Like every individual Christian, the Church’s greatest enemy is Satan. He lives and continuously strives to deceive God’s people, and to divert them from their God-given agenda and purpose. Though we could consider countless ways that Satan does this, in this article I’m going to focus on one: quantitative church growth.

The Church’s greatest enemy is Satan. He continuously strives to deceive God’s people.

I believe that one of Satan’s most effective deceptions is having local churches fixate on growth, preoccupying them with the business of gathering as many people as possible, regardless of how they do it. For Satan then tricks the Church into altering its gospel invitation, the content of biblical faith, and causes it to relax on discipline and meaningful discipleship. Satan delights in church growth that isn’t gospel driven and faith that superficial.

The Desire For Church Growth Is Dangerous

Now, let me be clear. As a living body, we should expect the Church to grow numerically. We must pray for conversions; for repentance and faith. Christ himself committed to gather all who are his (John 10:16). He does this visibly, in the present, within local churches. Thus we shouldn’t only expect growth but desire it. However, this is where the danger lurks.

Desiring to grow, some churches do whatever works to draw people.

Desiring to grow, some churches do whatever works to draw and keep people. These approaches include deliverance ministries and promises of health and wealth. Others turn the church into a kind of club, offering belonging. Then there are churches that solely seek to meet people’s needs: felt, material, real, or otherwise. Still others proclaim total tolerance, putting off any truths that might offend or upset. When seen as the key to church growth, each of these opens up the door to Satan’s deception.

Below I outline three areas where an undiscerning commitment to church growth is very often exploited by Satan: gospel invitation, Christian living, and church discipline.

1. Marketing The Gospel

The concern here is with our evangelistic message. What churches preach to draw people in. Satan deceives the church to measure and modify its gospel by the world’s standard. Not that being welcoming or warm are bad things, but when one makes that the be all and end all of its mission we’re in trouble! For the emphasis shifts from the gospel to what will attract crowds (2 Timothy 4:3).

Here are just three examples of stickers aiming at church growth and marketing:

  1. What problems do you have in your life? Come and they will be sorted!
  2. Come for a financial breakthrough.
  3. Meet new people and find community.

In each the aim is to tickle itching ears, to catch crowds by their desires. Make no mistake, this is an effective means of church growth. However, the result is churches made up of unbelievers wanting their problems fixed. Satan delights in these sorts of churches, where the gospel of reconciliation has been traded for something else (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our concern should never be drawing the masses no matter what. We have but one evangelistic message: Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

We have but one evangelistic message: Christ and him crucified

2. Diminishing Biblical Truth

Following from my previous point, when the gospel is no longer what gathers people into the church it won’t be long before we have to keep people with other things too. Satan’s agenda is not only to diminish the Church’s gospel message but also to distort its overall teaching (1 Corinthians 4:4). He delights in churches where the Bible is supplanted by speculation, conspiracies, and arguments (2 Timothy 2:23-24).

Satan knows that the gospel is the power both for salvation and spiritual growth. Thus he deceives the church with seemingly more immediate needs. And he suffocates the gospel with programmes, groups, and other services. Satan wants churches to be clear and focused on anything —whether it’s social justice, conspiracy theories, or prosperity —instead of the gospel. He tempts believers to be ashamed of the gospel and go in search of teaching that is more relevant (Galatians 1:6-7).

If we bring people in with a lie, we must keep them with others.

But just as the gospel is the heart of our proclamation so the Bible must be central to our teaching. The gospel that ushered us to God is the same gospel that maintains our fellowship with God. Thus, in whatever context and whatever challenges we face, the gospel must remain central to all that we do. In every place, even in remote villages, we should never think that the gospel isn’t enough. Sadly, if we bring people in with a lie, we must keep them with others.

3. Minoring In Church Discipline

Finally, Satan doesn’t want churches to practice meaningful discipline. He also knows that tolerance is the song of our age. So he deceives us into thinking that discipline is bad for church growth. It appears unloving, inhospitable, and judgmental. Surely a more attractive church is one that minors in sin and discipline. Thus instead of rebukes leading to repentance, Satan wants us to relax in moral matters. He shifts our focus from biblical membership to metrics.

Discipline isn’t against church growth but actually causes genuine growth.

Only, imagine a world without discipline. Imagine if our courts and justice systems turned a blind eye to all the crimes. Just as the health of a nation isn’t merely measured by its population, so a church’s isn’t tied to its numeric size.

God purposes church discipline for the sake of holiness among his people (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1). Thus it isn’t against church growth but actually causes genuine growth. For God uses it to prune his people, dealing with the sins that disturbs our fellowship with God and one another. The church that doesn’t practice discipline is a church deceived by Satan. For God is concerned with how we live and love one another.

Don’t Give The Devil An Opening

These three areas are crucial for churches, because ultimately they determine their standing. And we can summarise them into one: the gospel. That we speak, stand, and remain in the gospel is vital. We must preach, prioritise, and practice it in our churches. For when the Church becomes loose in these areas, Satan gains an opening.

Today many people are of the opinion that the Church falls short if it isn’t addressing things like systemic racism, social justice, and poverty. However, the Church can only address these matters faithfully as it stands on, and is shaped by God’s gospel.