“The very genius of Christianity is sharing, the conveying of a message.”1 What a message we have to share!
The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives, shapes futures, and determines eternal destinies. That truth which we proclaim also has the power to give clear direction for daily living. That message becomes the track on which the local church moves in ministry.
A pastor’s concern revolves around a divine mandate to communicate the message of God’s Word to His people. If “preaching is the communication of truth by man to men,”2 then the pastor has an enormous responsibility each time he stands before his people. Delivering just the right message, at just the right time, becomes an enduring consciousness.
One message which is often neglected is the theme of “Church Growth.” With churches all over our nation declining, we need to discover the workable keys to growth for the local church. Once we understand how churches can grow, we must turn our attention to communicating this vision for growth to our congregations. That’s where “preaching church growth” becomes essential.
J. I. Packer writes, “Preaching focuses the identity and clarifies the calling of the church as no other activity does.”3 As a pastor, I’ve discovered that preaching enables my congregation to discover who they are in God’s eyes and what their divine mission entails. For several years I had great difficulty communicating these truths. Then I began to understand more of how to preach “church growth.”
As you preach concerning church growth, you are communicating the biblical practice, as well as the contemporary discipline. Through biblical exposition and the use of many excellent church growth resources, the minister can help a congregation establish a clear growth perspective.
Preliminary Considerations
Most people in our congregations are not familiar with church growth as an ordered discipline. Take some time to acquaint your leadership and the “opinion formers” in your congregation with the Church Growth movement and its literature. A good summary of the movement’s beginning under the leadership of Donald McGavran can be found in Church Growth: A Mighty River by Delos Miles.4 Miles traces the movement from its beginning in 1960 in Eugene, Oregon, to its present magnitude, including its key leaders and organizations.
I would suggest purchasing a few copies of some key church growth books and circulating them among your leaders. Among these books, I suggest C. Peter Wagner’s Your Church Can Grow and Leading Your Church to Growth.5 Also, you might want to include R. Daniel Reeves and Ronald Jenson’s excellent book, Always Advancing: Modern Strategies for Church Growth.6
From the perspective of church growth in relation to the Sunday School, I think Charles Chaney and Ron Lewis’ book, Design for Church Growth7 and Charles Arn, Donald McGavran, and Win Arn’s book, Growth: A New Vision for the Sunday School,8 are hard to beat. These books will be a great help to you, as well as enlightening your key leaders on the theme of church growth.
You may also want to take some time in your particular leadership and/or teacher training to share some of the principles of the Church Growth leaders. I would suggest that you measure your doses carefully, so that your people have time to absorb the meaning and understand their application in their own ministry.
Another important consideration in preparing for preaching church growth is the fact that most people are not oriented toward personal involvement in growth. Normally, people do not get involved in things they do not understand. Nor do they involve themselves in matters for which they see no purpose.
You will have to help your people make application of biblical principles related to growth. Remember, “the perspective of preaching is always applicatory.”9
To get your people involved in growth, you may want to consider carrying key people to church growth seminars sponsored by your denomination or by professional church growth organizations. I suggest giving them an assignment that would help them see that growth principles do work. For instance, involve some lay people in helping you restructure your Bible study ministry. Or give one of them the job of beginning a new Sunday School class. Be creative in the ways you involve people in growth-oriented ministries.
Another consideration in preparing to preach on church growth involves the preoccupations of your people. In our fast-paced society, most of our congregations are involved in more than they can handle. They feel the crush of a hectic work schedule, a plethora of school activities with their kids, and a barrage of social demands.
Now you are asking more of their time at church. We understand the priority of their church involvement, but they may not. So be conscious of asking more of your people than they can deliver. Again, be creative with your suggestions for their time involvement.
Some of your congregation will see your church growth preaching as a threat on their time. Show them how they can use their non-church-oriented activities to accomplish church growth.
For further study on this subject, I suggest the following books which deal with web-relationship evangelism: Concentric Circles of Concern by W. Oscar Thompson, Jr.,10 The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples by Win and Charles Arn,11 and Life-Style Evangelism by Joseph C. Aldrich.12
Let me emphasize: people are intimidated by new demands! Be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove in what you communicate to your people. This is vital, for the message you are communicating in church growth preaching has the power to mobilize your congregation for incredible growth. Spend time praying on the manner of your communicating these indispensable truths.
