It seems that the common strategies for church growth consist of a polished and charismatic preacher, a large and ultra-modern facility, and dozens of active programs, among other flashy qualities. The mega-church model is certainly effective, and it is a good thing that these groups are making large impacts for the sake of Christ. BUT, there is another way to share the Gospel . . . more subtle, and even under the radar, but no less important and necessary.
Vocational ministry has been around a long time, even since the beginning days of the church. In fact, vocational ministry certainly predates the professional variety. I doubt Peter ever took much of a paycheck for his preaching . . . perhaps he benefited from the provision of a meal here and there, and perhaps the use of a "bed" to lay his head. And, Paul, often labored with his hands to make possible his evangelistic work. Certainly, the prospects of a consistent salary, housing allowances, IRAs, health insurance, and the like, were centuries away from becoming reality, and, it may seem now, the norm, and expected. BUT, in the beginning days of Christianity, the Gospel was shared, for the most part, by neighbor to neighbor, from one layman to another.
Christianity has made impressive gains in the past 20 centuries. Millions upon millions of people profess faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. And, professional ministry has surely played a big role in this spread. BUT, how much of the growth is the product of ordinary men and women sharing their faith with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers? Surely, a considerable amount.
The example of Acts 8.4 is often overlooked . . . a quick bridge verse connecting the stoning of Stephen with the remarkable ministry of Philip. The verse reads, "So those who were scattered went on their way proclaiming the message of good news." This description comes following a statement that the apostles had remained behind in Jerusalem. The church continued to grow, despite the persecution. The church continued to grow, because of the testimony of the laity . . . average, ordinary men and women convicted in their faith and devoted to sharing what they had discovered in Jesus. Yes, the professionals hit the paths to the mission fields, as well, and educated preachers would make their mark for the sake of Christ. BUT, the church grew, largely, because of the efforts of countless nameless believers.
I live in the western United States, near the shared border of New Mexico and Arizona. Churches here are, for the most part, small, aging and struggling. The mega-church model exists hundreds and thousands of miles from us; it is a model that does not mesh with reality here. The growth strategies of a highly skilled and polished preacher, an imposing facility, and around-the-clock programming are often qualities that are unrealistic here. So, how is the church to grow? Through simplicity, basically, and because of the labors of ordinary men and women. In other words, the ones sitting in the pews must get up and work, and lead, and follow in the steps of Acts 8.4.
BUT, here's a thought and a modern calling . . . how much good could be done by couples trained in various fields--teaching, medicine, business, etc.--relocating from large and effective churches to small and struggling ones? What I am suggesting is that couples and individuals, mature in their faith, and from communities where the church is strong, relocate to areas in the West (and other parts of the country) where the church is weak. For example, a couple graduating with education degrees from Abilene Christian University might choose to find jobs in a town like Aztec, New Mexico or Holbrook, Arizona or Blanding, Utah for the expressed purpose of becoming active in the local church and being a boost to that congregation . . . taking this course, instead of finding employment in Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio, cities where the church is strong, and where one's addition to a congregation would be largely inconsequential (in terms of that church's effectiveness in ministry and outreach).
I call this a modern calling inspired by the example of Acts 8.4, and I find it an important and necessary strategy for church growth in areas where the church (and the Gospel testimony) does not have the footprint it does in other places.
Join me at my new blog, http://acts84.blogspot.com. I devote this blog to what I am terming the Acts 8.4 Calling. This blog will be a sounding-board and bulletin board with the expressed purpose of encouraging and facilitating vocational missions (and, particularly, of the variety described in this article). The articles I post there will include profiles of communities where the church is alive but in need of help; in other words, an introduction to places where "transplanted" Christians could be a big help. These profiles will include a description of the communities at large, a survey of employment opportunities, contact information (where known), and other vital information. I invite your feedback and contributions.
Help me make this Acts 8.4 Calling a meaningful and productive ministry.