Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Are We Growing?

Growing the ChurchThe Christian Chronicle claims to be “An international newspaper for member of Churches of Christ.” We have mentioned the paper in the past, noting that it chronicles the efforts and activities of the most liberal of congregations that go by the name “Church of Christ.”

In the last issue (February 2007) the Chronicle began a series entitled Are We Growing?, intended to run through the remainder of the year. In the initial article, statistics are cited to indicate that while the population of the United States grew 32% from 1980 to 2006, membership in the church of Christ grew only 1.6% in the same time.

It is not our purpose to discuss the methodology which led to the numbers cited, nor to determine the actual accuracy of the estimates. It is enough to note that in many instances the lack of growth is obvious. In fact, we should as a congregation redouble our efforts in this area. It would be a wonderful thing if we could substantially increase the number of souls who worship here, especially if said numbers came through the conversion of the lost.

“Church leaders” are quoted in the article, answering the question, “Why the wide gap between population and membership growth in the U.S.”” The answers are telling, expressing the views held by many in these liberal churches. (Some valid, some not). For example:

  • Some note that the large population growth is a result of the immigration of millions of Hispanics (most of them Roman Catholics) from Mexico and Central America. Another large group of immigrants have come from Muslim-dominated parts of the world.

Of course, the response we offer should be the same regardless of an individual’s religious background. “Preach the word…” (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2). There is no place for racial, economic or religious prejudice as we seek to share the gospel with others. While it may very well be that as a group such individuals may be less responsive to the truth, it remains our responsibility to “Go into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

  • Another individual is quoted as saying: “…the old sectarian impulse is dying, and the evangelistic methods from the ‘60s and ‘70s have no cultural relevance today, so you get slow growth rates.” Later in the article, another stated: “For one, strict advocacy of doctrinal positions is no longer as strong with any church as in the ‘50s. The U.S. society’s emphasis on tolerance has caused great shifts in thinking, and that thinking has touched the Churches of Christ.

The above is posited as a culture change in the church that “… — for good or bad — has made many members less exclusivist and more willing to accept those in Christian denominations.” This culture change is certainly prevalent today. However, despite the preceding statement, it is certainly bad. What is now being categorized as a “sectarian impulse” is the long held belief that God’s people must be doctrinally pure (cf. 2 John 9-11), and that our eternal standing before God is conditioned upon our remaining faithful to His will.

What is unfortunately lacking in our time is a distinctive message. Too often we are trying to be like those around us, rather than clearly establishing our identities as New Testament Christians. Remember the text of Acts 4:13, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” It is not important for us to be educated, affluent or influential. Souls will be saved when they perceive that we are “with Jesus” in our lives and goals.

Having said that, it should be noted that our Gospel Meetings (a staple of evangelism for decades) no longer can be described as primarily evangelistic in scope. It is difficult to get those who are not Christians to attend a gospel meeting, and conversions during such efforts are rare. Instead, we should view the meetings as an opportunity to equip the saints, and that today (as always) preaching to the lost is for the most part the responsibility of each individual Christian. If you share the gospel with friends and family, some will come to Christ.

  • Two final reasons are given for a lack of growth, and may be the most legitimate reasons noted in the article. First, the apathy of the lost in the United States. (It should be noted that evangelistic efforts in third world countries bring forth much more fruit than in our nation). Second, complacency on the part of Christians. As one preacher states in the article, “There has been a disconnect between the doctrine of evangelism and the practice of evangelism. While we passionately believe we should reach the lost, we are not passionately seeking them.”

We certainly can not guarantee the conversion of souls at the preaching of the gospel. We do live in challenging times, as our society is more interested in fun and frolic than the welfare of their souls. However, we must not allow such apathy to affect our efforts to spread the Word of our Lord. Remember the Apostle’s words, “So then neither he who plants is any thing, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Each of us must “Preach the Word!”