When we see the empty pews, there is a sense of wrongness to it. Church growth seminars and conferences try to lay out cookie-cutter versions of sure-fire means to add more people to those pews, but we are always missing something, some drive, some gift, some fire that sees us into sustainable growth. In the early days of the church, growth was explosive and dynamic. When we read those passages, we marvel at how easy it was to add 3000 (Acts 2:41) or 5000 (Acts 4:4) in one day. Are we doing something wrong?
Some say we need more door-to-door canvassing, like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While that may be a helpful tool (as home visits are for church members), we never see that used in the New Testament (unless God directs you to visit, like the story of Peter with Cornelius). Paul’s method was going synagogue to synagogue, finding people who were already attracted to God’s Word. Of all the conversion stories in Acts, almost all of them were already believers in God, or followers of God in some way, like Jews or believing Gentiles. In Philippi the Jailer was converted after listening to Paul and Silas sing all night surviving a miraculous earthquake. In Athens, a couple of people were converted after listening to Paul preach to the Areopagus.
In all of the letters to the Churches we rarely read anything related to our idea of Church growth. You would think that there would be an occasion for some apostle to write to a church about how to make it grow, but in fact, no church is ever given evangelism ideas, programs, or gimmicks to get pews filled, membership rolls expanded, or churches bigger. You would think that this subject would be of vital importance to the early church, but the only instructions we get are contained in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) with the Church’s strategic plan in Acts 1:8. But the greatest plan the New Testament reveals is in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” For us, we are called to plant, and to water, but God gives the increase.
On balance most of the New Testament accounts speak of people who already believed in God, who then spread the Word through family and friends. God’s plan for growth follows what J. W. McGarvey observes as “The Rule of Success”, witnessing where you will have the best chance of success.
So the question for us is, “where will we have the best chance of success?” The best answer to that is actually people you know, or get to know. These are people you meet every day. But remember another lesson from the New Testament. The people who are telling others about Jesus are completely committed to Jesus, willing to give even their lives to serve Him. This love for Jesus and love for other people are the two best ways to evangelize.