Volume II - (1998)

Problems and Possibilities of Church Growth: Towards a Unification Critique

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 8, 2007 - Pages 25-40

Since the beginning of the Church Growth movement in the mid-1950s, many successful practitioners have significantly grown their churches. Church Growth was pioneered by Donald McGavran (1897-1990), whose Bridges of God (1955) is considered to have launched the movement. McGavran is credited with coining the term ‘Church Growth.’ Especially in North America, the phenomenon of the ‘megachurch’ has become well known. These are also associated with the role of television evangelists, since many megachurches broadcast their services. There are very few local congre­gations, national denominations or religious organizations that would not like to grow. If they believe that their message improves people’s lives, saves them from sin, or restores their broken relationship with God then the missionary imperative will be part of their vision.

Some religious bodies, for theological reasons, do not engage in missionary activity but maintain their existence by retaining the children of existing members. Natural growth may occur if existing members have larger families but there is also the need to replace those who die, move elsewhere or who cease to attend. Even churches that may be less focused on mission as numerical growth and more focused on what has been called Christianizing the world must at least replace existing members if they are to survive and continue their social welfare and philanthropic activities.

The Unification movement is certainly concerned with growth. It engages in missionary activity both locally, nationally and internationally. The first members in the United States came as missionaries from Korea and Japan. The Unification movement’s missionary agenda may be different in some respects from, say, that of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is to convert, baptize and add as new members of Baptist churches non-Christian people. On the one hand, the Unification movement would like to add new members to its Family Churches. However, on the other hand it does not demand membership as a precondition of anyone standing in a right relationship with God. This can be achieved through happy and stable marriages, preferable blessed by Father and Mother Moon irrespective of whether couples actually join a Unification congregation or not. Yet retaining second and third generation members is also critical for Unificationists, because the foundation of God’s Kingdom will be built on blessed families established across three generations.

It could be argued, though, that unless the Unification movement grows, its vision of achieving a unified world of peace centered on God will be extremely difficult to accomplish, even in partnership with those who do not share all that Unificationists believe about the role and significance of Father and Mother Moon. This article suggests that Unificationists can learn from aspects of the Church Growth movement, indeed it would be illogical to reject strategies and methods that demonstrably work. However, certain principles of the Church Growth movement are actually the very opposite of what Unification thought teaches, thus there must also be a Unification critique of Church Growth.

This critique is shared by others, for whom adding countable numbers to the Church is not necessarily the main measure of success or even the priority of mission. For example, proponents of the Gospel and Our Culture view, pioneered by Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), are suspicious that numbers alone matter. Stress on numbers neglects other vital aspects of the Church’s mission. Church Growth’s emphasis on homogenous congrega­tions, too, produces churches that look very different from the Unification Church, with its distinctive multi-cultural, indeed trans-cultural, ethos.

Newbigin and McGavran were two of the most influential missiologists of the twentieth century. Newbigin was my missiology professor in 1979, as I prepared for field work in Bangladesh. I later served with him on several ecumenical committees. I never met McGavran but read his writing at about the time I first encountered Newbigin. This paper starts by describing Church Growth theory and practice as developed by Donald McGavran, then engages with Newbigin’s contribution, identifying common ground between his critique and a possible Unification analysis. The author also draws on his own experience in congregational ministry, and on evaluations of Church Growth contained in Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views (2004) edited by Peter E Engle and Gary L McIntosh. Contributors to this volume are all distinguished Church Growth practitioners or theorists who, from different perspectives, offer constructive criticism.

