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!