Archive for February 7th, 2011|Daily archive page

Who said BIGGER is better when it comes to church?

In Apologetics, Chrisitian, Christ, Christian, Christianity, Prayer, Satan, Saved, Sin, Trinity on February 7, 2011 at 7:14 am

Church growth is dead

At this time in 1993 I was getting ready to graduate from seminary. In the early 1990s many of the guys I graduated with were inundated with the hot model for doing church ministry known as “Church Growth” philosophy. Wanting to be successful in ministry we all devoured books to show us how to do it “right” in today’s world. Out with the old and in with the new was the ministry mind-set. It all sounded so promising: big churches with big budgets if we employed the right methods. Mega-church pastors told us we could do what they did, and a whole generation of pastors bought in hook, line and sinker. Now its been deemed a complete failure by its own advocates.

The ideas that became the Church Growth movement began taking hold in the late 1970s. If the Christian church was going to survive into the future (we were told) it needed to rethink its methods and embrace a new approach. Church growth gurus such as Bill Hybels, Donald McGavren, and C. Peter Wagner advocated making going to church as inconspicuously “Christian” as possible. One writer I read summed it up this way: “Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting “felt needs” and sermons consistent with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn’t matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn’t “cutting edge” and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity.”

The goal was to make unchurched Harry and Mary as comfortable in church as they would be in a movie theatre. Indeed many of the churches even designed their worship centers to look like a movie theatre. In short they made the church look like the world… and it failed.

The first crack in the church growth edifice came a couple of years ago when church growth advocate George Barna expressed frustration that – since the full-blown implementation of church growth principles 20 years ago – there has been no net growth in the Christian church to speak of; in fact it has declined in America. He found that mega-churches have both a big front door and an equally large back door.

All mega-churches seemed to have accomplished is to kill off smaller churches that resisted the temptation to compromise Biblical Christianity.

The final nail came when Willow Creek Community Church – the “Mecca” of the church growth ideology – recently released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, on staff at Willow Creek, conducted the study. The conclusion? Senior Pastor Bill Hybels said, to his credit, “We made a mistake.” They didn’t make disciples – they made dunces.

Very simply they made secular people even more secular. Rather than leading people to worship Christ they led them deeper into worshipping themselves. This should be no surprise: if you gear a church towards the consumer preferences of a fallen culture you will produce a fallen church. Why would anyone think that catering to man’s fundamental sin problem would do otherwise? Liberals say there is no sin, and church growth says sin is no big deal. The very heart of the gospel tells us otherwise: sin is real and its the main problem we must address. Any church that fails to address this will fail too.

One may wonder why they didn’t see this sooner. Its simple: in their minds large crowds meant they were successful. Many think that there is an inexorable relationship between numbers and success. But many religious movements boasted large numbers and turned out to be in gross error. When I hear this sort of thing I often ask, “Have you ever heard of Jim Jones?”

A Biblical church rejects innovation in favor of faithfulness. God has given us a specific mission and a specific message, and He has not made what He wants in a church a secret. Being successful according to Scripture comes not by embracing a fallen culture but by embracing Biblical directives. If you encounter a church driven by anything else take my advice: find another church. And whatever you do don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Marty Fields is pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church. Reach him at

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