The Problem with most Church Growth Paradigms V

God wants his lost sheep found? Of course, He does. However, if God is sovereign, and is truly God, are His sheep lost? This is of theological debate, but this is a Biblical and right emphasis for motivating the church. So far, so good!

Our choices of method must be based on fact. Yes, it is. However, what are the facts? Usually it is in the following of categories and not in His Word! Not so good!

Pour your resource into winning channels. What is working in one church must also work in yours. This is not true, because most churches fail under these principles! Numbers tell us that God is with us, but this is not true either! This is also not Biblical! Numbers can be misleading, and what we may see as a winner, God sees as pathetic and foolishness. Read the book of Proverbs! God looks for faith, devotion, love, and obedience, which are all missing from this church growth model! Strong leadership never means a strong willed personality, but a servant’s heart after God’s heart, which is contagious to others. That is God’s winner!

People like to stay with their own people: This is as far from the Bible as you can get without setting up alters to Satan! Yes, we do like to stay with our own people, but this is part of our fallen sinful nature that we are to change, not encourage! This is very bad!

Pragmatic research & Scientific research: Yes, we should look to good research so we can be the best at our programs and outreach (this is what we do at the Schaeffer Institute). However, let this never distract us from Biblical precepts. Always consider what God calls us to, not just what people want!

People movements: Go where the people are, yes, we are! However, we are to be the salt and light without being taken in and affected negatively by those people. We are to never take the philosophy and trends of the culture, rework them, and put a Jesus stamp on them when they are against Jesus’ teachings and character!

Social networks: This is one good aspect. We need to strive to be better at being a people, at modeling Christ-like behaviors, so we can be the people of God in the world!

Receptivity: YES! Christians can be cruel gossipers and filled with hypocrisy, and who do a much better job at turning people away from the gospel than a legion of demons. This is also a good aspect, one on which we have much work to do! 

Priority: Whose priority? This is perhaps the biggest problem in the North American Church. Our priorities are all skewed, chasing trends and ignoring our Savior and call! Are we being poured out to Christ, or to our way of thinking? Are we in church leadership roles to glorify God or make a name for ourselves? What are our true priorities and are they what God has directed?

Purpose:

…..Whose purpose? Is it God’s or yours?  

Did you notice what is missing? It is God and His purpose! Do you see what is emphasized? It is mostly unbiblical, slap-in-the-face-of-our-Lord drivel! Yes there are some good ideas and place we all need to grow. However, you cannot build His church by your means! All that you will accomplish is what a dog accomplishes when he chases his own tail. It may be fun and amusing for a while, but nothing is accomplished. It is good for a dog, but detrimental for a church! While we need to realize that God does want His church to grow, growth is found in spiritual maturity and in contagious obedience, sharing our Christian faith with others around us. Good research is essential as it can help us make our programs and paradigms better, but these are to be useful tools, not the point of our devotions and emphases. Of course we are to make people feel comfortable and at home, but do not forget that it is all about building the Kingdom of God and glorifying Him! This prime directive is absent from most church growth principles!

As a church growth consultant, I also propagated some of those principles for many years. I glanced over Scripture and conformed God’s Word to my ideas and those of others instead of really bowing to His Word. I shutter to think I asked questions to church boards such as, “Is the pastor a leader and not just a teacher? If not, you have to get rid of him because you must have a leader.” “Does the pastor really want the church to grow? Is he willing to pay the price for it?” I did not ask questions such as, “Is the pastor growing in his faith and practice, spending quality time in the Word for himself outside of sermon and teaching preparation?” “Is the pastor surrendered to the Word?” “Is the pastor following the precepts of 1 Timothy 3:1-9 and Titus 1:5-8?” What is real church growth? I believe Campus Crusade for Christ nailed it, as we will see in a bit.

 

The Problem with most Church Growth Paradigms IV

Do you have a hard time with what I am saying, does it go against what you have been taught or have presumed? Then, see for yourself.

What are the Premises and Principles of Church Growth?  

The premises that have been the heart of the church growth movement are four;

….that God wants his lost sheep found;  

…that our choices of methods must be based on fact;  

….we must pour our resources into winning channels,  

….and people like to stay with their own people — within cultural identities.  

The principles are sevenfold: pragmatic research, scientific research, people movements, social networks, receptivity, priority, and purpose.”

(quoted from, “Church Growth Principles at a Glance” which appeared in Ministry Advantage, Vol.7 No. 4, the hallmark and flagship newsletter of the church growth world)

Most of the principles seem sound – or do they? I used to think-so. Look carefully at each of the principles. Can you honestly see Christ teaching them? Can you find them in Scripture? 

Good luck with that!

The Problem with most Church Growth Paradigms III

Having studied under McGavran and his protégés, I was amused on how often they would passionately express their theories, then a few years later radically change them and passionately extort them, and then change them again and so forth, while the truths of the Word remained stable. I followed their folly, as I changed and kept up with the latest church growth jargon and theories, only to see the churches that applied them fail. We changed the theories while ignoring the Word. The Bible was used as a mere buffet as we chose passages out of context to fit our thinking instead of going to Scripture and defusing what God calls us to do.

Another big mistake made was the concentration and overzealous adoration of numbers over discipleship. A bigger church meant a better church.

