Bill Shope

The concept of growth, whether it be positive or negative, can be applied to either a material or non-material entity and is either desired or undesired. Here, we are concerned with the desired positive growth of that which is called the Body of Christ. Specifically, we want to see an increase in the number of individuals involved in the local church.

All growth, by its very nature, can be considered exponential. The power of the exponential, unknown to many, is exposed here, with the goal of prompting the individual Christian to apply that understanding to the growth of the local church.

When I consider "exponential growth," I'm inclined to immediately consider a story I was told involving the origin of the game of chess. I say "story" because I doubt if the account is at all factual. Anyway, the story involves a conversation between the one who introduced the game to a very grateful ruler and the desire of that ruler to reward the game's originator. The ruler offered different monetary rewards, but the man refused them all. To apparently stop the ruler's frustration, the man finally suggested that the ruler place a grain of wheat on the first of the 64 squares of the board and simply repeat the doubling process until the board was filled. I can't recall the ending of the story I was told, but I do recall that such a feat is impossible! The final square would "contain" approximately 9,220,000,000,000,000,000 grains of wheat! That's over 9 quintillion, in case you're wondering. According to those who grow wheat, that would be about nine trillion bushels. But, remember: That's only the last square. The preceding square would contain half that amount and you would have to go a long way down the board before the amount became insignificant. The twenty-first square would contain approximately a bushel of wheat.

Yes, that's an interesting story, but we need to consider only the development of a clothing fad on a large university campus to see the power of exponential growth. One fraternity boy wears the collar of his topcoat "up," like Jimmy Stewart of the movies, and, within a week, it becomes difficult to find a boy with his topcoat collar "down." This introduces a couple of factors worthy of note. Both the "number of squares" and the multiplication factor are important. It took less than ten days for the clothing fad to blossom, not 64 days. And, the multiplication factor in "word of mouth" far exceeds doubling.

Before we consider the church growth described in the Book of Acts, we'll consider one more example of exponential growth. In the early years of the twentieth century, someone realized that the power of exponential growth could be used for monetary profit. The result was the "chain letter" fad or, as it later came to be known, the "pyramid scheme." Initially, this was considered harmless. You received a letter, usually from a friend, with a list of ten names and the associated addresses. You were told to mail a dollar bill to the name at the top of the list, add your name to the bottom, and address a letter, similar to the one you received, to each of three of your friends. Keep in mind that, at that time, a dollar was worth more than ten dollars today, so this was no trivial matter. If this was kept between friends and noone was dishonest, this would mean that, upon your name reaching the top of the list, you would receive envelopes...each containing a dollar bill...from 19,683 people, or a profit of $19,682, less postage and stationery. This is a considerable profit, even in today's dollars.

All of this would end, of course, when human greed was aroused and it was realized that, with the addition of a few more names, the possibility of becoming a millionaire seemed possible. At this point, some in the federal government realized the harm such schemes could have on the nation's economy. If large numbers of people abandoned their work as they dreamed of becoming millionaires, the result would be disastrous! So, a bill was passed making "pyramid schemes" illegal. What most don't realize is that the federal government ensured, by statute, that multi-level marketing groups could continue to encourage the growth of their sales forces with the use of exponential growth. In other words, so long as a product is involved, exponential growth is not only allowed, but encouraged, by the federal government.

This brings about an unusual situation. An individual in such an organization can choose to concentrate on either selling product or developing his "downline" to improve his income. Or, for that matter, he could do a bit of both. The last choice is, of course, favored and encouraged by the company. The individual remains free to make his own decision.

Now, it is time to apply the principles of exponential growth to church growth.

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
Acts 1:1-3

For forty days, the apostles observed the truth of His resurrection and heard all that they were to tell the world. And, it is clear that they were to tell the world.

