“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6, ESV).
What, you might ask, is the problem Paul is concerned about in this verse? The answer is, a very human and very contemporary problem.
There is more literature out there on church growth than oil wells in Texas and kudzu in Tennessee. Every mega church guru has written a book or produced a DVD on his church growth technique.
Church leaders talk of the “Saddleback Model” (Rick Warren’s Saddleback community church in Lake Forest California) or the “Willow Creek Model” (Willow Creek in suburban Chicago). George Barna, who operates a sort of Gallup Poll for religious groups, seems to have developed an industry for church growth material.
I appreciate that many church leaders have a deep desire to see their congregations grow. To grow means that more will benefit from the sweet compassion of Christ; to grow means more will have their character shaped by God; to grow means that God’s kingdom will spread.
But church growth comes with mixed blessings, and is frequently drawn from mixed motives. Is church growth really as easy as mastering the correct technique, or applying the latest program that worked in another location? And even if it did “work” in our congregation, is that all there is to spiritual growth?
I recall a young man who was proposing an activity that was not, in my view, biblical, saying: “But God wants our church to grow, doesn’t he?” He seemed unaware that a church that is no longer biblical is also no longer a church. A “support group,” or “club,” or “social group” perhaps, but not the church of Jesus Christ.
On another occasion a woman explained the dilemma of her congregation’s loose biblical interpretation with the words: “We must be right; look how we’re growing!” It is very human to be excited about numbers. It was growth that was occurring, but was this church growth that was occurring?
Still another woman explained why her family had left their rather small congregation to join the big, new, fast-growing congregation across town, the one with the magnetic “used-car salesman preacher.” “I like that church,” she explained, “because it doesn’t ask me to change a thing in my life.” Did she feel she needed to change anything in her life? Was her church’s sole task to make her feel wonderful and affirmed, or if it bore any responsibility to develop Christian character?
I am fearful that in doing church we are appealing to the individuals least able to express what the soul of a human being really needs. Canvassing a neighborhood to see what the public wants in a church (yes, it’s been done) is like asking third graders what they would like to learn for the new academic year.
Is everybody ready for a year of recess and finger painting? You cannot run public education on the fondest wishes of the average seven-year-old, and neither can you run a church based on the grousing of disaffected members, those uncommitted to Christ, or the out-and-out antagonistic.
Unrestrained and unending recess does not an education make, and worship conducted as Hollywood entertainment, or giddy affirmation of every conceivable lifestyle does not a spiritually growing church make.