do consider it.

      Just for those who might be looking in, an “Archetype” is a pattern or model or principle from which all things of the same type are either represented or modeled. So, in John 15, Jesus is the vine and “you” are the branches. Can “you” be the plural “You?” That is the question. To answer this, let’s ask a question: To whom was Jesus speaking in John 15? He was speaking to His disciples, thus “you” is plural. Where do we find His disciples today? We find them in the church; in fact they (we) are His church. Can a local church be dead or cut off? It would seem so, since the church in Ephesus was threatened with being cut off in having their lampstand removed in Rev. 2, the church in Sardis was declared dead in Rev. 3 and the church in Laodacia was declared lukewarm and threatened to be spit out of the Lord’s mouth at the end of Rev. 3. Going back to the analogy of the vine and the branches, if a branch, which is “you, the disciples” doesn’t bear fruit it will be cut off, and bearing fruit is equated with the gospel by Paul in Col. 1, and if it is the church that is charged with the responsibility of spreading the gospel, therefore it is not only possible to equate the “branch” with a local church body, but essential as well.

      So brother, whether I’m right or wrong, smart or stupid, that’s where I’m coming from.



  4. There is certainly a great deal to learn about this topic.
    I love all of the points you made.

  5. Bargo says:

    That reminds me… how are you doing on your assignment I graciously gave you?

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