Rick Warren, author of the popular The Purpose Driven Church (1995) is perhaps one of the most widely known and respected contemporary practitioners of Church Growth, whom this writer heard speak at the 100th Anniversary Baptist World Congress in July, 2005. Warren grew his church from one family to over 10,000 members in fifteen years, also planting 26 new congregations, which by itself strongly suggests that Church Growth principles demand serious attention. Although aspects of his approach would be difficult if not impossible for Unificationists to adopt, his book also contains a great deal of sound advice. In identifying possibilities as well as problems of Church Growth from a Unification point of view, this article also suggests how Warren’s book can be adapted for Unification use. Warren, enormously popular as a speaker and lecturer, has assumed the role McGavran played in previous decades. His D.Min. is from Fuller, where McGavran taught. Towns comments that whether you agree with Warren, and other church Growth practitioners or not, “you will have to admit that these pastors have been able to ‘package’ their ministry and help other churches ...” many of which “have grown” as a result. (Towns 2004, 32)

 

McGavran: Pioneer of Church Growth Theory and Practice

Church Growth can be described as a “theological stance.” (McGavran 1990, 8) McGavran emphasized its Biblical basis. Church Growth also draws heavily on social science, “because it always occurs in society.” (xiv) The American Society for Church Growth defines it as: “A discipline which investigates the nature, expansion, planting, multiplication, function and health of Christian churches as they relate to the effective implementation of Christ’s commission to ‘make disciples of all people.’” (Towns 2004, 40-41) The phrase maqeteusate panta ta ethne (make disciples of all peoples) from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) was constantly on McGavran’s lips. His biblical principles of Church Growth derived from his understanding of the Great Commission.

McGavran, like most Church Growth practitioners, believed that Christian faith is essential for salvation. Therefore, the billions of non-Christians in the world are literally ‘lost’, separated from God. This will remain their eternal condition until and unless they respond to the Gospel. Merely reaching the lost is not enough. McGavran called this ‘search theology’, of which he was scathingly critical. “Mere search is not what God wants,” he wrote, “God wants his lost children found.” (McGavran 1999, 27) Search theology is like fishing in the right place but using the wrong type of net or the wrong bait. If we go fishing, said McGavran, we should want to catch some fish. Search theology proclaims the Gospel but is indifferent towards the result. Search theology contents itself with proclamation: “Its duty is complete in proclamation,” since God “will gather into his church whom he wills” (26-27), which makes search theology sound very Calvinist.

In 1961 McGavran founded the Institute of Church Growth at Northwest Christian College, moving to Fuller Theological Seminary in 1965 where he became senior professor of missions (1971-90). But it was while a Disciples of Christ missionary in India between 1923 and 1957 that he developed his theory. Initially, he assumed that social action and community service were all integral to mission, conceived as constituting “everything the church does outside its four walls,” citing his Yale professor, H. Richard Niebuhr. Evangelism was part of mission, not its main thrust (McIntosh 2004, 12). McGavran preferred to work on a one-to-one level over an extended period to ensure that the potential convert was well schooled in Christian teaching before they made any commitment. Thus, what might be called the ‘quality’ of those converted took priority over the ‘quantity.’

McGavran, however, noticed that some congregations did grow at a considerable rate, while others did not, including those of his own mission, of which he was made supervisor in 1932. He started researching causes of growth by comparing 145 areas. Writing about how Churches grow, he complained of a “universal fog,” even a “blindness regarding what worked or did not work,” so “that Church growth is not even seen” (McGavran 1990, 56). He discovered that of these, “134 areas had grown only 11 percent between 1921 and 1931” and that most of these churches “were not even conserving their own children.” I note that retention of members’ children is a major concern for Unificationists. McGavran suggested that ability to win not only members’ children, but nominal members and casual attendees as well, is a necessary first step to winning complete outsiders. A church that cannot do the former will certainly fail to do the latter. In the remaining 11 areas, churches “were growing by 100 percent, 150 percent, and even 200 percent a decade.” (McIntosh 2004, 11)

Asking why most of the churches were not growing and some were, he started to look at causes, at barriers, then at principles and strategies that could be transferred from one context to a similar context. Often, churches did not grow because ministers and missionaries were too busy with programs and social action while ignoring evangelism. He discovered that those churches that grew all targeted, and concentrated on, a single class, caste or tribal group. Those that evangelized indiscriminately, producing racially or socially mixed congregations, did not grow. From this, McGravan formulated three fundamental and non-negotiable principles of Church Growth: first, that numerical growth, represented by adding new and countable converts to the Church, is both the raison d’etre and the aim of mission; second, the concept of identifying and profiling an ideal target; and third, the concept of people-movements.

