Spiritual growth of believers should be the goal of any church. We are to reach unbelievers and introduce them to Christ, but the end goal according to the command of Jesus is making disciples. It would even make sense then, that as much as we count the offering or attendance on Sundays, if we want to know we are being successful as a church, we have to somehow “count” our success at making disciples.
Yet spiritual growth is a difficult subject and can be hard to measure, because a church can offer the same ministries and attention to the same group of people and get extremely different results.
Right now there are people in my church at 3 stages of spiritual growth:
- Those that need to mature and are not maturing.
- Those that need to mature and have stalled.
- Those that need to mature and are maturing.
I suggest the same is true of your church. We rejoice in the last one. We all need to mature. We love when it happens. If we are not careful, however, we can allow the first two groups of people to discourage us and make us believe we are not doing what God has called us to do as a church.
How can we know we are growing people spiritually?
I don’t know that we can ever know as clearly numerically as we do with attendance or contributions. But, I think there are principles that can help us know we are on the right track to building disciples, for each of the three groups mentioned above. These principles, when understood, can bring a sense of clarity as to whether we are truly realizing the mission of the church.
Here are 5 principles to understanding the process of spiritual growth.
Growth is possible. Every believer has an opportunity and potential to experience spiritual growth. God wants to mature all believers. No one is left out of that plan. If someone is not growing spiritually, there is a reason. Either they haven’t been discipled or they haven’t responded to the opportunities they’ve been given to grow, but opportunity exists for all believers.
People are responsible for their spiritual growth. I am responsible to lead a church that shepherds them, encourages them, instructs and teaches them, but ultimately the believer holds the responsibility of their own growth. That’s a freeing principle, because it keeps me responsible for what I can do, but releases me of the burden of what I can’t do. I can create environments that help people grow, but I can’t make them grow.
Growth occurs best in community. The best spiritual growth in my life and in the life of others I have observed occurs when people are in committed, healthy and intentional relationships with other believers wanting to mature. Iron does sharpen iron. Disciples make disciples. It was the method Jesus used to create disciples. He spent time with His disciples. (At the same time, I have been in groups where some are growing and some are not, but that goes back to principle number two. Remember Judas?) As much as I can, I need to help people who want to grow spiritually and spend time with others who want to grow and are growing spiritually. I can then give them tools to use where their time together is suitable for discipleship.
Developing a person’s desire for spiritual growth is key. When a person gets excited about his or her personal walk with Christ, they will want to get to know Christ better. The more they know Christ the more they will want to be like Him. The more people want to be like Christ the more likely they will be to assume ownership of their spiritual growth. So motivating people for the desire to grow becomes a key element in discipleship. This may be done by sharing stories of others who have grown, helping people understand their potential, or continually casting the vision for spiritual growth and maturity, but creating a desire to grow becomes a key goal in disciple-making.
The goal of the teacher/leader of spiritual growth should be to enable people to achieve spiritual growth. Knowing that people are responsible for their growth, and that I can only create environments where that can best happen helps shape where I spend my efforts in discipleship. Our goal as spiritual leaders should be to introduce people to Christ and God’s Spirit, teach them the truths of faith, and then release them to serve, mature and grow in their spiritual life.
Please understand this is not a formula and principles are not foolproof. I believe, however, that understanding these principles can help us see the process of discipleship as something doable, even “measurable”, if we continually strive to create environments conducive for spiritual growth to occur.