Many times over the years of pastoring a small, rural church that never really grew, I was told that “some plant, some water, but God gives the increase.”
This was told to me by people with larger churches, and the idea behind the quote is that large churches got large because God gave them the increase, implying that God likes them better, approves of their doctrine more, likes the pastor more, etc.
“Increase,” in most people’s minds, means numerical growth. This is why anytime a church grows people will say that “God has blessed them.” People also assume “increase” means larger buildings. Again I’ve been told, “God is really blessing us, we just built a new addition to the church.”
Although it’s possible “increase” means physical things (number of people, bank balance, square footage, etc.), I find it unlikely.
“Increase” is used here as an agricultural term. If you plant and water, a plant will grow. The point of a plant growing is not to see how big it can get, but to bring forth fruit. In fact, the bigger the plant the less energy goes into fruit production, that’s why pruning is a thing. The point of the farmer in planting and watering is to have something to eat. The New Testament emphasizes spiritual fruit quite a bit and rarely mentions physical fruit (number of people, bank balances, square footage, etc.).
Paul was the first one in Corinth. Apollos came next and watered the seeds that Paul put in the ground. Any spiritual growth that occurred from the efforts of these two men was credited to God. It wasn’t a competition between Paul and Apollos.
Many in Corinth thought it was a competition and took sides. “I’m of Apollos,” “I’m of Paul,” “I’m of Cephas.” They were loyal to the man who brought them to faith. Paul told them to knock it off! They were all on the same team and God gets the credit for anything spiritually beneficial.
Several verses after talking about God giving the increase, Paul says everyone will build on the foundation of the church laid by the apostles. All will give an account before God for how they built on it.
I take this passage not to be about our general stand before the Lord as a believer and our personal conduct (every man will give an account for every deed done in the body whether good or bad), but specifically about what they did in the church.
Lots of stuff goes on in churches. Many people think they did or are doing a great thing for the Lord. But after the fire of judgment, lots of this work will be burned up.
This has to mean that there will be many people who will do many worthless things in the church. Now, what would those worthless things be? What would be the things that won’t last for eternity?
Here are a couple things it might mean—number of people sitting in pews, bank balances, square footage, etc.
The fact that your church is bigger in people or square footage and busier and richer, doesn’t mean you did anything that will pass the test of God’s judgment.
Growth in the Bible always refers to spiritual growth. In fact, Paul is not happy with the church in Corinth. They brag because they are big and rich and yet Paul has a problem with pretty much everything they are doing.
The church in Corinth sounds a lot like the American church. We’re rich and proud and loyal to “our guys,” but we are also adulterous, immoral, spiritually illiterate, and carnal babes in Christ that are next to impossible to get spiritual things across to.
But they were sure proud of their awesomeness! Look how big and impressive we are! God has surely blessed us.
Paul disagreed and feared for their souls.
Some plant, some water, and God gives the increase. God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, and the preaching of the Word, causes people to grow in Christ and bring forth spiritual fruit.
The church in Corinth majored on the wrong things and took sides. They lost sight of the supremacy of Christ and instead gloried in the efforts of people and the material, countable results they saw.
But all that would be burned up. Growth in Christ lasts for eternity.
God gives the increase and the increase He gives is always spiritual growth into Christ. The New Testament is pretty clear that the more we grow into Christ-likeness, the more the world will hate us. Don’t count on Christ-likeness to draw in crowds and increased bank balances and square footage.
When God gives the increase people become like Christ. That’s what happens. Material or countable results are never mentioned in the New Testament as a thing a church should worry about. They are irrelevant.
Christ is the head. We all serve Him. Serve Him well as He is the Judge. Don’t have a ministry that ends up as an ash heap.
If you want to hear more about my ideas to not worry about growing your church, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!