This first principle makes adding numbers mission’s absolute priority, taking precedence over any other activity both in terms of resources and time. Activities such as medical work, education and philanthropy that occupy much missionary time and expenditure become of secondary importance. So does nurturing or forming converts in the faith, which devolves to others. McGavran distinguished ‘discipling’, the evangelical task, from ‘perfecting’, which falls to the Church rather than to the evangelist. “If we make a select company our goal,” he asked, “are we true to him who preached the gospel to multitudes?” (McGavran 1990, 122). “Ethical achievements grow out of life in Christ,” he wrote, so “must not be made a prerequisite for faith in him.” (McGavran 1990, 34; italics original)

Evangelism, for McGavran, was an ‘input term’—meaning that the lost should be won, baptized and added to the church; that produces an ‘output term’: Church Growth (McIntosh 2004, 15). The lostness of the lost drives Church Growth, which is also concerned with identifying where lost people yet unreached with the Gospel live and what strategies can be used to win them. Matthew 24:14, which says that Jesus will return when the Gospel has been preached throughout the world, is an oft-cited text. He described indifference towards numbers as a form of relativism which has “aggressively attacked the doctrine that Christ is the full, final, once-for-all revelation of God” and that “every Christian should proclaim Christ and persuade men and women to become his disciples and responsible members of his church.” McGavran 1990, (25) The Church Growth task is an urgent one; “God commands an ardent searching for the lost in order to find them.” (McGavran 1990, 30 original italics)

Congregations that aim to replicate themselves, that is, to attract people of the same or similar social-economic status, class, race, tribe or linguistic group, said McGavran, grow. A basic strategy is to compile a ‘profile’ or the target person or group. Warren’s target, for example, is called Saddleback Sam; he is “well educated,” “likes where he lives,” “is self-satisfied... about his life” although “overextended in both time and money.” (Warren 1995, 170) McGavran’s concept of people movement starts with the premise that we face enough obstacles to accepting the Gospel without having additional barriers placed our way, such as those of language, class, race or social status. In India, people from certain castes found it almost impossible to associate with those from certain other castes. People, said McGavran, prefer to worship in their own language, not in a second or third language. People are more likely to respond to the Gospel “without crossing barriers.” (McGavran 1990, 160) This avoids what has been called “extract evangel­ism”—when individuals, won for Christ, are “extracted” from their social group and introduced into an alien community whose culture and even language is different and exotic.

A people-movement approach to evangelism also aims to address whole groups, not merely individuals. “People like to become Christian,” McGavran wrote, “without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers.” (163) He argued that during the first 15 years of the initial expansion of Christianity, almost all believers became Christian while remaining culturally Jewish. As Gentiles started to convert, few wished to adopt Jewish customs. Jewish Christians, he said, neither inter-dined nor inter-married with Gentile Christians or left their separate community to join “a conglomerate society.” (169) Elsewhere, he says, the Church grew wherever it focused on working within a single, homogenous people-group. Where it failed to do this, it stagnated. ‘Bridges’, for McGavran, are those social or professional contacts that exist between members of a congregation and others within the same people-group, who tend to be similar to themselves, for example colleagues at work, friends at a golf or fitness club, or fellow parents at their children’s school, who can be invited to a special service.

Church Growth and Social Science

For McGavran, the success or failure of mission is easy to evaluate; the number of converts who have joined the church can be counted: “The church is made up of countable people and there is nothing particularly spiritual in not counting them.” (67) Hence, use of social science undergirds Church Growth, which as a discipline is research based. It uses cases studies to identify successful strategies. Success is determined by counting results.

