"And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily." Acts 16:4-5
One of the prayers of our congregation has always been that God would continue to build His church. This prayer has had a broad scope, of course, as we pray that faithful churches of the Lord Jesus Christ would be full as He expands His kingdom around the world. Our prayer has also had a more narrow scope, as we desire God's blessing of growth (both numerically and spiritually) in faithful churches in our region, our state, our community, and particularly at Heritage. Our prayer has also been that God would be pleased to use us as instruments of His grace, that He would use us to bring in the harvest. This will and must continue to be our prayer!
As the Lord continues to answer such prayers in wonderful ways, as He works in and through His people to carry out the Great Commission and blesses with wonderful fruit, we praise and thank God for His grace and masterful building. He gives us many reasons to have great joy in His growing His church! As He grows us, we are wise to recognize that with the many blessings of church growth, especially rapid numeric church growth, that growth comes with both joys and challenges.
Navigating a good path through such growth challenges gracefully, in peace and unity together, is of great importance. A variety of challenges can affect us in different ways, can't they? They can be challenges that rise up personally and internally within our own hearts, as well as interpersonally in the body. Have you, or are you experiencing some of them today? Here are 3 Challenges that are common in growing churches:
Our Church Isn't A Plant Anymore: From seed, to sprout, to plant, the growth of the church into a flourishing body has been a prayer of many families in the church, our previous mother church, even the broader church, our extended family and friends, etc. For years, this was the prayer of a small body looking forward. Now, the Lord has brought us to a new phase, as He is answering our prayer in the affirmative, causing us to flourish and become more established. A Challenging Thought: Moving from "We're such a small body. Will God grow and build us? Will this church survive?" to "We're now indeed surviving and thriving, by God's grace! But honestly, though it's what we desired, it's an adjustment for me." Navigating this Challenge: As Christ is the King and Master Builder (Ephesians 4:11-16) and does all things well (Mark 7:37), prayerfully ask Him to guide your thoughts and deepen your joy in His work. Think of all the brothers and sisters He has brought, and is bringing in this time and place, and praise Him as this kind of change is so good as it is of His perfect providence to advance His kingdom for His glory.
Feeling Overwhelmed with New Faces: As the church grows, even rapidly, and more are added to our number, in attendance and membership, a challenge for some can be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of people they don't know. A Challenging Thought: Moving from "Praise the Lord! It's great to see to see all of these new faces.", to "Wow! We have a lot of new faces! I feel overwhelmed thinking about how I can get to know all of them." Navigating this Challenge: Continue to praise God for all who He has brought into this fold. With love and care, focus your attention in ways that are manageable. Trying to greet all of the new faces in one Lord's Day, or feeling like you need to, may be an overwhelming thought. It might be helpful to narrow your focus to greeting and getting to know one family at a time. Invite one or two families over for hospitality, get coffee with them, etc. Then continue to do so with other families and individuals in like fashion over time. Give yourself time to remember names and match them to faces and be gracious as they seek to remember yours. Importantly, be committed to press on in love for one another.
Feeling Lost in the Crowd: As a church expands, there will be natural differences in personalities, as well as shifts in relationships that can some times make folks who once felt connected, feel a little lost in the growing body. A Challenging Thought: Moving from "I feel close knit with most of the people in the congregation." to "As we grow, relationships shift, new relationships form, and I feel like I'm becoming disconnected." Navigating this Challenge: If you feel this, don't allow the feeling of disconnection move you to a place of withdrawal and isolation. Satan would love to have you pull away from the body, even if you're physically present and that withdrawal is in your mind. Rather, pray and seek the Lord's help. Reach out to your Pastor or an elder and let them know where your at so we can pray with, support, encourage, and help you. Also, be intentional to reach out in similar ways to the navigation I suggested in #2. Reach out to those you felt connected with, letting them know your struggle. Sometimes our perception of distance in relationships is exactly that...our perception. We may realize we read it wrong after we talk to them. Always think the best and talk to your brother or sister before assuming motives or change in relational status. Doing so is right and will save you from time spent wrestling with anxiety and discouragement. If there are things you were right about, you can work on resolving it together. Then reach out incrementally to fellowship with others. Through this kind of challenge, as we are mutually concerned about each other's well being and interests (Philippians 2:4), this will help us stay engaged as we grow with one another.
Again, there are wonderful joys and blessings in a growing church. Look for those, enjoy them, take part in the fruit of them, and praise God for them. Though the list and counsel above is far from exhaustive, remember that the growth challenges God brings our way are good problems to have. God uses them in our sanctification, both individually and corporately. Rather than giving into temptation to avoid them or shy away from them, such challenges need to be navigated through with prayer, wisdom and care. They are more opportunities to trust the Lord and seek to serve Him faithfully in all that entails as His body. Look for ways you can better welcome, include, serve and love one another, Beloved. Regardless of what the challenges are, always be committed to imitate Christ and follow His commands as we navigate through them together, with the honor of Christ and the peace, purity, and unity of His church in view.
May God richly bless you and your family, Pastor Miller