Matthew 16:18, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Jesus told his disciples not to despair after he left them, because he was sending a comforter, the Holy Spirit, and that even then they would be better off, they would do works “greater than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). The Holy Spirit that was promised would indeed come after Jesus ascended into Heaven, and it is the Holy Spirit that drives the evangelistic work of the early church and the growth of churches all over the ancient world, to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That same Holy Spirit, that same Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11), does propel the growth of the church all over the world today. Jesus is head of the church (Eph. 1&2), and we are the body. For all our efforts, it is the Lord who grows his church. And that church just isn’t going anywhere.
There are many alarmists ringing unnecessary alarm bells about the decline of the church, when what we’re really seeing is a decline of nominal Christianity in America. According to researcher Ed Stetzer, “The truth is that, yes, there is decline among self-identified Christians in America. According to the latest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), the number of self-professing Christians is down 11 percent over two decades. But, that same ARIS study also revealed an actual rise in the number of evangelicals.” Evangelical churches continue to thrive in the United States, and look at the rise of the Christian faith in China, Africa, and South America. Jesus continues to grow his church. We have within us the most powerful multiplication app the world has ever seen: The Holy Spirit.
A winnowing is not the same as a willowing, and for the church, we see this as a positive: we don’t need to assume that our culture will sustain its Christianese, or that our civil institutions will reflect the values of the church – they haven’t done so in a long time. The church will continue to be the church, because Christ is at its head, whose powers make kings of the earth look infantile.
But what that means for us, the church, is that a recognition is necessary also: don’t fall into this malaise about the church, but be zealous for the church. We want your commitment to it, not for the purpose of filling buildings, but rather for the fulfilling of the great commission: to be the church universal, making disciples, whose impact changes cultures and communities. Be active. Be a toe in the body because we need a toe. Just like anything we do as the church, be fervent in the church, work hard at it, and then step back and praise God for what he has done. We are never spiritual robots, but the living, breathing, being of God’s body for the life of the world. Jesus loves church planting. He’s been doing it for a few thousand years.