Yesterday I started debunking the idea traipsing around church these days that numbers don’t matter. Part of the deception is cloaked under the idea that health = growth.
I’ve always been a tall kid. Always. I stretched 8 inches in grade 7. Shot right out of my socks. Every time I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in awhile, I’d get saucer eyes and an exclamation: “Whoah, have you ever grown!” Did they mean I looked healthier? That my digestion was banging on all cylinders? That my heart rate was noticeably down? That my acne had really improved? No. They meant I’d grown. Like, in inches.
Now, body health is important. If you’re unhealthy, you can’t grow very well. But if my muscles grow, the tape measure will bear that out. If my belly grows, the scale shows it. If I’m taller, the numbers tell the story. Right?
Spiritually, we can grow on the inside. Grow in virtue. In maturity. In faith, hope, and love. Personal growth is often expressed in qualities of the heart. But what about church growth?
Let’s turn to the book of Acts and see what God says about church growth. Specifically, let’s find some verses that refer to the church growing and see what Luke, the writer, is referring to. FYI, the book of Acts is actually structured into sections, with church report cards posted for each section. Each report card sports a brief summary statement like your kids get on their report cards: “Jimmy is participating well and has a satisfactory grasp of classroom material. He could work on slowing down and doing his best work.” You know what I mean.
The church’s first report card arrives late in chapter 2. After Luke’s mouthwatering description of the kind of spiritual health and vitality the church was enjoying—prayer, fellowship, teaching, eating together— he says simply, “and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:45). It seems like the report card measured both elements of health and elements of growth. In numbers.
Next report card? Chapter 4. “Many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4). Here there’s no mention of health, just growth. Exponential growth, apparently.
Next report card, chapter 9. “Then the church throughout Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.” (Acts 9:31). Here we go: Strengthened (health) and growth (numbers).
Next report card: Chapter 16. “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5). Again, strengthened (health) and growth (numbers). Hard to argue, isn’t it? An additional three times, the text in the book of Acts says more people were “added to their number.” See the pattern? Again, strengthening is one thing, growth is another. Church health is about deepening virtue, but church growth is about increasing size. About numbers.
How do the two come together? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.