What should church "growth" look like in a healthy church? What should we be expectantly praying for and energetically working toward as the people of God? Is it enough to say that we are faithful to preach the truth while seeing none converted? Are we satisfied to see numeric growth while souls remain unchanged? Those, of course, are just two extreme examples (which in reality characterize a number of churches) while most fall somewhere in-between.
While churches vary in size and distinctives and will experience different degrees of fruitfulness, all gospel-born churches worship the same Lord and share the same mission, and should be discontent without seeing the growth we are designed to experience.
Thomas Murphy's classic work, Pastoral Theology (1877), paints a beautiful picture that is both clear and challenging.
In both the individual soul and the united body of believers progress is the normal state. It is of the very nature of grace to grow. The regenerated man, if in a healthy spiritual state, must 'grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.' Those who have been saved themselves must bring others to the same salvation. Growth should be considered as an essential element of the Christian life. If there is not advance, there is certainly something wrong. If there is no growth, both in the individual and in the Christian body, there cause for great alarm. It is not enough that we hold our own either in the experience of grace in the soul or in our advance on the territory of the ungodly world; we must go forward. Where there is not this normal progress there must necessarily be, and there always is, decline.
This progress should extend to every grace of the Christian and to every enterprise for which the church has been established. There should be increase in grace, in the goodness which is wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost, in the likeness to Jesus formed in every believer, in that beauty of character which should distinguish the Bride of Christ, in meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light, in Christian liberality, and in the active zeal which springs from sympathy in the great enterprise whose object is the redemption of the world. Efforts to gain souls and honor God should become increasingly energetic. There should be constantly increasing increasing numbers of those who are coming out of the kingdom of darkness and joining the blood-bought host of Jesus. If the number of those who are received into the membership of the visible church does not much increase, it is not a certain evidence that no good is being accomplished, but it is a cause for great anxiety. There should be no rest to the people of God in their encroachments on the world, which they are ever to strive to save.
- Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office