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Acts 1:8

So, what did the apostles do after the Ascension? We know they heard the instructions of Acts 1:8, so they could have simply started to split up and travel to different parts of the world. This "word of mouth" dissemination of the gospel would be roughly equivalent to the doubling we saw in the story of the grain of wheat and the chess board. And, there's no question that this can be very effective! Within only a very few "generations," all the world could have heard of the eternal life available through faith in Christ. But, this was not the path God had chosen.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Acts 2:1-8

Remember: Both time and the multiplication factor can be changed. In this case...almost instantaneously... the message was delivered to representatives from around the world. It's difficult to compare this with any of the examples of exponential growth I've given, but it does illustrate the power of mass communication.

At this point, I'll address a common false teaching in the church today. There are those who stress Acts 1:8 and who are very proud of their church visitation program and of those who are saved and subsequently join their church, but they completely ignore the event described in Acts 2:1-8. Of course, a church should have a visitation program. The problem is in the teaching that accompanies the visitation in many churches. It is said that the church is for the saints ONLY. In other words, church attendees are discouraged from ever inviting an unsaved friend or relative to accompany them to the local church.

I'm thinking, in particular, of a young pastor who has developed a world-wide ministry based largely on his DVDs, but you'd be hard-pressed to find, among all those DVDs or YouTube videos, a clear presentation of the gospel, though he presents it boldly every week during his door-to-door ministry. The DVDs and YouTube videos, he would have you understand, are specifically for believers.

I had a pastor, shortly after God had saved me, who delivered excellent verse-by-verse sermons as he went through the King James Bible. Today, I would prefer an occasional topical sermon, but that's beside the point. The point is that, regardless of the Bible passage, he would find a way to segue into a presentation of the gospel. That presentation would probably be about five minutes in length, but it would be there. It might appear anywhere in his message, but it would be there; with just a mention that he or any one of the deacons would be available after the service. There was no "altar call." And, yes, we did go out every Monday night on visitation.

Compare that with the young man today who spends much of his time...as he admits...on "chasing rabbits" on his DVDs and YouTube videos, but won't devote any time to the gospel.

Acts 2:1-8 clearly teaches that, when possible, we are to take full advantage of mass communication and...as an extension...we are to take advantage of the opportunities afforded us for gospel presentation during the periodic meetings of the local church.

Consider, again, the words spoken by Peter and the other apostles as recorded in Acts 2. The crowd did, indeed, hear the gospel.

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

It would not be proper to say that this is not as clear as the following:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
First Corinthians 15:1-4

God simply has not revealed to us all that was said on that day. Contrary to the popular teaching of the Grace Movement, God's Word does not teach us that this very basic understanding was somehow hidden from other believers until Paul revealed it. Paul's unique task was to explain that "God's chosen people" consist of those with a common faith in Christ and excludes those who follow the Talmudic teaching that Mary was a prostitute and that Jesus was her bastard son. So much blood has been spilled in recent years as we fought Israel's wars when, instead, the nations should have been following this clear teaching:

And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD.
Second Chronicles 19:2

While the Book of Acts certainly does speak of church growth, is that growth to be expected? Considering the growth possible through word of mouth, should it have been greater?

It must be realized that this was a time of great persecution. Paul, when he was known as Saul, thought he was doing a great work for God as he organized and carried out the killing of those who professed faith in Christ. While his conversion ended his efforts, it is clear that the jews of that time continued to be enemies of the cross. Believers feared for their lives.

But, what of today? The same joy of salvation comes to many individuals each and every day. What happens to them? Where are the grains of wheat on the chessboard?

Almost everyone has friends and acquaintances with whom they communicate on a regular basis. When they see them, they discuss sports and politics, of course, but they also reveal what has happened to them. Perhaps they tell of a store they found with a great selecton of fruits and vegetables. Or, they might tell how the doctor helped them to overcome a sore back. But, when it comes to a basic change of belief, there appears to be a great reluctance to tell others. There are only a very few close friends...if any...with whom those matters will be shared.