Church Growth emphasizes that while principles, which are biblical, remain unchanged, strategy must be appropriate to context. Research, drawing on social science, is needed to determine what strategies work in which context. McGavran encountered a great deal of resistance to his claim that success in mission can be measured by counting results, and defended this in his Understanding Church Growth. He also defended Church Growth against the criticism that a focus on numbers produces shallow Christians, since quality growth devolves from evangelists, in his view, to Christian educators. (33; 120) Against the criticism that a focus on numbers neglects the Christian responsibility to Christianize the world, he disputed that this is a priority when compared with “the multiplying of cells of reborn Christians.” (23)

For McGavran, the more urgent task is to save the lost. He did think, though, that social circumstances and even natural catastrophe can make people receptive to the Gospel (141), so a wise strategy is to fish where the fish are likely to be caught, to win the winnable. (206) In one passage, sounding more like a liberation theologian, he acknowledges that “the masses are dear to God” (201) and that the poor and oppressed have often responded to the Gospel, which gives them “a bedrock on which to stand as they battle for justice.” (205) He also suggested that the more converts there are, the more people there will be to engage in social action. (7) However, social action as a priority is false, because it “substitutes the fruit of the gospel for the gospel” and runs the risk of advocating that “works of righteousness” are saving. (34) Nevertheless, the type of Christian produced by Church Growth tends to share the view that winning lost souls takes priority over any other task.

Against what he calls “remnant theology,” which argues that the quality of a small faithful community counts more than a larger church full of yet-to-be perfected Christians, he suggests that only failing pastors, whose churches do not grow, can be satisfied with this defeatist thinking. (121) Glorifying smallness or slow growth is a device to justify failure.

Church growth uses statistics, charts, diagrams and social analysis to identify target groups, their receptiveness to the Gospel as well as tools to measure success. ‘Methods’, said McGravan, must be “evaluated in the light of whether they actually produce growth.” (275) Recent converts are interviewed to ascertain what attracted them, while the social matrix in which churches have grown is scientifically analyzed. Church Growth has developed its own vocabulary, which often sounds technical and analytical. “In order to catch fish,” writes Warren, “learn to think like a fish.” Learn their habits, discover what they like and dislike (Warren 1995, 188). Social and anthropological research can shed light on these matters and also on the structures within which people live: “People exist not as discrete individuals, but as interconnected members of some society.” (McGavran 1990, 153). Statistically, the success of a people-movement strategy has been proven, at least as measured by countable results. Two-thirds of all converts in Asia, Africa and Oceania “have come to Christian faith through people movements.” (224)

McGavran developed categories of different types of evangelical contexts as a guide to determining appropriate strategies:

  • E0 evangelism “aims to bring existing church members to a personal commitment to Christ,” and is the essential starting point. Revival of a congregation’s vision, commitment and faith can thus be a stepping-stone to mission. He also called this ‘internal growth.’
  • E1 evangelism seeks to utilize bridges into the target community; this is called ‘near-neighbor evangelism’ which reaches out to those whose culture and language is the same “as those of the Christian who is witnessing.”
  • E2 evangelism is across a “small ethnic, cultural or religious” gap, such as that between the United States and Canada, or the United Kingdom and Australia.
  • E3 evangelism involves crossing a large cultural barrier, such as when an American missionary goes to Africa or Asia.

 

In the case of E2 and E3 evangelism, the evangelist may be from a different people-group than the evangelized but will target a homogenous group.

 

Newbigin’s Critique

Newbigin was also a missionary in India, for over forty years. In 1974, when he returned to his native United Kingdom as professor of missiology in the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, it was the Church’s estrangement from Western culture that disturbed and challenged him. His view of mission included, alongside the winning of individual souls, a Christian critique of culture. The Gospel needs to engage with positive and negative elements of culture so that the whole world can be redeemed. The Gospel and Our Culture initiative was inspired by his book, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Our Western Culture (1986), and led to institutional programs in both the UK and the USA. He believed that, following the Enlightenment’s relegation of religion to the domestic sphere and the privatization of values, Christians lost their ability to engage constructively with culture, including science and politics. The Christian, he said, has a duty to be concerned with governance, since God has ordained political authorities “for a good purpose but” these “can easily become instruments of wickedness.” (Newbigin 1986, 128) The Gospel should stand over and against culture in order to redeem it. McGavran’s approach, Newbigin believed, ran the danger of capitulat­ing to “unethical dimensions” of the culture as it attempts to fit the gospel into “existing cultural mosaics.” (Gelder 2004, 84)

