How to grow the church? Barista coffee, Better food, Modern music. These were the suggestions offered when I asked how do we grow the church today.
When I pressed further they justified their ideas pointing to marketing research that confirms if you can engage a customer and get them through your doors you will have a higher conversion rate (pun intended) for sales and return patronage. However, is that the secret?
Asking the right question?
Do not get me wrong, applying wisdom across fields works but the bigger question is, “How do we, as followers of Jesus, approach questions and challenges?”
For me the central issue is how we see the Bible. If the Bible is of little importance then we place marketing, human reason and tradition on equal par. To grow the church, therefore, means using equally proportioned marketing principles and Bible insights. Having gluten free muffins after the service becomes as important for keeping attendance up as saying the Lord’s prayer.
However, if the Bible is the central way God reveals His character and plan, then it becomes the lens through which all questions and issues are viewed. Growing the church, therefore, comes from a deeper understanding of the way the Holy Spirit grows the Church in the Bible. The best description of this is the Book of Acts.
The Spirit’s work
The Church grows in the first few chapters of Acts, not through a buy-one-get-one-free super special, but by proclaiming the Gospel. That is the death of Jesus for our sin and His victory seen in His resurrection. Jesus is the long awaited rescuer that God had promised He would send to save His people from their sins.
This message changes their lives and they live as followers of Jesus. The Church grows in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, even Australia and New Zealand.
Same Spirit, same situation
The key today in growing the church is to recognize it as the same message proclaimed by the same Bible through the same Holy Spirit. After this starting point we can then begin to debate if barista coffee is useful or similar to Acts chapter 2 verse 46.
The best example of this concept was the Reformation of the 1500s. A return to the Bible and proclamation of the Gospel was at the heart of the greatest revival ever. The growth of the Protestant church came through the process of returning to the Bible to ask, “How can we be right before God?” The answer, as counter-cultural as it was, was that being right with God is a gift through Jesus.
The final Sunday in October traditionally is the anniversary of this Reformation concept of “by grace alone.” It is a visible reminder of the importance of returning to the Bible to answer our questions and the central message of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. As the Spirit imprints this message on people’s hearts, God’s promise is that people will be changed from the inside out. This is more than a marketing trend but as relevant for our reformation now as it was back in the 1500s.