Jesus gave the secret to church growth when He said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2). Ellen White affirms, “All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 109). In these passages, which reveal the good news of multitudes of souls hungering for truth and light, we also discover a sobering reality. The reason a great harvest is not realized is that the laborers are few. The reason men and women all over the world are not flooding into the church is that they are “waiting only to be gathered in.” There are a great number of people in our world in whom the Lord has already prepared the soil of the heart. Through life experiences, the workings of providence, or our own friendship and labors, they have become open to the truth. Yet the sad reality taught by Jesus, and affirmed in the inspired counsel of Ellen White, is that the number of those open to receiving Bible studies is greater than the number of those willing to give them.
We might call this condition of things a Bible study bottleneck. In manufacturing, a bottleneck is the part of the production process with the slowest rate of output. Companies invest significant time and money attempting to improve the bottleneck because they know that the only way to increase total output is to increase the rate of output in that particular area. In the evangelism process, the bottleneck is usually Bible studies. While many church members volunteer to serve in a wide variety of soil preparation ministries—felt needs ministries and community outreach initiatives, only a small percentage are generally involved in cultivating and harvesting with Bible studies. This means that we can keep increasing our labors in every other area, but as long as only a few are giving regular Bible studies, we will never see a significant increase in church membership. That’s right, the secret to growth in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is simple, old, tried-and-true Bible studies! When great numbers in our churches begin to take hold of this vital ministry, it will open the bottleneck and our growth will be exponential.
Bible Studies & Christ’s Method
Some might push back on the idea that Bible studies are the secret to church growth, asserting that the true missing ingredient in our witness to the world is “Christ’s method alone.” Let’s take a closer look at this oft-invoked council and see what connection it has to our Bible study bottleneck.
In The Ministry of Healing, p. 143, Ellen White pointed to Jesus as the model soul-winner: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’” While nothing about sharing Bible truth is specifically mentioned in this oft-quoted passage, a closer look at the context reveals that this was nevertheless the ultimate goal of Christ’s ministry.
In the paragraphs that follow the description of Christ’s method, Ellen White writes, “We should ever remember that the object of the medical missionary work is to point sin-sick men and women to the Man of Calvary. … And personal ministry often prepares the way for this.” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 144).
As an example of Christ’s method, Ellen White tells us of the medical missionary who “prepares the way” for the gospel. She goes on to say, “Missionary nurses who care for the sick and relieve the distress of the poor will find many opportunities to pray with them, to read to them from God’s word, and to speak of the Saviour. …
Many have no faith in God and have lost confidence in man. But they appreciate acts of sympathy and helpfulness. … They see that God cares for them, and they are prepared to listen as His word is opened” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 144-145).
We find from the context of the well-known passage about “Christ’s method alone” that the eventual goal of medical missionary work, or any soil preparation ministry, is to “point sin-sick men and women to the Man of Calvary.” Ellen White explains in another place, “When properly conducted, the health work is an entering wedge, making a way for other truths to reach the heart” (Counsels on Health, p. 434). Preparing the soil with compassionate ministry, as vital as this component may be, is still only the first part of the evangelism process—the “entering wedge, making a way for other truths to reach the heart.” What must follow is the often labor-intensive phase of pointing people to Christ, as revealed in the truths of the Bible, and leading them to accept and follow Him. In other words, what must follow are Bible studies!
Now let us consider one more description of Christ’s method of winning souls: “From Christ’s methods of labor we may learn many valuable lessons. He did not follow merely one method; in various ways He sought to gain the attention of the multitude; and then He proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel” (Evangelism, p. 123). Here we discover that Christ used various methods in order to prepare the soil, or to “gain the attention” of the people. Once the attention was gained, however, the next step in Christ’s method of soul-winning was always the same. It simply says that Jesus “proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel.” Jesus’ method of evangelism doesn’t exist without this vital component, because there is no substitute for sharing the truth.
Friends, we absolutely need more of “Christ’s method” in our soul-winning labor! We should not only look for but create opportunities to minister to people’s temporal needs as an “entering wedge” to “proclaim to them the truths of the Gospel.” May the Lord give us each a heart to win souls as Jesus did.