Most Church Growth practitioners regard the world as finite. It will be destroyed and replaced by a spiritual reality. Only the human soul is of eternal value, hence Christianizing culture or the social order, in practice, if it is a priority at all, is a very, very low priority. Developing his ideas in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989), Newbigin questioned some of the basic principles of Church Growth thought. For McGavran, the raison d’etre of mission stems from the Great Commission. It is motivated by a very real sense of personal responsibility, that is, if I do not win souls, they will perish in hell because I failed in my Christian duty to reach the unreached. Nineteenth century mission used this type of language to raise money and to recruit missionaries: “How can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:4). Newbigin thus described the popular motive of mission as being to stem the “fearful cataract of souls going into eternal perdition,” since the great majority of human beings who have died have died without faith in Christ. (Newbigin 1989, 124-25)

Examining the New Testament, Newbigin simply did not find there the same concern for results or anxiety about numbers that characterizes Church Growth thought. Paul, he pointed out, never agonizes about results. Instead, in one of his most profoundly missiological passages, he speaks of salvation in eschatological terms and suggests that no one is perfect until the end. God “has consigned all people to disobedience in order that he may have mercy on all.” (Romans 11:32-36). It is then, says Newbigin, that “the fathomless depths of God’s wisdom and grace will be revealed.” (125). Meanwhile, “creation groans in travail.” (Romans 8:22). Thus, Christians should be neither anxious about their failure or boast about their success, but should faithfully witness “to the one in whom the whole purpose of God for cosmic history has been revealed.” (125) Newbigin preferred to speak of the “logic of mission,” predicated on the truthfulness of the message as one that cannot but be proclaimed. We do not control the result. This is the Holy Spirit’s task. Some people may join the church, others may respond in ways that are invisible to us.

Newbigin does not say that mere proclamation is enough; proclamation must be persuasive and culturally sensitive. Evangelists should use strategies which have been proven, while resisting the temptation to control the process. Converts, too, Newbigin argued, must be aware of the ethical dimension of the Gospel, thus ‘discipling’ and ‘perfecting’ can not be so easily separated. Lacking knowledge of the ethical dimension, converts will focus only on replicating their conversion in others. They will ignore the Gospel command to heal the sick, liberate the oppressed, give sight to the blind, to restore the world to its original perfection (Luke 4:18-20), for only such a world will be acceptable to God.

Discussing Newbigin, McGavran defends goal setting in terms of winning large numbers against the criticism that this is “presumptuous,” arguing that “setting goals is in accordance with God’s eternal purpose” and that “scripture is solidly on the side of careful planning for Church growth.” (McGavran 1990, 270) Unlike McGavran, Newbigin says that God will save whomsoever he wishes to save, regardless of whether they are outwardly Christian or not.

 

Other Critiques

Elmer Towns’s “effective evangelism” view thinks that the “theology” of church growth too easily gets smothered by social science, elevating methods above principles. Church growth enthusiasts too easily succumb to the benefits of success, that is, in financial terms, pursuing growth for the wrong reasons. (Towns 2004, 51) Preoccupation with ratings, corporate image, statistical growth, financial profits and even celebrity status displaces biblical preaching. “Some enthusiastic promoters” of Church Growth, writes Elmer, claimed that it “could do much more in producing growth than was humanly and divinely possible.”

