There is no shortage of books on the market today that are ready to tell us how to grow a church. Each one likely having a differing opinion on the right way to get it done. Denominations and individual churches have teams dedicated to implementing the latest strategies for church growth. The truth is that differing strategies for church growth can work based on the context. What works in one community may not work in another. Yet there are basic characteristics that are true for every church no matter the context. This is what is discussed in the new Love Your Church series of books published by The Good Book Company and Acts 29.
The first book in the series by Tony Merida is titled Gather: Loving Your Church as You Celebrate Christ Together (2023). Gathering is a crucial characteristic of any local church. This is the main purpose for the local church, for believers to gather together to worship Jesus. In the book, Pastor Merida discusses important aspects of gathering as a local congregation. These include: preaching God’s Word, singing , prayer, mutual edification, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and baptism. Each local gathering will look different based on the context, but the afore mentioned aspects should be present.
One of the most important reasons that the local church gathers, and is oftentimes overlooked by many, is the work of evangelism. Pastor Merida discusses this in the last two chapters of the book. While it is certainly crucial for the church to gather for worship, it is important to remember that the church is a sent people. The church does not exist merely for those gathered, but to equip the saints to go and share the gospel. A church that does not keep the gospel at the forefront of their mission, has signed its own death certificate.
The second book in the series by Barnabas Piper is titled Belong: Loving Your Church by Reflecting Christ to One Another (2023). Everyone has the desire to belong. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Yet often times we look in the wrong place to satisfy this desire. The local church is the place, above all others, where people should feel that they belong. Yet this is not always the case and we can do better. This is what Piper discusses in the book.
A major aspect of belonging is unity. We live a society today that is far from unified, even among followers of Jesus. Yet this is what the church is called to be. The church is to be different from the society in showing unity across differences. Christianity is not just the faith of majority culture, but is the good news of salvation to all who would believe. Unity comes not when everyone agrees on every aspect of church life, but when we agree on the biblical gospel as the only hope for the world. The local church, then is the place where we should find belonging as we practice the “one anothers” of the Bible. It is a place where we “stir one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24, ESV).
The third book in the series by Jen Oshman is titled Welcome: Loving Your Church by Make Space For Everyone (2023). Many churches today are seen as unwelcoming at best, and hostile to outsiders at worst. Neither of these should be the case. The local church should be the most welcoming place on earth. That is not to say that in order to be a welcoming church, it has to compromise the biblical gospel. The exact opposite is true. It is only because the biblical gospel is the only way to salvation that the church should welcome everyone with open arms so that they come and hear the good news of Jesus.
Being a welcoming church is not something that comes easy, but must be worked at with eagerness. It is easy to congregate in a “holy huddle” and not be open to folks that don’t look and sound like us. For this reason, local churches must have strategies to insure that visitors feel welcome when they visit. This will look different based on context, but local churches should be intentional about teaching its members the importance of being welcoming. Over time, this effort will go a long way in not only reaching a community with the biblical gospel, but can help make the Christian faith more appealing to those who may have once been skeptical.
The Love Your Church series is an excellent set of resources for church leaders and lay people alike. Each volume exhorts local churches to be what the church is called to be by Jesus. The church is an institution established by the Lord to propagate the gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). This promise should give the church confidence in its mission, but also serve as a warning. It is only when we are standing on the biblical gospel, that we stand firm. For this reason, the church should be a place to gather for worship, find true belonging, and welcome others to come and find rest.
Zach Kendrick is the editor of Reading For The Glory.
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