Overcoming Obstacles to Church Growth
God has a beautiful strategy for reaching the world through multiplying churches.
The ultimate goal of all disciple-making and leadership development to planting churches. These churches should then multiply as a means to reach those who have yet to hear the Gospel in our world.
We can better understand the biblical mandate of planting fellowships of disciples that multiply themselves by exploring the following;
- God’s Design for the Church
- God’s Desire for Discipleship Multiplication
- Overcoming Obstacles to Church Growth
- 7 Practical Steps to Planting Reproducing Churches
We have seen the importance of planting multiplying churches to fulfill the Great Commission. However, this multiplication involves many challenges.
5 Challenges to Planting Health Churches
1. A distorted view of the Church
A major obstacle to church multiplication is a wrong definition of the Church.
We often think of the Church as a building with a trained, professional pastor in charge. It requires a lot of time and energy to build buildings and develop professional leadership. This view of the church does not allow for rapid multiplication.
But when we search the New Testament, we do not find anything about a church building. Or even trained pastors or church planters!
Jesus and His first disciples didn’t model this kind of a church.
Jesus met and discipled His first disciples in homes and on the mountains (Matthew 5:1; Matthew 9:10-11; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 13:36; Matthew 14:18-19; Matthew 26:18; Mark 2:1-4; Mark 3:20; Mark 6:7-13; John 6:3; Acts 5:42; Acts 12:12; Acts 4:13).
He prayerfully appointed ordinary and uneducated disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. These ordinary, uneducated disciples turned the world upside down with the Gospel message.
Historically, for the first 300 years of the existence of the Church, there was rapid multiplication with very little formal structure.
Every disciple was a disciple-maker and the Church was a simple gathering of people who followed and worshiped Jesus. They met in homes or common places and experienced much persecution.
But the impact of their lives changed the world.
The Roman Empire and Church Growth
By 313 A.D., the Roman emperor Constantine won a military victory which he attributed to Christianity. Following this, he stopped the persecution of Christianity and, with time, Christianity became the official state religion.
No longer were Christians persecuted—rather, everyone was encouraged to become Christian. With official recognition from the state, the Church quickly developed as an institution. This included buildings, special privileges for clergy, promotion of Christians to high-ranking offices, etc.
This was a radical change for the Church and was, in many ways, a great victory for Christianity. However, it unintentionally changed the nature of the Church. It became more of an institution than a living and multiplying organism.
Much of our view of the Church today has historical roots in the transition that happened after 313 A.D. We must understand that what has developed through history has hindered the multiplication of churches, and we should seek to rediscover God’s original intent for the Church.
This is not meant to minimize the importance of church buildings nor to criticize theological training for church leaders. But we must find ways to fulfill God’s plan for multiplication of His Church which has been His desire from the beginning of creation.
2. Lack of contextualization
Another obstacle to church multiplication comes when the Church is presented as a foreign concept to the people we are trying to reach.
The message of the Gospel was designed by God to reach every culture and to shape every culture.
While it may be possible to reach a few people, a movement will never take root when the Church is perceived as something totally foreign.
Contextualizing the Gospel in the culture of the people we are reaching has biblical support. Jesus, the Master Church Planter, took on human form and became flesh to reach all humanity (John 1:14).
They Preached The Gospel In The Context Of Their Own Culture.
As the Gospel began to cross into other cultures, the early Church began to realize that the expressions of Christianity be different for Gentiles than for themselves as Jews. The Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 was held to resolve this issue. It’s clear that we need to contextualize the Gospel, without compromising its truth, in the culture of the people we plan to reach.
Contextualization of the Gospel will utilize local resources as much as possible.
For example, if the houses in a village are made of wood and grasses, then trying to construct a brick building for worship will not fit. If a church building needs to be constructed, use materials that are common in that location. In a similar way, consider local preferences for music and style of worship instead of importing styles from another location.
Such contextualization will allow a new church to be easily reproducible and will promote multiplication. When other cultures’ traditions are imposed, dependency is created and church growth is hindered.
In one South Asian country, Christ Followers call themselves ‘Muslim followers of Isa’ so that it will help them to reach their own people in their own context. They believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, believe in water baptism, share communion, and worship Allah, the Almighty God.
Is it right to ask them to call themselves Christians if it will hinder them from reaching their own people?
3. A lack of discipleship
Discipleship is one of the key factors to multiplying churches.
An authentic life of discipleship is marked by obedience to the teaching of Jesus (John 8:31); love for God and one another (Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:35); unity; and fruitfulness (John 15:8; John 17:20-23).
When genuine discipleship results in transformed lives, the Gospel spreads rapidly (Matthew 5:14-16).
When there is a lack of discipleship in the Church, it is a poor witness of our faith to our community. In many ways, since the time of Constantine the Church has struggled to be faithful in the area of discipleship; the focus has turned outward to buildings, structures, and titles.
But when we focus on making disciples to produce transformed lives, the multiplication of churches becomes natural because of the lives of the disciples of Jesus.
4. A lack of vision
Many believers are content with the current state of the Church, and they spend most of their time and energy on maintenance rather than on growth.
They might ask, “Why do we need more churches?
We have plenty of needs right here.”
Some others might think that planting new churches will take people from already existing churches and will weaken the Church rather than strengthen it.
There are also some who might say that it is better to help the already existing churches that are struggling rather than to plant new churches.
We need our hearts to be stirred by the current realities in the world. Consider these realities:
- More than 49,000 people die every day without hearing the Good News of Jesus in a way to which they can respond. That means, approximately every 2 seconds, one person dies without hearing the Good News of Jesus.
- Two in seven of the world’s population has never heard the Good News of Jesus.
- Over 3,000 people groups, with 10,000 or more people in each, are least-reached. They need cross-cultural church planters.
- There are 42 countries where at least half the population has never heard the Gospel.
5. Spiritual warfare
It involves encountering the activities of the territorial spirits, magicians, and witchdoctors while presenting the Gospel (Ephesians 6:10-18).
He has blinded people for years (2 Corinthians 4:4) and will not easily allow them to see the truth.
We must be confident of our spiritual authority over the powers of darkness and recognize the presence of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. As we commit our lives to multiplying churches, the Lord will confirm His words through miracles, signs, and wonders (Mark 16:15-20).
What are some of the greatest challenges in your context to plant churches?
You’ve got an incredibly vital part to play!
Global Disciples Canada is a Christian mission organization that trains local leaders living near least-reached communities to multiply disciples for Christ. One-third of our world hasn’t heard the Good News of Jesus. Yet. Global Disciples refers to these as “least-reached” people, and fewer than 10% of all missionaries work among these groups. We live in a time where many of these people are within reach of a local church. Through our simple and effective strategy of training and coaching, believers share the Gospel in their own nations and cultures. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” and we’re committed to doing just that. If you are looking for a Christian mission organization to partner with to become a better disciple and help make disciples, connect with us today!
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