The value of physical strength is well recognized in a variety of areas (e.g., sports, combat, etc.). Of course, you could just ask my mother about the value of physical strength the next time she needs someone to open a new jar! No one denies the blessing of physical strength. However, there are even greater blessings in spiritual might. Tragically, in the world in which we live sin has lost its negative stigma and temptations are everywhere. Since it is impossible to be completely sheltered from temptation, a person must learn how to say "No" to temptation. The best way to do this is to have a strong character, a built-in defense system based on self-control coupled with a keen awareness that one belongs to Christ. Yes, there are blessings in being spiritually strong. This is true on both the individual and congregational levels.
The focus of this feature lesson is upon ascertaining what makes a church strong. It is easy to see from the Scriptures that God wants the church to be strong. Consider I Corinthians 16:13,14 - "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love." Similarly, we see in Ephesians 6:10 - "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." So, since spiritual strength for a church is essential, we must be able to identify strength in a congregation and we need some direction as to how to develop it.
That being said, let's begin by defining spiritual strength for a church in a negative way; that is, let's first point out what does not make a church strong. The following five items may seem--at first glance--to be necessary for a strong church. However, when you examine them more closely you'll see that a strong church can exist without these things.
SOME THINGS WHICH DO NOT NECESSARILY MAKE A CHURCH STRONG:
1. Numbers do not make a church strong.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that numbers are unimportant. As long as each number represents an eternal soul, it must be important! We know that the Jerusalem church was large; God provided the numbers for us! He tells of the number of conversions on the birthday of the church - "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about 3000 souls were added to them" (Acts 2:41). He also tells us that there were regular additions to the church. Acts 2:47 - "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." The number of Christian men that are mentioned in Acts 4:4 is 5000! Shortly thereafter, we read that "believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women." In Acts 6:1,7, God also tells us that the number of disciples continued to multiply as the word of God spread! All this talk about numbers makes me certain that numbers are very important, but that does not mean that numbers alone will make a church strong. A small church is not necessarily a weak one, and a large church is not necessarily a strong one.
Remember Gideon's army? God trimmed it down from 32,000 to 300 before He would allow Gideon to proceed into battle. That's less than 1% of the original number! God said to Gideon - "The people who are with you are too many" (Jud. 7:2). After reducing the number of soldiers, God accomplished a great victory through a small army. Earlier in Israel's history, Moses had told the children of Israel - "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples" (Deut. 7:7). Jesus declared in Matthew 20:16 - "Many are called, but few chosen." Obviously, a group can be strong, though small. So it is with the church today! Even a small number can have a big impact. Just 10 righteous people could have saved Sodom (cf. Gen. 18:32)!
2. The wealth of members does not make a church strong.
Again, this can be a great asset. If the wealthy are generous, then they can unleash great power for good. They can contribute to worthy causes, relieve human need, and equip men to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). The lack of funds hinders many good works. It would be good to have members of the church today like Abraham, Job, Zacchaeus, or Joseph of Arimathea--godly men who are wealthy and generous.
But, it is true that the wealth of members is sometimes worthless to the church. It can cause a church to trust in money instead of God. Individuals often fall into this trap (cf. I Tim. 6:9ff) and so do congregations! The church at Laodicea thought they were rich and were in "need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). However, in reality they were poor. Material possessions did not make them right or strong; it made them self-centered and apathetic!
It is very possible for the physically poor to be strong in faith. "Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5). The poor may be strong and do much giving, as is proven by the poor widow of Mark 12:44, or the poor Macedonians of II Corinthians 8. Wealth is sometimes an asset, but a church can be strong without it!
3. Worldly wisdom does not necessarily make the church strong.
Those who are wise may use their talents for the Lord and truly add to the strength of the church. However, worldly wisdom does not necessarily help. Those with this type of wisdom have a tendency to walk by sight (as opposed to "by faith" - II Cor. 5:7). They often have a difficult time seeing their need for God. Their "wisdom" may really be selfish pride, and that certainly won't make the church strong.
4. The elite or popular do not make the church strong.
Those who are elite or popular can be a great asset to the church if they use their influence properly. Let's face it, man is a "people following creature." We are easily influenced by others. That's especially true when one obtains great recognition in a particular field. A popular entertainer, athlete, or political figure who is a member of the church can advertise the church greatly--if he or she lives right! But, their great influence--if misused--is a terrible blemish on the church. Sadly, not many of the world's elite are ever members of the Lord's church. As Paul wrote - "Not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called" (I Cor. 1:26). Generally, the elite and popular are too wrapped up in this world to be excited about the next one. Today, as in the first century, it is still true that the common people hear and learn about Jesus gladly (cf. Mark 12:37).
5. Physical facilities do not make a strong church.
A good building is definitely a great asset, but it doesn't make the church strong! It is possible to have a run-down building that houses a very strong group of Christians, and it is possible to have the most elaborate and well-maintained building imaginable filled with doctrinal error and very weak, immature Christians. It's been said before: "A building is only a place to keep us cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and dry when it rains." That is true, but it doesn't take into account the thinking of people we are trying to reach today. The church building is essentially a tool of convenience, although the wise will maximize its use as a tool for good. Whether we like it or not, the lost are often attracted to impressive physical facilities (they will visit there before entering a poorly maintained structure). Thus, having a good building may provide some evangelistic opportunities. Nevertheless, although it is advisable to have an attractive facility, such does not really reflect upon how strong a church is.
Well, we've seen the negative side--what does not necessarily constitute a strong church. In our next feature lesson, we will consider the positive side. What does constitute real strength in a church? We will consider seven elements that are imperative for real congregational strength.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.