Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why Church Growth?

When examining the subject of the growth of the Church we need to ask ourselves why it is important. We need to put this topic in its appropriate place. Otherwise we can be negatively affecting the growth of the Church, misunderstanding its origin and failing to meet the responsibilities and requirements the Lord set forth for proclaiming the Gospel.

President Boyd K. Packer stated the following about the growth of the Church at the 2009 New Mission Presidents Seminar held at the Provo Utah Missionary Training Center:

"It is a new thought to us across the Church that we are not to be duplicating the Wasatch Front out there with the number of buildings and the congregations and the large audiences and activities that go on and on…we are to establish the gospel."

I wanted to articulate that Elder Packer stated that it is a “new thought to us across the Church” that we are not to be focused on replicating the size of the Church and the number of members in Utah across the world. It is not the purpose of the Church to establish itself around the globe just for the purpose of adding to our numbers. Rather it is the purpose of the Church to teach its members and everyone to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and keep the commandments, thereby sharing the joy that comes from living a Christ-centered life. When members and missionaries of the Church live the Gospel and share it with those around them, growth is the automatic result. We can use statistics to gather information on how the Gospel has spread among the nations of the world and chart progress made. Our goal is not the statistics however. It’s changing the lives of the people for better. We may also see various prophesies about the growth of the Church in the scriptures and by leaders in the Church fulfilled.

We need to be careful we do not look beyond the mark when studying the demographics and growth of the Church. The programs and meetinghouses the Church adopts and utilizes are only instruments assisting in missionary work and Gospel teaching. Key habits required by lifelong members and converts alike that strengthen testimonies include regular prayer, studying the scriptures and weekly Church attendance and activity. Elder Packer expanded on this principle through the following quote, also taken from the same Mission Presidents Seminar:

"If you have congregations of people in branches, and the gospel is being taught, and they are understanding it, then you have done what you are called to do. Building the Church seems to center around buildings and budgets and programs and procedures, but somewhere in the midst of it the gospel is struggling for breath. Get that fixed in the minds of your elders."

As noted in earlier posts, all members of the Church have a responsibility to share the Gospel. We sometimes see the result of this responsibility fulfilled by the establishment of new congregations, stakes and districts. The creation of new missions and the opening of cities for the preaching of the Gospel indicate an increase by the members of the Church to follow Christ's commandment to take the Gospel forth to all the world. As we see new temples announced, constructed, dedicated, and utilized we see the Church fulfilling its three-fold purpose.


Fcosta said...

Great reflection about the real church growth!

Alex said...

This is a great post, and it's important to keep things in perspective. The real work isn't reflected directly by statistics, but indirectly in that these statistics are influenced by that effort that represents the work.

rfelsted said...

Mormon Times for Oct. 15 had an excellent column by Orson Scott Card entitled "History of Christian Growth," in which he makes the claim that early Christian growth patterns paralleled our LDS growth since the Church's founding in 1830.

He cites information from Rodney Stark's book "The Rise of Christianity," which show early Christian growth as follows:

50 1,400
100 7,530
150 40,495
200 217,795
250 1,171,356
300 6,299,832
350 33,882,008

These figures are only extimates, but independent sources show them to be reasonably correct.

Dr. Stark arrived at these numbers using 1,000 as the starting point for the year 40 A.D. and then progressing forward at 40% growth per decade, which was the identical growth of the LDS Church in its first 150 years. I believe the growth rate is close to that today.

By 350 A.D. Christians were a majority of the Roman Empire which numbered around 60,000,000 by then.