Monday, January 08, 2007

Random thoughts about the church growth movement (Part 3)

I was also dismayed that there is more than a little hint that growth (i.e., more people) indicates God’s favor and blessing upon a church. Strongly implied is the belief that small churches lack God’s blessing and are, therefore, inferior. I think this is an insult to small churches all over this country…and the world, for that matter. There are churches where the gospel is preached by godly men, where the people are sincere in their faith and loving which, for reasons known only to God, will never grow to be large. For instance, some churches, because of their remote location or settled populace, will never attract new people because there rarely are any new people to attract. For many reasons, some churches will never grow to be large. It does not automatically follow that these churches lack the blessing of God.
The same thing can be said about pastors and preachers. Not every man that God calls will draw the crowds of a Whitefield or a Spurgeon when he preaches. Some may labor faithfully for years, like Noah, and see few, if any, converts. Others may face constant rejection like the prophet Jeremiah. The point is: God’s favor and blessing upon a church or ministry does not necessarily translate into numerical growth.

Secondly, there is more than one way to grow. Not all growth is numerical. There is so much focus on numbers, but a far greater concern should be, is there spiritual growth? Isn’t a small church, where Christians are being faithfully taught from God’s Word, lovingly discipled by their brothers and sisters in Christ, actively learning and living out the faith in the routine of daily life, and growing in the likeness of Christ—isn’t such a church also growing, because it is filled with Christians who are themselves growing?

I noticed something interesting when I viewed the online version of this magazine. On the webpage, I noticed a link to the “Top 100 Fastest Growing U.S. Churches”. Looking at the list for 2006, I saw the names of several churches I’ve heard about. Among these several churches, I recognized churches that could (charitably?) be characterized as being on the doctrinal “fringe” of Christianity. I recognized other churches that probably, to most Christians, represent a more mainstream, biblical version of Christianity. Here’s my point: size of church apparently has nothing to do with the doctrine taught or not taught. A church could be wallowing in heresy, but still gain recognition as one of the “Top 100 Fastest Growing U.S. Churches”. The implication of the "Top 100" list is that these churches are successful, blessed churches where God’s Spirit is at work bringing phenomenal growth. But, if false doctrine is being taught, believed and embraced, can all the numerical growth really be of God? I can’t see how that is possible. It seems to me that it could not be God’s blessing upon a church when God is being dishonored by false teaching.

I’ve known of churches that were growing numerically but whose leaders had sin issues. I used to struggle with trying to reconcile the numerical growth with the sin in the leadership, until I came to realize that large numbers of people prove absolutely nothing. If the “growth” was really evidence of God’s blessing, then the unrepentant sin in the leadership would prove that God didn’t really care about sin. Obviously, that can’t be correct. God does care about sin, therefore, the “growth” wasn’t evidence of God’s blessing; rather, the growth proved nothing! Churches can grow in numbers when the Word of God is accurately and faithfully taught, and churches can grow numerically where heresy is taught and the leadership lives in sin. Just look at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). This “church” has grown tremendously in numbers over the last 20 years, but it is still a false, cultic religion. Ted Haggard, the now disgraced former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, pastored one of the “Top 100”. Obviously, his sin didn’t hinder his church from growing.

So, I say again, numerical growth proves nothing. The notion that bigger is better is, basically, unbiblical.

(To be continued…)

(Part 1, Part 2)

1 comment:

James said...

Wyeth, these posts have been good. Edwards had a pamphlet on just this kind of issue. He turns us to Scriptural evidences of genuine works of God. It is public domain and available HERE

Grace and peace to you