There are all kinds of expectations and assumptions for how ministry should be observed in an established congregation. Church-plant initiatives are not immune to those expectations and assumptions. Numerical growth is one of them.
Let me set the stage. I agree that both numerical and spiritual growth are important for the established and emerging church, yet we need to be mindful that many people’s lives are being touched by the ministry of the church who may never attend or become members of our congregations.
There are at least three common ways or practices in church growth:
Biological growth: This happens when families in the church have babies who then grow up in the church.
The transfer of membership growth: This takes place when committed believers decide to seek membership in another established congregation. In some instances, after a discerning process, some of these individuals may decide that instead of joining an established church it would be best for them to take part in an emerging congregation.
Growth through evangelism and reaching-out practices: This evangelism occurs when the faithful body of Christ individually and collectively shares its personal Jesus story and discipleship journey. This sharing of the gospel invites others to enter, live and share the kingdom of God. The driving force is the continuation of God’s redemptive work.
In other words, it is an invitation for individuals to begin their Christian faith journey and Christian formation. This formation must include calling, equipping and commissioning.
Therefore, evangelism, discipleship and mission cannot and must not be separated from each other. In fact, it should be part of the church’s DNA.
But the question remains: How are we experiencing church growth?
In part, the answer lies in the challenge and the invitation to join God’s redemptive work, starting in our local communities. That is, to be local missionaries.
Our challenge is to be alert to God’s activity in our locations that may signal an emerging group. The invitation is for congregations and individuals to understand that creating new congregations is an essential, natural activity of every healthy church.
Furthermore, when established congregations take part in church-planting initiatives, they tend to experience revitalization and get inspired to advance the gospel message in their communities in whatever way the Spirit leads them to.
Byron Pellecer is associate conference minister for Western District Conference. This article originally appeared in the conference newsletter WDC Sprouts.