Growing Reformed Churches: Doing The Simple Things

Our churches should be kind and gracious to newcomers

The rationalism and subjectivism of some of the plans for church growth and/or revival have left a bad taste in the mouths of confessionalists but there are some common sense, practical steps that confessional congregations can take to reduce unnecessary barriers and to make them more accessible both to those who do not yet know Christ and to those from broad evangelical backgrounds who are investigating the Reformed faith.

 

Church growth is a thorny subject. First there are the thistles of rationalism in which self-proclaimed experts offer to sell to pastors and churches a three-point program which will transform their average congregation to a super church. Back in the late 80s and early 90s one plan had congregations turning themselves into a boiler room to make a large number of telephone calls in order to invite newcomers to an opening service with the promise that, done properly, according to the “law of large numbers” 200 people would appear at that service and 50% of those would return for the second and voilà a congregation.

On the right there were programs for church leadership following a business model in which the pastor becomes a CEO (which, in ecclesiastical terms, makes him a bishop) who was to systematically identity “troublemakers” and chase them off and replace them with more agreeable leaders. Once the program was underway the minister was to make a dramatic announcement to the congregation that there would be some significant changes in the coming months and that people need to get on the bus or get run over by it. Events in the Pacific Northwest in recent years have echoed some of these themes.

Then there are the weeds of religious subjectivism. Faithful pastors of small congregations are told, often by well-meaning brothers and sisters, that if only they had more faith, if only the congregation were more pious, if only the congregation prayed more, the Lord would bless the congregation revival and with that numerical growth. There are a number of problems with these approaches to ministry. Ironically, they sometimes to assume a sort of ex opere operato view of divine providence: if we do x, God must do y.

Of course all believers want to be more sanctified, more conformed to Christ but the history of the church tells us that there is no direct correlation between congregational holiness and the popularity of the visible church. Further, it is not at all clear that revival is a model in which confessional Reformed Christians should be much invested. For more on this see Recovering the Reformed Confession. Even if we agree on the problems attached to the so-called Second Great Awakening, we should not assume that the so-called First Great Awakening led to sustained numerical growth and that what is supposed to have happened in the 18th century can happen again if only we will do x.

What confessional Reformed congregations must do is to make use of the divinely instituted ordinary means of grace (WCF 1.7): The preaching of God’s Word, the use of the holy sacraments, and prayer (WLC 154).1 What the Lord is pleased to do, how he is pleased to use these means is up to him. We trust his promises. We preach his Word and administer his sacraments purely. We administer discipline faithfully. The results do not belong to us.

The rationalism and subjectivism of some of the plans for church growth and/or revival have left a bad taste in the mouths of confessionalists but there are some common sense, practical steps that confessional congregations can take to reduce unnecessary barriers and to make them more accessible both to those who do not yet know Christ and to those from broad evangelical backgrounds who are investigating the Reformed faith.

Read More

×

Aquila Report iOS and Android smart-phone apps are available Download Now