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Leader: A work of the Spirit

03 July 2015

THE old joke about praying for a lottery win is applicable to many situations. After listening to endless importuning, God finally snaps: "Do me a favour - at least buy a lottery ticket." When it comes to church growth, the instructions from St Paul are clear: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." The Holy Spirit is responsible for growing the Church. Only the Spirit knows why the same approach can spark faith in one person and leave another indifferent; why some continue to believe despite untold privations, while others, who seem to enjoy all God's blessings, remain unthinkingly aloof. Any church that has organised some sort of mission activity or outreach - and we imagine that this covers them all - will know that there is no foolproof formula: do this and people will come to Christ - although, as we have pointed out in the past, the opposite can be true: do that (readers can supply their own list here) and people will almost certainly stay away.

From the human perspective, it might seem like a lottery; but even were that the case, the Church must still buy a ticket. Acting with the Spirit's prompting, churchpeople - congregations and individuals - must plant and water constantly to ensure that those who need to hear Christ's message of salvation hear it (and in a language they understand); those who need Christ's help receive it (and in a form that they can use); and those who desire Christ's company learn, at least in part, what it is like from those who enjoy it. The following pages were prompted by the debate about what encourages growth, and the suggestion that the Church Commissioners divert capital to support it. The rhetoric of the early weeks of this debate is now being revised: those who appeared to subscribe to a formulaic approach are taking a softer line - as are their critics, who found themselves being caricatured as "anti-growth". There is an opportunity now for all persuasions to reflect on what growth might look like in their particular context.

We are reminded constantly that the Church is a people, not a building. In the context of this debate, this thought is both liberating and challenging. However convinced we are of the importance of congregational worship and inspiring liturgy, it is clearly too restricting to base definitions of growth or decline on attendance at such services. Too many congregations are burdened with this view. We hope that some of the articles that follow will persuade them to think more widely. At the heart of the Fresh Expressions movement is the concept that Christian nurture can be manifested in many different contexts. The potential involvement of the Church Commissioners has led to a fear that some sort of bean-counter mentality will be applied to church growth. This cannot be. As with the human body, so with the body of the Church: size is only one indicator of health, and not always a reliable one. If Christians are faithful to Christ, all else will follow.

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