Growing A Crowd -vs- Growing A Church

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Larry Nelson's picture

 

1. There are good small churches.

2. There are bad small churches.

3. There are good medium-sized churches.

4. There are bad medium-sized churches.

5. There are good large churches.

6. There are bad large churches.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

A few decades ago, when Fundamentalism boasted along the lines of, "Fundamental Baptist churches are the largest churches in _____ of the forty-eight/fifty states!" (I forget the numbers claimed), nobody in Fundamentalism seemed to question the propriety of large churches.  As long as men like J. Frank Norris or Tom Malone or Lee Roberson or W.B. Riley were the ones behind the pulpits of large churches, size wasn't a concern.  In fact, when Norris simultaneously  was the pastor of the huge First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, TX and the huge Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, MI for 16 years (from 1935 to 1951)---commuting back & forth between them from week to week---nobody in Fundamentalism seems to have batted an eye (based on contemporary accounts I've read).  The combined membership of these two churches reportedly peaked at about 26,000 in the mid 1940's.

Today though, now that Fundamentalist churches are rarely the largest anywhere anymore, growth has become a dirty word, something to be avoided or even scorned.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Perhaps the paucity of growing fundamentalist churches today is God's kind providence to prod us to evaluate success more Biblically.  When IFB churches were often the largest in the area, it was comforting to tout growth as evidence of God's approval.  That was not true then, nor is it now.  Some have refused to change their standard of evaluation, and have shifted loyalty to the newest "big boy" on the block, supporting churches that grow by entertainment as evidence of God's smile of approval.  Others have retreated to a more Biblical standard, and now recognize that faithfulness to God's Word, not size or growth, is the true measure of success.  But if that is true, we must be committed to pulpits that are truly preaching God's Word, and church members who desire this above all else.

G. N. Barkman

Larry Nelson's picture

 

"Others have retreated to a more Biblical standard, and now recognize that faithfulness to God's Word, not size or growth, is the true measure of success."

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Can we not have both, or are these always mutual exclusives?

When Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle was filled to capacity with 6,000 listeners, eagerly hearing his preaching, was he providing mere entertainment to the large crowds?

Jesus Himself spoke to crowds of thousands on more than one occasion.  Dare I say that nobody  would contend that He sacrificed "faithfulness to God's Word" for "size."

G. N. Barkman's picture

Spurgeon's hallmark was faithfulness to the Word.  Those who are enamored with Spurgeon because of the size of his church have missed the point.  Size was not the measure of Spurgeon's success.  Faithfulness to the Word was.  No, Spurgeon was Not an entertainer.  His ministry demonstrates that growth can be achieved without entertainment if God be pleased.  The problem is that so many are not content to be faithful to the Word and let God determine size.  If faithfulness doesn't produce the coveted growth, additional measures must be taken to assure the real goal, growth.

G. N. Barkman

Larry Nelson's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

No, Spurgeon was Not an entertainer.  His ministry demonstrates that growth can be achieved without entertainment if God be pleased. 

...to be faithful to God's Word and to experience numerical growth.  In your earlier post you appeared to be saying there could be one-or-the other, but not both.

I would assert that Joel Osteen's church is an example of growth at the expense of doctrinal faithfulness, to which I'm sure you would agree.  I'm still not sure that you and I would agree that growth can ever occur without jettisoning doctrine, however. 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

...then in what way had the Disciples & the early church strayed from the faith to result in Luke writing this?:

"And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47b ESV)

G. N. Barkman's picture

Larry, I'm sorry if I was not clear enough.  I never said, not intended to say that numerical growth is a sign of unfaithfulness.  The question to be answered is, what is the reason for growth?  Is it the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon God's Word faithfully proclaimed, or because of carnal entertainment attracting carnal minds?  When I see a church conducting itself like Spurgeon's Tabernacle, I attribute its growth to the blessing of God   It's hard to identify any other cause..

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

When I started seminary at BJU in 1979 I experienced a form of church culture shock. Until then I had never been in a church with more than 50 or 60 people. Imagine how I felt when I visited Southside Baptist Church, Hampton Park Baptist Church, or Tabernacle Baptist Church. Can you appreciate the humor I found when seven young men from one of these churches visited me on Tuesday night (yes, I filled out a first-time visitor card---I was a fundamentalist rookie) and I discovered that they didn't know one another? I remember honorary doctorates being dispensed to pastors with big schools and churches. I remember asking why they didn't give a doctorate to a pastor who had been faithfully plugging away for 30 years in some small town. They eventually did.)

Now big fundamental churches are hard to find and we have, thankfully, embraced a better description of what constitutes success. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry Nelson's picture

 

The Great Commission compels Christians to win the lost and to make disciples of them.  Determinedly carrying out that mandate, even under great persecution, the early church soon experienced wide-reaching, explosive growth. 

If our ultimate mission as Christians (Christ-followers) on Earth today is still to reach the lost and make disciples of them, then numeric growth is a natural, expected consequence.  The early church didn't lose sight of this, and as Luke records: "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47b ESV)   

What I'm seeing now, as Fundamentalist churches seemingly struggle in many cases to even maintain their status quo, is an overall resignation from the primary mission of the Church.  Now that larger Fundamentalist churches are more the exception than the rule, Fundamentalism has discovered a newfound, "biblical" basis for believing that smaller-is-better.  Call me a cynic (or worse), but isn't it funny how that worked out?  (I'd call it simple accommodation.)

If the smaller-is-better movement was resulting in a proliferation of such smaller churches, I might not outright reject the idea, but I think the argument falls apart when Fundamentalist churches are neither individually growing nor multiplying in number.  As in the book of Acts, taking the Great Commission seriously would result in numeric growth, either individually or collectively.

Fundamentalism, wake up!     

Ron Bean's picture

Remember the days when we were talking about church planting? Remember meetings like the World Congress of Fundamentalists? Remember when our fundamental fellowships and associations had to meet in large places?

Yes, we need to wake up!

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan