I was once interim pastor of an inner city church that had, for various reasons, begun to decline in numbers.  As church attendance dropped, month after month and year after year, the remaining congregation began to face the possibility that its days might be numbered.  Perhaps the Lord only wanted them there for their various humanitarian ministries; perhaps the day would come when that church would die.

The people in this church had, over the years, turned their backs upon the processes of sharing the gospel.  They were a well-educated, sophisticated church, and they didn’t want to turn people away with crude and embarrassing evangelistic methods.

There’s more than one way to evangelize.

We certainly ought to turn away from awkward, ugly, and humiliating brands of evangelism.  Some people believe that everybody ought to use the same methods and procedures to share the gospel. I do not believe that.  I don’t think you can find that teaching in the New Testament.

I also don’t believe that you can judge the integrity of a church simply by numeric growth.  There are times when numbers can be very misleading.  Some groups grow without preaching an authentic gospel, and other churches decline even though they do preach the gospel.

When this congregation asked me whether they should be focused upon church growth in sharing the gospel, however, I told them yes.

The gospel bears fruit and brings increase.

It is the character of the gospel to be inclusive.  The gospel is part and parcel of the faith that we espouse; it is part and parcel of that which brought us into Christian experience. Our identity as baptized believers is formed around the fact that we embrace the good news of Jesus Christ. We must understand when we evangelize that the good news of Jesus Christ is a message that draws people in.

Paul referred to this in Colossians 1:

The gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth. (Colossians 1:6)

“…bearing fruit and increasing…”

Paul sometimes used these terms to refer to growth in the Spirit; that is, the maturation process of Christian living. (See Galatians 5, for example.)

That is not what Paul means here.  The context and other considerations make it clear that Paul is not here referring to Christian growth per se, but to what we could call evangelistic growth.  He is referring to the fact that growth is characteristic of the gospel. Wherever the gospel is preached, when the message of the crucified and risen Jesus is announced, the gospel produces increase.  It bears fruit.  It has an inclusive character.

You and I must take very seriously, as individuals and as members of congregations, the fact that we are part of the work of the gospel in the world–the announcement of the message of the crucified and risen Jesus.  It is in the nature of that gospel to bear fruit and to increase.

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The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered on March 4, 1990, at Tallowood Baptist Church.

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