Practical Suggestions
Be thoroughly biblical in your content. “Preaching,” writes Packer, “communicates the forces of the Bible as no other way of handling it does.”13 You need not worry about running out of biblical content for your growth messages. The Bible is the textbook for growth!
Some time ago, I preached a message from 2 Kings 4:1-7, entitling it, “Five Keys for Growing Oil and Churches.” Within this text, I saw the following principles that are vital to growth:
1. We must have a sense of holy desperation for growth (verse 1).
2. We need to carefully evaluate our situation (verse 2).
3. We must live with a spirit of expectation (verses 3-4).
a. Enlarge our vision.
b. Enlarge our involvement.
4. We must have a definite plan for growth (verses 3-4).
5. We must have a definite follow-through on God’s plan for us (verse 5).
a. Faith.
b. Determination.
c. Persistence.
Many Old Testament passages present a clear picture of growth principles which you can share with your people. For instance, Numbers 13 and 14 deal with principles of leadership, as well as principles of “followership.”14
Numbers 25:1-5 contains an excellent study on continuing with forward progress, keying on the phrase, “While Israel remained at Shittim” (NASB). When Israel’s forward progress stopped, they missed God’s norm, compromise set in, godly convictions were abandoned, idolatry began, and the Lord was angry. This message serves as a strong exhortation to press forward in growth. Of course, the book of Nehemiah is full of good growth and leadership principles.
The Complete Book of Church Growth offers some excellent preaching material related to the biblical “pictures of the Church.” Using the many images of the church in the New Testament, a whole growth series could be proclaimed to your congregation. “Each image speaks to a different kind of growth; each image portrays the church from a different perspective.”15
For instance, using the image of the church as the building of God, the following outline could apply to church growth messages:
1. Growth occurs when Christ dwells in the building (1 Corinthians 3:17; 6:19-20, NASB).
2. Growth occurs when builders build properly (1 Corinthians 3:10-14, NASB).
3. Growth occurs when quality material is used (1 Corinthians 3:11-13, NASB).16
Among my favorite New Testament books for preaching on church growth themes is the book of Acts. Take, for instance, the leadership and organizational principles in Acts 6:1-7, or the “Keys for an Effective Church” in Acts 13:1-3, or “Building an Evangelistic Church” in Acts 16:5-34; all of these have appropriate application in your own congregation.
I’ve found that my personal devotional time produces the seeds of many growth messages. Take time to leisurely read the Scriptures, looking for principles that will transfer into the life of your own congregation. As you read, meditate, and pray, the Spirit of God will guide you to some rich nuggets to share with your people.
Use clear, interesting illustrations in your growth messages. Since many of our people may be thinking, “It can’t be done!,” show them that it has been done. Make a habit of retrieving good growth illustrations, so that you can use them to bring life to your sermon outline.
I suggest that you take the time to read what other pastors are doing. I’ve gotten some wonderful illustrations from books by Paul Yonggi Cho, such as More than Numbers, Successful Home Cell Groups, and Fourth Dimension.17 John Vaughn’s The World’s 20 Largest Churches has page after page of workable illustrations and principles.18 C. Peter Wagner’s books are also well illustrated.
Listening to other preachers sharing what God is doing in their churches has become a rich source of illustrations in my own preaching. Don’t neglect illustrations from your own life and ministry, however. This helps your people see that you mean business when you speak on growth. They understand growth as a vital part of your life.
Develop a short series on church growth themes. This gives you the chance to orient your people to the whole idea of growth. I suggest a short series, rather than a long one. Your congregation will more easily digest shorter series.
Some of the texts I have already suggested might be helpful in developing your series on church growth. Let me suggest a couple more.
Ingredients for Growth
Mark 4:26-29
1. You must have seed to sow.
2. You must have soil upon which to sow.
3. You must do some sowing.
4. You must let the law of the harvest take place.
Faith that Works!
