When you think about church growth, what comes to mind? Relevant, topical messages, captivating and exciting kids programs, or a great worship band? All of these things are apart of the melting pot of pragmatism that many see as a solution to growing a church, and several books have been written explaining what the next great idea is that will bring about church growth. While these ideas may increase attendance, giving, and although a church may become more popular, that does not mean that true Church growth has taken place. True church growth is not a growth in attendance. It is not a growth in giving. True church growth happens when disciples of Jesus are making disciples of Jesus, which is the very mission of His followers (Matt. 28:18-20). It is when a sinner is rescued from darkness and brought into the Kingdom, by the power of the Spirit, through the proclamation of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16; 10:13,17; Titus 3:4-5). Every follower of Jesus is to obey the words of our Master, however there are certain things that must take place for the Spirit to work through us in our efforts to advance the Kingdom. When we look at Acts 9:31, we see what is present in the lives of followers of Christ when Church growth and multiplication takes place.
“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
A Simple Formula
In the first part of this verse, we are given an indicative statement about the church, that is the believers, in their various local bodies, throughout the regions of Judea, Galilee and Samaria. We are told that they had peace, and were being built up, or growing in maturity. The reality of this peace among them resulted in what they had heard about the conversion of Saul (Cf. Acts 9:1-30; Gal. 1:22-24). Though the church had been persecuted by this man and others, they were reminded that God was at work in the midst of it all, even transforming the hearts of those who hate them. Being at peace after hearing and seeing the power of God at work, grew and built up these believers.
The next part of this verse tells us what these believers were seeing. The end of the verse tells us that the church multiplied, however prior to that verb, we are given two adverbs. When did the church multiply? When it was walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. These believers, who were continually being edified and strengthened in the Lord were acting upon what was taking place in their lives. They were walking, or living their lives in the fear, or reverence of the Lord. When one has reverence for someone or something, it affects how they live. They think differently, talk differently, and act differently. To be walking in the fear of the Lord is to live a Christ-centered life. G. Campbell Morgan further expounds this thought.
“This meant that its (the church’s) life was yielded to His dominion, and itself was forevermore proclaiming His authority, and insisting upon it. It meant that also that its life was at the disposal of His suffering ones; as it entered into the cosmos, and placed itself against the wounds and weariness of humanity, touching the degradation of life everywhere, so as to heal it.”
The collective church in this passage lived life daily centered around the Lordship of Christ, which includes going outside the comfort and security of life to those who are destitute and in need of the Savior. If true church multiplication and growth is to happen, we must be committed to Christ and His mission.
True church growth and multiplication occurs when we are walking and living life Christ-centered, but it cannot be separated from walking in the comfort, or encouragement, of the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts, from the very beginning, the success of the mission of the Church is dependent upon the Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus Himself assures His followers of this before He ascends to the Father. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Followers of Christ will be Christ’s witnesses throughout the earth, but only through the power of the Spirit. He is the “Comforter”, meaning He has come alongside to aid us (Jn 14:26). Apart from the Spirit, no growth will take place. We cannot bring someone to Christ. Only through the work of the Spirit will that take place. The church walked in this comfort and encouragement, seeing the transformation the Spirit had brought about in the life of Saul. While the church was being scattered, the Holy Spirit was still regenerating and making alive dead sinners. They lived in this reality, knowing that the fruit that comes as we labor on mission is not our own doing, but the Spirit’s, for He alone gives life to the spiritually dead (Jn. 6:63).
Notice that these believers did not create any lofty programs or come up with new, innovative, ideas. Why? Because they lived life concerned mainly with Christ and His mission at the forefront of everything they did, and they were confident that God was at work, and that He alone would produce true fruit out of their labors. May we not concern ourselves with being creative and innovative, but may we concern ourselves with living on mission, and having a radical confidence and dependence on the Holy Spirit to do great things. We must simply be of the mindset William Carey advocates. “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” May this be so.
 Morgan, G. Campbell. The Acts of the Apostles. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company. 1924, 252.