In church, we often think of “growth” as if it’s new people from the community coming to our churches, studying, and being baptized as members. This is certainly a way to gain new members and is the main way we tally growth and added numbers. But this isn’t the only way for a church to grow, and honestly doesn’t happen that often.
The quicker way, the more consistent way, is genuine physical growth. As our members have children of their own, whether through adoption or physical birth, our churches naturally grow.
It may sound funny to say that the best kind of church growth is having babies, but it is a super important area of growth and outreach we often overlook. Why do we only look outside the church and try so hard to entice people into coming to our churches when we can’t even keep our people and entice them into bringing their children to Sabbath school? It’s often because it seems more exciting to bring a new person into the church, to add this person to our numbers. But we are missing out on a chance to incorporate more people into our churches and teach the next generation about the love of Jesus.
I had a professor who used to say, “We don’t baptize just a father or mother, we baptize the whole family.” He was speaking both literally and metaphorically. When we baptize a child, when we teach a child of the love of Jesus, they become a living witness to their whole family about Jesus. They go home from Sabbath school and share what they learned, sing the songs they sang, and show the crafts they made — they share it at home. It may not immediately bring the whole family to Jesus or to church, but it can often have a huge effect on a whole family.
I have seen, time and time again, people who haven’t been attending church — maybe they did when they were younger, but they haven’t for years — they have children of their own, and suddenly they appear at church, bringing their children to Sabbath school. They don’t always stay for church services, but they come week after week to take their kids to Sabbath school. Maybe it’s because it’s free childcare for an hour; maybe it’s because they feel guilty for their absence from church. The main reason I believe they bring their children is their own fond memories of going to Sabbath school as children themselves. They want their children to learn about Jesus.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). I used to hear this verse and think it was valuable but not necessarily true. Now as an adult and a new parent myself, I believe it is true. As a child we are taught things, and they stick with us. We may wander, we may act as though things we learned haven’t stuck in our memory, but the truth is that they have remained in our hearts.
Teaching a child about the love of Jesus is something that will remain in their minds and hearts their whole life. They may wander away, they may resist, they may even become obstinate and rebel against God and what they were taught. But I firmly believe it remains in their minds and hearts. And when they are older and have their own families, it often returns to the front of their minds. As they imagine their children growing up, and they look at the world around them, they find they want their children to know the love of Jesus and have Him in their lives.
Let us not, as church members and leaders, fail to see the amazing potential and the most immediate growth potential for our churches — our own families. With each new life, God brings a chance for growth into His kingdom.
It isn’t about membership; it’s about teaching the next generation about who He is, His love for humanity and His desire to save all who would love and follow Him!
Let us grow by sharing Jesus with the world, beginning at home with the children we have ourselves. Let us meet them as they come through the doors of our churches.
Natashia McVay team pastors with her husband, Marshall, helping members reach university students in Moscow, Idaho and Pullman, Washington, United States. The original version of this commentary was posted on the Northwest Adventists news site.