GOD'S PATTERN FOR CHURCH GROWTH

William Kilgore



1987: I was sitting in a missions course entitled PERSPECTIVES ON THE WORLD CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT. It was, and I imagine still is, a true learning experience with much good material.

It was during this class that I learned of C. Peter Wagner and others who were pushing "principles for church growth." As I sat and listened at that time, I liked some of what I heard - but other parts concerned me. I didn't think much of it at the time, but I remember thinking of several problems that could arise around such ideas.

They have.

2002: As I sit here typing this, the "Church Growth Movement" is in full swing. Today, the principles spawned by Donald McGavran and popularized by C. Peter Wagner are praised by an odd assortment of strange bedfellows: Paul Cho, Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and others.
Such principles, to varying degrees, are fast becoming the norm for evangelical churches of every denomination. Some "church growthers" are men of God who want to see people touched for the Kingdom, while others are wolves in sheep's clothing who distort the Gospel.

And that is part of the problem.

What are we communicating about the Gospel when we endorse "principles" that virtually *anyone* can use effectively? When Paul Cho claims that the same spiritual "force" "tapped into" by Buddhists should be accessed by Christians -- should we still look to him to learn about "church growth"? When Robert Schuller reduces sin to "negative thinking," speaks of Muslims as spiritual brothers, tells a Unity School of Christianity (a cult) audience that they understand his message "better than evangelicals," preaches a "gospel" that sounds like rehashed Napolean Hill teachings -- should we flock to the Crystal Cathedral in order to learn some "church growth principles"? If the answer is yes, then perhaps we should also be looking to the Mormons; after all, they are one of the fastest growing "Christian" churches in America!

While the Bible urges us to contend for the faith (Jude 3), certain segments of the Church Growth Movement subvert Christian obedience to that command. The Apostles warned about false teachers who would "draw many" -- but much of what goes on today drools over the "many" and ignores the false teaching! One has to wonder if the Apostles ever learned "church growth principles" from heretical teachers.

Somehow I doubt it very seriously.

There are other problems as well. Even those "church growthers" whom I have some respect for inevitably seem to water things down.

For instance, materials from one large church actually make the point that "the Bible never asks us to share our faith." While it is true that the three words "share your faith" do not appear in scripture, the same can be said for any number of things that the Bible nevertheless TEACHES us to do. God asks us to preach the Gospel, and "believing the Gospel" is synonymous with "obedience to THE FAITH" (cf. Rom. 1:5). We are told to "stand fast in THE FAITH" (1 Cor. 16:13). Paul certainly shared the Faith (Gal. 1:23). The Faith is none other than "the faith of the gospel" (Phil'p. 1:27). Continuing "in the faith" is equal to not being "moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:23).

OF COURSE we must "share our faith" -- the Faith is Jesus Christ and all that He has taught us. In Acts, we consistently witness the early Christians "sharing their faith." To point out that the three words "share your faith" do not appear in our Bibles is nonsensical and can serve no valid purpose since the Bible quite clearly identifies "the Faith" with the Gospel itself. Such claims appear to be attempts, whether purposeful or accidental, to strip content from the Gospel.

Another large church teaches that "good apologetics" has nothing to do with providing answers. This is a bit ridiculous since the word "apologia," which is where "apologetics" comes from, carries with it that very meaning! Yet "apologetics," according to this particular group, actually means psychoanalyzing the questioner to find the "real" reason "behind" their question. Too bad Paul didn't realize this on Mars Hill (cf. Acts 17) -- he surely would have had more converts that day! What was he thinking? Instead of engaging those philosophers with real answers, he should have discerned that they simply suffered from "loneliness" and a "lack of peace."

A rather popular perspective today is to present Jesus as the Super-Fixer for life's problems. Are you lonely? "Try Jesus." Depressed? "Try Jesus." Poor? "Try Jesus." Sometimes the problem of human sinfulness is never even mentioned. Jesus becomes a sort of Heavenly Psychiatrist who offers a "free trial" -- just try Jesus and, if you're not disappointed, you can sign on permanently.

