We talk a lot these days about church growth. And when we think about our lack of growth, we think of the lack of growth of our particular congregation: the stagnation or decline in numbers, the wobbly state of the finances, and possibly the looming property issues.
But it’s interesting how little the New Testament talks about church growth, and how often it talks abou ‘gospel growth’ or the increase of the ‘word’. The focus is on the progress of the Spirit-backed word of God as it makes its way in the world, according to God’s plan. Returning to our vine metaphor, the vine is the Spirit-empowered word, spreading and growing throughout the word, drawing peopel out of the kingdom of darkness into the light-filled kingdom of God’s beloved Son, and the bearing fruit in their lives as they grow in knowledge and love God. The vine is Jesus, and as we are grafted into him, we bear fruit (John 15:1-11).
This results, of course, in individual congregations growing and being built. But the emphasis is not on the growth of the congregation as a structure–in numbers, finances and success-but on the growth of the gospel, as it is spoken and re-spoken under the power of the Spirit. In fact, New Testament congregations, as far as we can tell, were usually small gatherings meetings in houses. They were outwardly unimpressive, and had minimal infrastructure. But God kept drawing people into them by the gospel. Or to put it another way, Christ kept doing what he said he would do in Matthew 16. He kept building his church.
Colin Marshal and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine, p. 37