What's Wrong With the
Church Growth Movement?
By Rev. David P. Cotner II
| T | he new king of Israel had a problem. He wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the city of David, but when he had attempted to do so, one of his men ended up dead and he could not understand why. In desperation king David cried out to God, "How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" King David was a righteous man and what he wanted was good. However, he did not do it in God's way. He should have been familiar with Numbers 4:15 and 7:9 which say, "And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation . . . But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders." The ark was not to be carried in a cart drawn by beasts, but it was to be borne on the shoulders of the sons of Kohath. This was God's way. Disaster could have been avoided by being familiar with the ways of God and following His instructions.
Today there are many Baptist pastors and churches who have a real desire to serve the Lord and to win the lost to Christ. Their hearts are right and their motives are good. The current trend is to try dfferent methods of evangelism and outreach; to find one that works; to attract as many people as possible to the church services; and to present the Gospel to them in a way that is appealing to them in the hope that many will be saved. On the surface this sounds good. "After all," many will say, "what's wrong with bringing as many people as possible to church where they will hear the Gospel and be born again?" The answer is that there is nothing wrong with our desire to see many people saved and added to our churches. The problem is with the way many are going about doing these "good things."
This new trend in church growth has been called the Church Growth Movement. It is a good name because it identifies a movement that has as its focus the numerical growth of our churches. The Church Growth Movement has been promoted, most notably, by Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. The only reason for mentioning these two men is to make the connection between their writings and the Church Growth Movement. I do not refer to them in order to attack them personally, professionally or otherwise. To their own Master they stand or fall (Romans 14:4).
So, what's wrong with the Church Growth Movement? A good question deserves a good answer. No answer to this question is worth much if it is not biblically and theologically correct. I only attempt an answer to this most important question so we will not make the same mistake David did of old, namely, not being familiar with what God has said and thereby not following His guidelines in our efforts to bring glory to Him.
Wrong Message Worldly 1 John 2:15-17
he first thing that is wrong with the Church Growth Movement is the message. It is worldly. When we bring unbelievers into our churches and provide them with a comfortable environment, the message that we are conveying about Christ and the Gospel is wrong. 1 John 2:15 17 says, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." The question proposed by the Church Growth Movement is: "How am I going to make unbelievers (people of the world) feel comfortable in my church?" The principles of the Church Growth Movement answer in a threefold way.
1. Be Non-offensive
The purpose here (according to the Church Growth Movement) is to avoid driving unbelievers away by using language that condemns them or that makes them feel in any way uncomfortable. The goal seems to be to get them feeling as good as possible so they will be as receptive as possible when the Gospel is presented to them. It is as though we want to catch them in mid-chuckle and tell them that God loves them and Jesus wants to save them.
But what do we sacrifice, or what have we forgotten concerning God's ways? Doctrine. We leave doctrine behind. We do not preach, "Thus saith the Lord!" anymore. The Bible says that "the the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The Apostle Peter reminds us (in 1 Peter 2:8) that Christ is a "stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence , even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." If we are going to preach the gospel as it is given in the Scriptures, the Bible says that our message will be "a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death ; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." (2 Corinthians 2:15-17).
2. Be Inclusive
Inclusiveness is the opposite of exclusiveness. Is
the Gospel inclusive, taking in everyone regardless of
beliefs? Does the Bible say that everyone will be accepted by God on any and all terms? Are we to make unbelievers feel a part of our church by accommodating ourselves to them? The answer to these questions is obviously, "No."
The Gospel is an exclusive message, not an inclusive one. In John 14:6 Jesus said, " I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." We know there is only one way to the Father. How then can we make unbelievers feel included in a Gospel that excludes them until they believe? Inclusiveness is direct disobedience to Scripture. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 says, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
3. Be Carnal
The last thing that a person of the world wants is a spiritual environment. It makes them feel uncomfortable because they do not fit in. They are not familiar with spiritual things. They are familiar with the things of the world worldly music, dress, language, and attitudes. So, if we are going to make them feel comfortable and relaxed, we must be carnal
carnal in our music carnal in our dress carnal in our language carnal in our attitudes.
Spiritual music is disappearing from our Baptist
churches. It is being replaced by worldly, feel-good music. Now, I am not talking about "old" music versus "new" music. There is much new music that is good. I am talking about carnal music that feeds the flesh and makes unbelievers and carnal Christians comfortable versus spiritual music that edifies the inward man and sometimes brings conviction that makes us feel terrible but ends in drawing us closer to God.
The "dress down" culture is here. For the young people, the shabbier, baggier, and more shocking the clothing is, the better. The "contemporary service" is meant to cater to this "dress down" attitude. T-shirts, blue jeans, and tennis shoes are worn by the pastor in order to help the children of Satan feel comfortable in church. We are supposed to be wearing our best for Him, not our most casual for the people of the world.
