Acts 11 - Model for church growth
This is an excellent passage to learn about church growth. There are many verses in this short passage alone that tells us the church enjoyed a great number of people.
21…. large numbers of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.
24 And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord.
26 Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching great numbers of people.
When we study the passage, we could find many lessons on how the New Testament church actually achieved this high rate of growth. This is not just a lesson for the Pastor of the church. The church is only as strong as its individual members. We can apply these truths to our lives and if each member can be impacted by these truths, the whole church would and church growth would surely come.
Reaching the unreached
19 Meanwhile, the believers who had fled from Jerusalem during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the Good News, but only to Jews. 20 However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. 21The power of the Lord was upon them, and large numbers of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.
Paul and the rest preached to the Jews who got so sick of the message that the apostles were persecuted. But the gentiles have not even heard of the message yet! The church started to grow in numbers when the apostles started to reach the gentiles who were previously unreached.
Many people in our country would have heard the gospel many times and still not want to believe. But there are still many people who have not heard of the gospel. They are usually the ones church people have very little contact with - the poor, the homeless, the aged, the delinquent young people, etc. Church growth will come when effort is made to reach the unreached.
In our church, whenever we had an evangelistic event, we used to invite our friends and relatives. Many have been invited several times until they got so sick. Attendance to such events started to wane. But there are still many families out there who do not have Christian members to invite them to such events. So now we started going out to the streets, literally door to door, reaching the unreached. And the response is much better.
It is likely that the profile of Christians within your country is quite similar ie of a certain income, age group, race, language, etc. There may be a big group out there of other demographic profiles that have not been reached. Church growth will come when the church goes out to reach these people.
Jesus taught this truth when He told His disciples that the invitation will have to go out to the unreached group of society.
Luke 14:16 Jesus replied with this illustration: "A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17When all was ready, he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. 18But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it, so he asked to be excused. 19Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. 20Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.
21"The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was angry and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ 22After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘there is still room for more.’ 23So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.
God can turn a "bad" situation around so that His kingdom may be extended.
Acts 11:19,20 Meanwhile, the believers who had fled from Jerusalem during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. ….. some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. 21The power of the Lord was upon them, and large numbers of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.
When the believers were fleeing from persecution, they probably thought that their evangelistic efforts were finished. That was probably what the devil thought as well. Satan thought he was winning. But God had other things in mind. God could use this "bad" situation for His purpose. When the believers fled, the gospel spread even more as they brought their gospel with them.
Is your evangelistic effort coming up against a wall? Perhaps you have encountered great obstacles trying to reach out to someone. Is your church's evangelistic effort meeting bad situations? Perhaps your missionaries are persecuted. Perhaps the countries you are going to are getting more restrictive. Ask God to turn the situation around. He has done that in the past and He will do it again.
Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit
Acts 11 :21The power of the Lord was upon them, and large numbers of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord. 22 When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he arrived and saw this proof of God’s favor, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 24Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord.
With so much repetition in this small paragraph, it seems the Bible wants to leave us with no doubt that it was the Holy Spirit who was responsible for the massive conversions and not the disciples' effort alone. Jesus taught that God is the Lord of the harvest.
Matt 9:38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send out more workers for his fields."
We sometimes feel disappointed when our evangelistic efforts do not bear fruit. We need to combine effort with prayer because it is the Holy Spirit who gives the harvest and tears down strongholds in people's lives so that they can believe. Our job is simply to tell the good news and lead exemplary lives. If we do our part well, there is no need to feel discouraged when someone does not believe.
The exemplary life of Christians is crucial
Acts 11:23When he arrived and saw this proof of God’s favor, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 24Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord.
In the church's effort to bring in unbelievers, it must not neglect the nurturing of its existing believers. The passage tells us that one of the reasons the church grew was because people could see the good life of the believers. Don't let people remark, "If this is how Christians live, I do not want to have anything to do with it."
In your daily contact with non-Christians, are they able to see that you are different? Is your work attitude, your values, your speech different from the rest?
Believe that God can stir up a revival
Acts 11:24Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord.
Because Stephen was strong in faith, God did mighty acts through him and many people came to know Jesus. When we ask for the salvation of our loved ones, we must do so believing that God will act. It may be difficult seeing how such a hard person would come to know Jesus but God works in powerful ways. Stephen prayed for his persecutors including Saul and the result was the conversion of Saul into the apostle Paul.
Let's not give up hope in praying for our loved ones. Let's continue to invite them to occasions when they will hear about the gospel. If we doubt God, we will not receive the salvation of any of our loved ones.
Nurturing the new converts is important
Acts 11:23When he arrived and saw this proof of God’s favor, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord.
Acts 11:25 Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to find Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching great numbers of people.
Many churches concentrate on bringing people in through the front door but forget to lock the back door so that these new converts would not go out.
It is true that many people get saved after attending evangelistic events but studies have shown that the drop-out rate is high. If the church does not concentrate on nurturing these new converts to grow, church growth cannot happen. The New Testament church knew the importance of proper nurturing. Two senior members of the church - Paul and Barnabas - spent one year ministering to new converts.
There will be converts who would encounter persecution once they have accepted Jesus. It is necessary to provide support to them so that they can withstand the persecution. Barnabas knew the importance of encouraging the new Christians to "stay true to the Lord".
Touching the community through kind acts
When the church leaders in my country prayed for directions as to how they can win the city for Christ, one of the ways the Holy Spirit showed was to do kind acts - without strings attached. That means that we do kind acts to anyone, not just people who are willing to become Christians.
Kind acts is such a powerful means to reach people. We may tell them a thousand times that Jesus loves them but these may have less impact than showing them, in a tangible way, the love of Jesus. The New Testament church grew partly because of that.
Acts 11:27 During this time, some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings to predict by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) 29 So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 30 This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.
For an excellent teaching on how this ministry can be carried out, read "Conspiracy of Kindness".