I've been spiritually raised on the conviction that the church must grow. Yet most churches level out in their growth after a few years. Some leaders even say When we stop growing we are no longer the true church of Christ. How do I make sense of such statements? -- Richard Aune (Oslo)

It is true that the church of the New Testament grew (Acts 2:47, 16:5) and this growth does not seem to have been forced. Yet it would be difficult to prove that there were never plateaus in growth. Consider how human beings develop from birth to adulthood. The overall direction is towards greater growth, yet in some months (and years) there is clearly more growth than in others. In the same way, healthy congregations grow faster at some times than at others. In fact, fast growth every year could create a "bottom heavy" situation--many young Christians with little leadership base to take care of them. As in the case of the tortoise in the famous fable, slow and steady growth wins the day. This, of course, is not to say that church plantings should not experience rapid growth. In the early years especially, the church will naturally expand rapidly and is more likely to have a high leader-to-member ratio.

For example, when we planted the London congregation (1982) our membership grew rapidly. There was no "leveling off" till around the 10-year mark. A few years later, the church began another growth spurt. Every city will be different. (Important factors include city size, culture, and church leadership.) Yet every church has a commission: to preach Christ in its geographical area. I personally preach (and aim to live) that followers of Christ are to proclaim him and expect God to bless our evangelistic efforts. Growth is a blessing from God. Yet if shortcuts have been taken, as we have all learned from experience, the "growth" is shown up for what it is (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Now, if a congregation has stopped growing, it is important to study why it has slowed. Are the members being led spiritually? Is the Bible being preached and taught with depth? Is Jesus being lifted up? (Ezekiel 34; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 12:32; 2 Corinthians 4:2.) If not, then there is a leadership problem. Obviously this would not mean the church is no longer a true church! Leaders (especially) need to guard against making extreme or exaggerated statements. In most cases where churches have leveled off in their growth, the reasons for this are being addressed. And honestly, even if your church is slow to grow you should not think your efforts are pointless. One person's faith can often make an enormous difference for the group.

And (think Aesop!) beware of overconfident rabbits!

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