Monday, January 08, 2007

Random thoughts about the church growth movement (Part 2)

Why did reading this church growth magazine cause me to feel discouraged? I am not sure that I fully know why. Perhaps there are several reasons. I will mention three of them that come to mind.

First of all, it seems church growth is being reduced to a mere science: just apply the correct methods and you’ll have growth. I cannot escape the feeling that the underlying belief is that church growth is merely a byproduct of marketing technique, human talent and ingenuity. From the bit of reading I did in this magazine, I did not receive the impression that there was anything remotely supernatural to church growth. In fairness, I did not read this entire magazine, and right now, I do not have that issue of the magazine in front of me; I’m writing from my recollection of the reading. However, the impression I was left with was that church growth has nothing to do with the power of God and has everything to do with the application of the correct methods and techniques.

I find this disturbing for a few important reasons. First of all, this philosophy of church growth, to my mind, bears no resemblance to what I read in the Bible. The book of Acts is the historical record of the beginnings of the Church. When I read Acts, the picture I come away with bears no resemblance to Willow Creek or Saddleback or any of the more well-known “megachurches” that are idolized by the church growth movement. The Church in Acts wasn’t seeking relevance, rather, it was counter-cultural: It cut against the grain, and aroused the ire of the surrounding culture.

When I read Acts, I don’t see people coming to the Church, grinning from ear to ear, saying, “Isn’t this a warm and friendly church? I do so enjoy the upbeat music, and, you know, Pastor Peter’s sermons are so positive and humorous, and our children are so excited about the children’s ministry, and I just love the coffee they serve…!” On the contrary, when people came to the first Church, they came crying, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

Can you imagine the Church in Acts being described as “fun”? The apostles are arrested for proclaiming Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:17-42). Ananias and his wife Sapphira drop dead because of lying to God in church (Acts 5:1-10). Stephen is stoned because of what he is preaching (Acts 6:8-7:60). If the Church had any “fun”, we don’t know about it because God didn’t bother to have it recorded in Scripture.

The preaching of the Church recorded in Acts, apparently, wasn’t very “seeker sensitive”. For example, note the reactions to Peter’s sermons on separate occasions: “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37), “greatly annoyed” (Acts 4:2), and “they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (Acts 5:33). Stephen’s sermon elicited a similar response: “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). By church growth standards, I’d have to say that Peter and Stephen needed to improve their styles of communication, be less “judgmental” and more sensitive to their audience’s “felt needs”.

I think the reason there is little resemblance between the “successful” churches of the church growth movement and the Church in the book of Acts is because, frankly, unbiblical methods and techniques have been adopted by these churches in order to manufacture growth.

(To be continued…)

1 comment:

Andrew Chapman said...

Right. I am reminded of a Bob Dylan song (I shall be free). President Kennedy asks Bob how to make the country grow, Bob says Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, country'll grow. A little yeast leavens the lump. Cancers grow.

I fear that many will be added without being saved. This is worse than nothing at all, since now they may believe they are saved, and so be less open to the gospel of faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from dead works.

True growth is biblical and is a result of miracles and prayer and holiness and love.

Shalom, Andrew