Matthew 9:27-31
1. Faith expresses a dream.
a. Dreams go beyond our abilities.
b. Dreams enter the realm of the impossible.
c. Dreams cause us to reach up.
2. Faith expresses desperation.
a. Desperation: the end of ourselves.
b. Desperation: the end of our resources.
3. Faith expresses dependence.
a. Dependence upon Christ’s willingness.
b. Dependence upon Christ’s ability.
4. Faith expresses a decisiveness.
a. Exercising the will.
b. Excluding retreat.
As you preach growth-oriented messages, share with your congregation your own plans and goals for growth. Bathe this in prayer! As you share your God-birthed goals and vision for the church, the people will see that you are serious about growth. It will motivate them to join in seeking growth.
You may find that you can illustrate a particular growth principle by sharing a goal for the church. For instance, in the above outline, “Faith that Works!,” I shared with my congregation some of the definite steps we were going to have to take in order to grow. This involved even projecting the enlargement of our preschool facilities. You can share your vision as you preach.
When I resigned my former pastorate in order to begin my present ministry of planting a church, one of my church members said, “Well, I’m not surprised about what you are about to do. You’ve been telling us about it in your sermons for several months!” I had shared my own vision as I preached. God used it to help some people develop a growth mentality.
Make sure your messages are practical. If your growth messages simply espouse theory, people will not accept them. Instead, offer specific ways your messages can be implemented.
For instance, in a message I preached entitled, “Getting People to Jesus,” using Luke 5:17-26, I emphasized that we all have the capacity to point people to salvation in Jesus Christ. As the friends of the lame man were personally involved in bringing their friend to Jesus, we too can become personally involved in bringing people to Christ.
The excuse many people use at this point is: “I don’t know any lost people.” During my message, I shared a simple exercise my congregation could use to discover lost people.
My family and I had taken ten minutes the day before and developed a list of ninety-one people who needed Christ and with whom we had some relationship. Even my three-year-old son got involved! As I shared what my family and I had done together, it helped impact that particular point in my message. People saw that they could also be involved in discovering their lost friends and pointing them to Christ.
The messages you share from week to week are life-changing. Your responsibility gets bigger as the day of the Lord draws near. As you plan your preaching for the next few months, I challenge you to preach church growth to your people.
As they join you in catching a vision for reaching the lost and growing their church, the health, joy, and excitement of your local church will be enlarged. More importantly, precious people will be added to God’s family. That’s what our preaching is all about.
Footnotes
1. Halford E. Luccock, Communicating the Gospel (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1954), p. 14.
2. Phillips Brooks, Phillips Brooks on Preaching (New York: The Seabury Press, 1964), p. 5.
3. Samuel T. Logan, Jr., Editor, The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1986), p. 19.
4. Delos Miles, Church Growth: A Mighty River (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981), p. 9-13.
5. C. Peter Wagner, Your Church can Grow (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984) and Leading Your Church to Growth (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984).
6. R. Daniel Reeves and Ron Jenson, Always Advancing: Modern Strategies for Church Growth (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1984).
7. Charles L. Chaney and Ron S. Lewis, Design for Church Growth (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1977).
8. Charles Arn, Donald McGavran, and Win Arn, Growth: A New Vision for the Sunday School (Pasadena, CA: Church Growth Press, 1980).
9. Logan, op. cit., p. 10.
10. W. Oscar Thompson, Concentric Circles of Concern (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980).
11. Win and Charles Arn, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples (Pasadena, CA: Church Growth Press, 1982).
12. Joseph C. Aldrich, Life-Style Evangelism (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1981).
13. Logan, op. cit., p. 17.
14. Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, p. 107.
15. Elmer Towns, John N. Vaughan, David J. Seifert, The Complete Book of Church Growth (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1985), p. 226.
16. Ibid., pp. 229-232.
17. Paul Yonggi Cho, More than Numbers (Waco: Word Books, 1984), Successful Home Cell Groups (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1981), and The Fourth Dimension (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1979).
18. John N. Vaughan, The World’s 20 Largest Churches (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984).

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