This is *not* the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, such a "gospel" works in any context. For instance, singer Tina Turner was a battered wife, depressed and miserable. Did she "try Jesus"? No. Instead, she "tried Buddha." Today she sells Buddhism on the same ticket that some of the church-growthers are urging us to sell Jesus on!

Such false distinctions and erroneous reasoning are designed to make the Task more palatable for believers and the Message more palatable to unbelievers. This is done, probably unintentionately, by using a form of double-speak like the examples cited above.

There are many other problems that are mixed in with the good in the Church Growth Movement. But by far the most serious issue concerns the idea of "church growth" itself.

Chuck Colson recently commented that churches are expected "to deliver a certain thing ... which is church growth, church success, and -- to put that in worldly terms -- to get more people in the door. They don't ask if it's a good church, whether they are discipling and equipping people, how many ministries they have in the community, or whether or not they're evangelizing. The first question is, 'How big is it?'"

There is a definite preoccupation with numerical success in today's evangelicalism. Looking at Acts 2 and the count of "3,000" does not settle the issue. Here's why. The Holy Spirit gave an inspired account of all who became believers after Peter's sermon. In contrast, what we do is count people based on some outward act -- walking an aisle, praying "the prayer," membership, and so forth. We cannot know if such individuals are truly saved or not. Worse yet, I really think that sometimes we don't care -- as long as we've snagged them in our net.

There is also an overdependance on methodology. Don't get me wrong -- there is nothing wrong with researching demographics and trying new things. But do we really understand the growth of the local church when we believe that simply "finding the right method" will do the trick? We bring in Christian rappers, jugglers, clowns, acrobats ... and "whatever works" we hang on to. It's called pragmatism, and it is a horrible philosophy. Pragmatism knows no bounds, and will go as far as need be until something "works." It's a dangerous playground, pragmatism. By the time something does "work," the pragmatist is so elated that all discernment is thrown out the window.

Recently, Os Guinness has observed that "trendiness" in the name of "relevance" has subverted the Gospel. Yet even Christian statistician George Barna has discovered that trendiness isn't having the effect that some would have us believe it is. To echo the late Francis Schaeffer, what is needed is not merely "relevance," but REVOLUTION.

There is also an underdependance on God. I wish that anyone who reads this -- whatever your opinion, from whatever denomination you call home -- would write me and explain to me when Christians stopped believing that God's Word possesses *power*? This is taught explicitly in scripture time and time again, yet we act as if it's not true. And what about the priority of prayer? No, not simply "prayer," but the PRIORITY of prayer?

Who grows the Church? That is the fundamental question. Dr. Dan Reiland, himself a church-growther, came to some sobering realizations. Here are the three things that his own experience and God taught him:

"+ We have a whole lot less control over what happens in the local church than we think we do. God is in control.

+ Our best wisdom and natural power pales compared to God's wisdom and supernatural power.

+ God is calling us to a greater dependency upon Him to build His church" (from "Pray for Your Church").

Amen.

I pray that churches all over evangelicalism will recover the power inherent in scripture, a realization that usually manifests itself in expositional preaching. That words like "theology" and "doctrine" will cease to scare people and we will once again think about God as He has revealed we should. That entertaining jingles with no substance will cease to be regarded as worship, and be replaced with repentance and tears. That it will no longer be necessary for us to draw people in because we are all willing to go *out* and win others. That we will begin to realize that our new tradition - pragmatism - is no better, and far more dangerous, than the stuffy traditions we left behind. That we will add the knowledge of the Holy to our zeal, and power to our form of godliness.

Yeah, I know ... it's a tall order. But our God is a big God. A friend of mine has the vision of uniting the best of the Church Growth Movement with the best of the "Word churches." I pray daily that God will grant him success and that it will be contagious.

This comes from an e mail sent out by William Kilgore. William's site is
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