According to the Church Growth Movement, our language must be geared toward what we believe are the topics of interest for the unbelievers. Sports dominates the "pastor's talk" because unbelievers are in to all types of sports. However, we must remember that it is more loving and kind to tell an unbeliever that without Christ they will die in their sins and burn in Hell for all of eternity than to make him or her feel
good about being in church.
Even our attitudes are becoming accommodating. We think that we would not have a certain kind of music in our church, or we would not dress in casual clothing to preach a sermon, but it is alright if someone else does it. Is it really wrong for some, but okay for others. Do we really believe that God has different standards even different Gospels! for some of us and it's okay!?!
What the Church Growth Movement is promoting is outward change, not inward transformation. Encouraging an unbeliever to be a better mother or father or spouse without first telling him or her they are not able to be a better person without repentance and the acceptance of Christ is as near to heresy as we can get. In fact, if one always preaches outward change, and neglects to proclaim the inward transformation by the grace of God through faith in Christ, he is a heretic.
The message of the Church Growth Movement is wrong. It is wrong because it is non-offensive, it is inclusive and it is carnal. God's message is offensive to some; it is exclusive; and it is spiritual.
Wrong Method Wisdom of the world Col. 2:8
ot only is the message of the Church Growth Movement wrong, its method is also wrong. The apostle Paul (in Colossians 2:8) warns us, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." The philosophy of the Church Growth Movement is pragmatism if it works, its good. This is a lie of the Devil. Not everything that works is good. Consider again king David. The cart worked for moving the Ark of the Covenant, but it was not God's way. There are many ways of packing a church building, but they are not all of God just because they work. Marketing strategies, and catering to "felt needs" are just a couple of the pragmatic methods used in the Church Growth Movement.
If we are not to use pragmatic means to get people saved, what are we to do? Someone might say, "there is no specific method for reaching the lost outlined in the Bible, so we do whatever works." Here is a grave error. This person does not know their Bible. There is a method of evangelism outlined in the Bible. The problem is that we do not like it. What is God's way of reaching the lost? Its called preaching! Preaching is the telling of the good news of redemption to lost people and giving them a valid opportunity to accept it or reject it. The Bible says (1 Corinthians 1:17--2:7):
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.”
This is how God saves sinners. Not by pragmatic methods, but by the preaching of the cross of Christ.
The philosophy of the Church Growth Movement is pragmatism. But this is not all that is wrong. The theology of the Church Growth Movement is incorrect. It is centripetal instead of centrifugal. It is Old Testament instead of New Testament. Allow me to explain:
God's plan for Israel is outlined in Genesis 12:2-3 in which God says to Abram, "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." In other words, as Israel obeyed God, God would bless them. This would attract the other nations of the earth to Israel. They would come and enquire as to how they were so blessed and the Israelites could then share the truth of Jehovah with them and they could be "saved." This is centripetal or inward motion toward the center, Israel. The main idea was to attract the world to Israel who, alone, possessed the truth.
God's plan for the Church, however, is the opposite of His plan for Israel. It is not centripetal motion, but centrifugal, or outward motion. The Church is not to attract, but to "Go." Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), not attract them.When we attempt to attract the world, we are not only theologically wrong, our message takes on the language of accommodation. We put the Ark on a new cart and wonder why our people are ending up spiritually dead. We should not wonder, we should repent.
The bottom line of the method of the Church Growth Movement is that it is man-centered instead of Christ-centered. Whenever we attempt to manipulate an unbeliever by catering to his felt needs, by giving him what he wants, instead of what he really needs Christ, we are dishonoring our Lord and abusing our positions as preachers of the Gospel.
Wrong Mission Wicked Matt. 28:18-20
ur Lord gave us a mission. It is: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Church Growth Movement trades evangelization for acceptance; it supplies encouragement instead of edification; and it substitutes emotion for exaltation. God cannot accept unbelievers on any terms but by the blood of Jesus Christ His Son. This is the Message of evangelism. We must not be guilty of encouraging lost men and women, boys and girls to live more moral lives without telling them the truth of their lost condition. There will be, and there are already, many moral people in Hell. We must not help to send more moral sinners there. Emotion can never take the place of godly sorrow, unspeakable joy, and God's peace that passes all understanding. These are what we have to share with a lost and dying world. Let's honor God by building churches His way and He will honor us one day in glory.
One final word. May we take a moment to examine our own hearts, our own motives. Why do we want a larger church, really, what is the real reason? If it is anything but the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, the preaching of the cross, we are wrong. We do not need bigger churches, we need bigger men of God who will humble themselves, take the lowest position, and carry on with the work God has given us to do.
To God be the glory, great things He hath done.