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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Attitude of the Heart

In Eugene, OR, in 1957 the son of missionaries to India established the Institute of Church Growth. In 1965 Fuller Theological Seminary asked him to establish the School of World Mission. The Church Growth Movement was at hand. By 1975 people like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren were using classic marketing techniques to increase the sizes of their churches. "Growth," you know. The idea was to structure your church so that the maximum number of people would come. After all, our Lord commanded us to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), so growth would surely happen, right?

There is, however, a distinct difference between "make disciples" and "grow churches". It might not be readily visible at the surface. If you "make disciples", it would necessarily follow that your numbers would increase (your church would grow). So it was good, right? You'd think so, but there is a difference.

The movement that was called "the Church Growth Movement" is gone, but left in its wake is the marketing of the church. So churches will try to figure out what techniques and methods will bring in the most people. Do people prefer rock bands or choirs? Pick whatever they prefer. Do people not like the term "Sunday School" but do like "Life Groups"? Change the name. Is it more interesting to put a video screen up than to simply preach? Opt for the screen. Stay with the market. Keep up to date. Churches are competing with other things like entertainment and football, so if they're going to keep their numbers up, they're going to have to provide things more interesting than their competition.

This, however, is not "make disciples". Making disciples is oriented not to numbers, but to teaching the truth and building personal relationships. The modern view of success is an accounting-driven method with metrics for evaluating performance. The modern view of "church" incorporates this view. Scripture ... does not.

The attitude called for by Jesus on the part of His disciples is, when you analyze it, radically different. It begins with "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matt 28:18) Notice that this precludes programs and metrics. We don't build the church. He does. Numbers are irrelevant. The command, instead, is to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matt 28:19), not "increase the numbers of people going to your local church." We can, certainly, do the latter without doing the former. I would submit that, in fact, we're very good at this, given the woeful lack of making disciples in most churches. The command is to teach them "to observe all that I commanded you." (Matt 28:20) Again, getting the people in the door is easy. But it seems as if pitifully few churches actually teach "most" let alone "all" of what disciples need to learn. (That, I believe, is a function of the marketing world as well. You need to teach to the lowest common denominator and "make it applicable" because people won't like it otherwise.)

I think that the marketing techniques of most churches in America today reflected in their architecture, modernizations, technology, musical choices, and minimizing of preaching the Word as deeply as they can is a direct result of this idea that we need to "grow the church" and that we can measure our success with this by counting heads. We have missed the point that Christ said He would build His church (compare Matt 16:18 with Acts 2:47, for instance). We have forgotten that we are to make disciples, not numbers, and that we are to teach them to observe all that Christ taught, not just the parts that will make them feel better. The difference between "make disciples" and "church growth" is in the attitude. One aims at the truth and maturing believers and the other aims at numbers. Most churches prefer the latter. The result is a spiritually fat, dumb, and happy group of people that may or may not be the church.


Craig said...

I agree that being driven solely by marketing techniques and whitewashing the Gospel are concerning trends. My problem is that I can't get past the fact that in the NT the Church is continually compared to a living organism (body, vine, etc), and one of the defining characteristics of a healthy living organism is growth. So, it seems like (at least to some degree that growth can be an indication of health. The complication is that in the Christian life there is both internal growth (making disciples) and (external growth) "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel...". I guess I'd suggest that any church that is not exhibiting some degree balance of both kinds of growth is not as healthy as it could be.

Stan said...

That's the confusion I'm trying to get through. Yes, making disciples causes growth. However, increasing numbers may or may not make disciples. The aim, then, is the disciples, not the numbers. And the problem is that our modern thinking makes it a sort of "counting heads" method of measuring success. "We've had 120 decisions for Christ this month!" Okay, maybe, but how about disciples? How about growth? How about depth? (Things that can't really be measured.) Absolutely making disciples produces growth. But that's not the measure of success, is it?

Craig said...

I guess I'd suggest that the problem is deciding that there is only one measure of success could be the problam.