Graying instead of Growing
It is no secret to any of us that the Lord’s church is shrinking; that we are graying instead of growing. If we are ‘growing’ at all, it is only in the area of ‘growing older’ and getting smaller. The 2018 edition of “Churches of Christ in the United States” (© 2018 by 21st Century Christians, Inc.) reveals that as recently as 2000-2018, a whopping 1,047 congregations of the Lord’s church in America have simply ceased to exist. That is a staggering loss of some 59 congregations per year, on average. During that same time period, they also report the loss of nearly 200,000 adherents (pg. 22). This devastating decline is occurring despite the countless millions of dollars and hour’s worth of effort being poured into radio, T.V., D.V.D. and internet ministries, as well as V.B.S., gospel meetings, “bring a friend to church” events, and a vast variety of other well-supported and conducted outreach projects annually. How is that even possible?
Conversely, when we look into our Bibles however, we see that the first century church of Christ grew like wildfire! Despite massive governmental persecution, deadly opposition from other zealous religious groups, and without the benefit of any of the modern-day technological advances which we now enjoy and utilize for evangelistic purposes, within about three decades after the death of Christ and the establishment of His one, New Testament church, that generation had so successfully taken the gospel into the whole world (Colossians 1:23), that they were accused by their adversaries of having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). How on earth did they do it?
We today, in the churches of Christ, claim to be the same church as we see in the Scriptures. We profess to “Call Bible things by Bible names, and do Bible things in Bible ways” – and rightly so and well we should. But if that is truly the case, then we must be about doing what they did, in order to see what they saw. But alas, we apparently are not. And so, we must look deeply into the word, uncover the ‘secret’ to their vast evangelistic success, and then follow that divinely-documented pattern if we are to see that same incredible congregational and kingdom growth today.
One of the first and most obvious things which we discover when we look deeply into the pattern of that first-century, explosively church-growing generation, is that they never once ‘invited someone to church’ in order to convert them! No, not once. If so, where so? Where, in the Book of Acts, did anyone, ever, under any circumstances, invite a lost sinner to church, in order that the preacher might perhaps then convert him/her? They didn’t. You won’t find that phrase – ‘invited them to church’ – alluded to anywhere in the New Testament. It is no more biblical than the so-called ‘Sinner’s Prayer.’ The ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ which, by the way, we rightly reject due to the fact that it is never once seen taught as the way to be saved anywhere in the New Testament. However, we have to understand that ‘inviting people to church’ so that the preacher might possibly convert them falls into the same exact category. So how did our first century brethren manage to carry out such successful evangelism then? Let’s look and see.
Once the miracle of Acts 3:1-11 had gotten the crowd’s attention and made them curious, what did Peter do? Did he then invite them all to church on Sunday so they could have explained to them all that had just happened? No. He took advantage of the opportunity right then and there to tell them about Jesus (Vss. 12-26)! No waiting or inviting whatsoever! (Therefore, they also did not enjoy the luxury of having several days’ worth of time to come up with a convenient excuse as to why they were sorry but could not go to church with him the next Lord’s Day either.) And what was the result? Church growth exploded (Acts 4:1-4).
In Acts 5:42, we see that people were being taught “daily, in the temple, and in every house” about Jesus – not just on Sundays, and not just in their assemblies. What happened as a result? Folks weren’t just simply reported as being ‘added’ to the church; disciples were rapidly “multiplying” (Acts 6:1).
After the martyrdom of Stephen, the persecution of the brethren, and the scattering of the church, what did those normal, everyday saints (and not the apostles as Scripture clearly notes) abandoning their homes and ‘running for their lives’ do everywhere they went (Acts 7:54-8:4)? Did they invite those they came in contact with to go to church with them in their new towns on Sunday? No. They themselves – the everyday members – preached the word everywhere they went (8:4). What happened when Phillip did that down in Samaria? Both men and women were being baptized (Acts 8:12). In other words, the number of souls converted continued to climb rapidly.
In Acts 8:26-34, we read of Phillip’s encountering the pious, religious, and inquisitive (but as of that point still unconverted) Ethiopian eunuch as he was reading from the scroll of Isaiah. When the eunuch posed a religious question to him, what did Phillip automatically do? Did he hesitantly invite the eunuch to join him for church on Sunday so as to possibly get his scriptural question answered by another such as the preacher? No; not hardly! Instead, “Phillip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35). What happened as a result? Another baptism and another new brother in Christ (Vss. 36-39).
Whether we turn to the story of Cornelius and his entire household’s conversion as recorded in Acts 10; or we take a look at the biblical account of how church growth exploded as “a great number believed and turned to the Lord” in Acts 11:19-21; if we explore the austere beginnings of that great and faithful first-century congregation in Philippi by examining the conversion accounts of both Lydia and the jailor which we read about in Acts 16:10-34; or, should we examine such events as we see resulted in the fact that “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus” in Acts 19:8-10, we would note the same exact pattern of effective evangelism always in evidence. And never once did it involve any saint ‘inviting anyone to church’ so that the preacher or some other ‘professional’ teacher might somehow perhaps help convert them to Christ – no, not once.
What we discover instead, is every saved and grateful saint, explaining to everyone they ever encountered, everywhere they ever travelled, all about the infinite love, grace, and mercy of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ – instantly and on the spot! This they did in the streets, the marketplaces, and the prisons; in private homes, from house to house, and on a daily basis; and even on the banks of a river – indeed “everywhere” they ever went” (Acts 8:4, 21:28)! God’s precise and divinely-documented pattern of infinitely powerful, productive, and effective evangelism, always was, is, and shall forevermore be, exactly that.
Therefore, if we would grow today like they did in the first century, then we must do today what they did then to achieve it. As individual Christians we must stop neglecting our God-given duty by insisting on a process that is as Biblically non-existent and therefore anti-scriptural as the so-called ‘Sinner’s Prayer.’ In other words, we, as grateful and Christ-clad individuals, must stop simply and ever so occasionally just inviting someone to church and thinking we’ve done our Christian duty. Instead, we must start instantly and individually involving everyone we possibly can, in an in-depth, on the spot investigation of the scriptures with us personally – no matter who we are (Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Peter 2:13-16) – at each and every opportunity we have or can create! THAT’S how THEY did it!
We must get away from this man-made and self-justifying reasoning that we pay the preacher and/or the elders or other ‘professionals’ to do the congregation’s evangelizing. We must study and retrain ourselves to understand that biblically speaking, evangelism is every, single, individual saint’s responsibility – no matter their age, gender, or church status.
Yes, the preacher and the elders do have the same responsibility to evangelize as everyone else – but no more and no less than any other saved and grateful member of the Lord’s church to be sure! They also have the added and God-given responsibility of making sure they are providing the proper biblical tools and training to the rest of the congregation, so as to most effectively equip the everyday saints in the pews to carry out their God-given duty. That is precisely what scripture says that the Christ gave those leaders to His church for in the first place. We see this providentially proven in Ephesians 4:11-16:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
My beloved brethren; it’s time to do what God told Moses to do (Exodus 14:13-15). God has provided us with His perfect and timeless blueprint for explosive church growth. We’re just not following it. It’s time to stop complaining because we’re shrinking, graying, and going backwards, and to start following God’s divine plan to get growing forward once again (Matthew 28:18-20). Will you join me now in implementing the Lord’s infinitely powerful instructions, for initiating effective everyday evangelism?
And please note that you can now explore and take a look inside of
Effective Everyday Evangelism, at: www.amazon.com/author/douglasdingley).