This is far from true. A better church is based on the spiritual maturity of its leadership and members and what they are doing with their call. A good church base is in the solid teachings of God’s Word, spiritual growth, and the response to both our Lord and to people. I have been to many mega churches that attract people because of the dynamics of the pastor and the entertainment of the service, but they were immature and undiscipled, a very sad sight. On the other hand, I have been to small churches that are on fire with the Word and their call from the Lord, growing in their faith. There are many reasons a church can grow that may not be from God’s blessings.

The perceived success and result of most of the church growth drivel in my 20 years of experience was in “sheep swapping.” People would flow to the “church of what was happening now (comedian Flip Wilson),” unconcerned with personal growth and obedience to Christ. As a result, these churches were not growing in the Biblical sense. I have seen churches that did not apply our methodologies, yet grew huge and influential like Calvary Chapel, the Friends movement in Southern California, and Saddleback (in its early years). Thus, the church growth community considered it a success when a particular church grew under their influence; yet, it was usually an ignominy and an anomaly to those who grew without their influence.  

Most of those churches grew because the neighborhood grew and they were in the right place in the right time amongst disease-ridden churches that had isolated themselves.

The surrounding churches were not growing because they did not want to, and the people were not growing spiritually. They then flocked to the growing church, even though that church may not have been doing things God’s way. These have been successes in church growth, but only because the other churches were doing nothing. There are also those churches that were stagnating, and God used the church growth concepts to awaken them and cause them to re-examine themselves. If the big successful churches were not planted in massive growth areas, but rather in sections of the country where there was little to no population growth, they may have not survived. If Saddleback was planted in Huntington Beach or Pasadena, or anywhere in northern California instead of the massive growth areas of southern Orange County and Northern San Diego County, where the churches already in that area were mostly dead, then we would have never heard of it! A better wake up job can be found in Romans 13:11-14 rather than a CEO business approach. Incidentally, most of the church growth originations went under in the 90’s and most of those assumptions then dissipated. Only now are they reprising their ugly heads.

 

The Problem with most Church Growth Paradigms II

A Brief Overview of Church Growth  

In 1955 Donald McGavran (1897-1990), a third generation career missionary, wrote The Bridges of God. His basic assumption was that God wanted His church to grow, which, of course, He does. McGavran noticed that most churches were somehow opposed to this thinking. So, he focused his life on teaching the church that God indeed wants His church to grow. He was a great visionary, and father of the modern church growth movement. He founded the distinguished School of World Mission at Fuller Seminary in 1965. He also passionately woke up a complacent American church to see the vital role of evangelism and missions, saying, “We must evangelize out to the fringes.” Which meant we should not leave anyone out, even those in the very far off and rural places of the world. In the area of church growth he asked and then applied two basic questions, which laid the basis for the church growth models: Why does the church grow in some situations, and not in others? What lessons can be learned from Scripture and contemporary experience to help churches to grow?

These are two great questions that we all must ask and seek. His questions were correct, but his error was in his methods. Instead of doing careful exegesis on Scripture, he spent most of his energies researching trends, and comparing churches to other churches. He came up with some very unbiblical ideas such as the “Homogeneous Unit Principle” which states a church is to focus on its own culture and race, and ignore the others. One of his primary followers went so far to say, “Segregation is a desired end. (Wagner)” A very arrogant and prejudicial stance. He was a great man, but he was a missionary and not a theologian, and he did not have a good working knowledge of Scripture, which we can ascertain by examining his writings.

He based his observations and theories on observed paradigms regardless of Scriptural precepts. People who came after him furthered his error by applying business principles and comparative reasoning over Scripture and what God calls us to do. We cannot always compare one church to another, because God may have a different call and purpose for them as opposed to another church (1 Cor. 2:9). Nor, can you compare human reasoning over and against Scripture; we are instead to compare our research to see if it is on par with Biblical precepts. McGavran and others would have been far more successful if they had placed the emphases on Scriptural principles and not on comparative thinking.

I am not attacking what they are trying to do, but how they are going about it!

 

The Problem with most Church Growth Paradigms I

The Church Growth movement has made major contributions to the Church over the years. It has also given us some major problems!  

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:9-12 

This series will be all about church growth, the good, the bad, the ugly and what is biblical that you can use….

The Church Growth movement has made major contributions to the Church over the years. It has opened the minds and challenged the perceptions and approaches of many church pastors and leaders. It challenged us to be better, to rethink how and why we do things, and to improve the way we do church, especially in the areas of evangelism and missions. These aspects have been good, but there has been a negative aspect in church growth thinking that has done the opposite to the church. This thinking has caused churches to close themselves off to the people God brings them, concentrate on research over Scripture, chase trends to the detriment of what God calls us to, and concentrate on pleasing people and not God.

Most of what has been written in the last 40 years of church growth has, at best, fallen short of what Scripture directs and, at worst, is an abomination. The focus has been on manmade principles defused from business paradigms and comparative thinking. These principles have not always been based on what God clearly defined in His Word. Yes, there have been some good ideas and some of the church growth principles are from Biblical principles. What we need to do is define what the Scripture teaches – the wheat- and then get rid of the garbage – the weeds.

I am not attacking what they are trying to do, but how they are going about it!