Approximately six thousand years have passed since "the beginning" of Genesis 1:1. It is important, when considering early mankind, to remember that the Second Law of Thermodynamics teaches us that the average inate intelligence of earlier generations was greater than that existing in the world today. This might come as a bit of a surprise to those exposed only to the "education" provided by public schooling, but remember that this indoctrination has been provided by those who believe that we have evolved from rocks! Despite their great intelligence, it would appear that the percentage of early men enthusiastic to describe their faith in a living God was small. As today, those in that small percentage were described as "evangelists." You can probably remember the names of those evangelists in recent times. A couple of famous men, living at the same time, would be John R. Rice and Billy Graham. I can remember watching John R. Rice as he unashamedly wept while pleading with his listeners to accept Christ as their savior. As far as I know, he remeained openly faithful to his savior to his last breath. On the other hand, Billy Graham appeared to openly stray from a Bible faith as he aged. In his last days, he confessed that he did not follow the teachings of those professing a Bible-based faith, but had become a Universalist!

What can be said, then, of these two men? There are those who teach that Billy Graham is now suffering in hell. We know he died espousing the false teaching of Universalism, but is he now in hell? There is a Bible verse which can be quoted by a very large percentage of unbelievers.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

False religions can be easily identified when they openly deny the clear teaching of the Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1

To deny the clear teaching of the Bible is to deny God. Any religion that does so is obviously not to be confused with Christianity. Yet, many are in churches today which teach that the "everlasting" of John 3:16 does not have the normal meaning! And, of course, the teaching of "everlasting" or "eternal" life is taught in many Bible verses. This "black is white" teaching of the Bible deniers must be remembered when considering the fate of those who have died. If, at any time in their young lives, these two evangelists placed their faith in the finished crosswork of Jesus Christ, then they were, at that instant, sealed forever as children of God! This is why no Bible believer need fear the effects of old age or such things as drugs. Everlasting IS everlasting! This serves as solace, also, for those who have watched their children apparently depart from their Sunday School teaching as they attended a secular college.

Certainly, times of persecution or tribulation have caused believers to inhibit any attempts to openly proclaim that which God has done for them. Certainly, the believer is expected to undergo tribulation.

And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
First Thessalonians 3:2-4

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
Romans 5:3

Note that believers ARE appointed unto tribulation, but believers ARE NOT appointed unto wrath.

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
First Thessalonians 5:9

Which tells us that there is a distinct difference between the persecution of men (such as that which will exist during the time of the antichrist in the great tribulation of Daniel's seventieth week) and the wrath of God which will follow the great tribulation and the rapture of believers. It remains to be seen, then, whether the believers in the time of the great tribulation will be more inclined to speak of their faith and its results, or less inclined. Certainly, it would seem that the fear of death would not be so strong when it is realized that the tribulation of the time is caused by the antichrist.

While I have included comments on Biblical purity of the local church, it is essential, on closing, that I return to the importance of a knowledge of exponential growth on the attendance of a local church.

I have repeated the story of the grain of wheat and the chessboard. This certainly emphasizes the great power available in exponential growth. Then, I discussed, as another example, the rapid changes in clothing fads. Finally, I discussed the illegal "pyramid schemes" and their legal counterpart, the government encouraged use of exponential business growth when a product is involved. It is this last matter, I believe, which most closely aligns itself with church growth. I said that one involved with a direct sales marketing group could either sell product or improve his downline. The choice is not that simple. Since each person in the downline consumes product, each addition to the downline means more sales income for the company, which is why the company continues to pay. However, the company is concerned with the large dollar sales to other consumers, so they don't emphasize downline for income.

Compare this with the work of an evangelist. I have heard a few...a very few...evangelists who emphasized, during the invitation, that new converts have both the joy and the responsiblity of telling others of their new life in Christ. On the other hand, those in direct marketing who know what they must do to ensure a good income from their downline, insist that each new member...before he joins...give them a list of three new prospects and their contact information. If they don't, they know that their downline will "die" and they'll lose income.

No, it certainly isn't practical to make such demands of a new convert. Those cults that teach salvation by works might...and probably do...make such demands, but such barriers to salvation cannot be imposed by Christians. The experience of seeing church growth, in itself, should be sufficient to cause a believer to speak out. The joy of experiencing the fellowship with new believers and hearing accounts of victory in their lives will excite the older "pillars" of the church to join them in telling others of Christ.

Join me today in extending our "Christian downlines."