Charles van Engen’s “centrist view” shares with the Gospel and Our Culture approach the contention that the God of the Bible is concerned with more than individual salvation. God is “actively involved with his creation, revealing himself to humans, responding to human rejection of his love and grace, and, in Jesus Christ, preserving all creation and holding all creation together.” (Engen 2004, 136; see Colossians 1:20)

Gailyn van Rheenan’s “reformist view” says that unintentionally, “Church Growth practitioners developed a missionary model vulnerable to the spirit of their age.” (Rheenan 2004, 175) Most megachurches are suburban, and target someone remarkable like ‘Saddleback Sam’, middle-class, well educated, affluent people who often respond to a Gospel that says that God blesses faith with economic success and personal happiness. Transfer this message to a context where most people are poor, occupy social housing, depend on welfare because there are no jobs to be had and send their children to failing schools, and few are attracted. McGavran uses the term missio dei (God’s mission) but appears to rely on humanly devised strategies. A reformist view would broaden mission to also include “social justice and environmental concerns” and “other purposes of God.” (181)

Howard Snyder’s “renewal response” thinks that Church Growth has been too preoccupied with strategy, that when Churches are alive, where “renewal” occurs, they will naturally grow: “the Holy Spirit of God continues to do new, renewing things. When he does, and when his people respond in faith and faithfulness, the church grows.” (Snyder 2004, 231)

 

A Personal Critique

Highgate Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham, UK, where I was associate pastor, was surrounded by low-income housing in a racially mixed area with a high level of unemployment and social need. Our ministry focused on providing welfare advice, on engaging with local schools to improve standards (I chaired the elementary school board, my senior colleague the secondary school board), on involvement in a housing project, a meal service for the elderly (the food was cooked on church premises) and on a latch-key facility for children. Targeting people from a single group would have been theoretically possible, but our congregation mirrored the population of the neighborhood and so was multi-racial. As we wanted different groups in the neighborhood to get on well together, it seemed appropriate to create a space where color or race and even social status did not matter. All were accepted.

We did grow but not dramatically, and with an elderly congregation, new members tended to replace those whom we lost. Our church could not survive financially and continue this ministry without assistance from the national denomination. Every year we had to justify renewal of our grant. The criterion was how many people we had added to our membership; neither the quality of our ministry nor of any converts was a factor. Obviously, the quality of a social-service ministry can not be quantitatively evaluated as easily as a ministry that focuses on winning countable converts. However, qualitative social science research can be used to assess whether service users value a service or not, which is common practice in the not-for-profit sector. Yet our results were always negatively compared with Sutton Coldfield Baptist Church, which, located in one of the wealthiest suburbs, is one of the largest churches in Britain.

Highgate Baptist Church looks more like a Family Church, full of the color and richness that multi-cultural congregations contain. Some of those whom we did attract, too, were attracted away from other churches because they preferred our social gospel message and mission rather than what their previous church had offered. Another weakness of using numbers to assess success is the difficulty of distinguishing new converts, that is, people who were un-churched before joining, from those who transfer loyalty from another church. It is easy to inflate statistics with the latter.

My own deepest reservation about Church Growth is that it too easily supports a “God will bless you if your faith is strong” message that fails to explain why bad things happen to good people, and which makes economic success—which may be obtained by unethical methods—the main criterion of being a good Christian. In practice, it relegates social ministry to a very low priority. I place it much higher. Health and wealth may be a sign of God’s blessing, but lack of these is not necessarily evidence of faithlessness. McGavran was concerned that social activism diverts funds away from what should, in his view, take priority. The opposite criticism can apply to Church Growth; it invests enormous sums for evangelism, supported by considerable plant in terms of building and training institutions. Hardly anything is devoted to meeting peoples’ physical needs, of which the typical target often has few.

 

Towards a Unification Critique

I do not believe that the Kingdom of God will consist of segregated groups, a type of end-time apartheid; rather, as Sun Myung Moon teaches, the cultures and religions of the world will each contribute to a world civilization in which barriers between people will broken down. It is difficult to see how cross-cultural marriage partners would easily fit any “profile” of a target group drawn by Church Growth principles. Unificationists’ basic commit­ment to bridging barriers, to creating racial and inter-religious harmony, makes the most fundamental principle of Church Growth impossible for them to embrace with any degree of enthusiasm. Warren writes, “Discover what types of people live in your area, decide which of these groups your church is best equipped to reach, and then discover which types of evangelism best match your target” (157); but this is tough advice if you believe that your calling is to reach out to all “types.” McGavran did discuss the issue of segregation but dismissed criticism on pragmatic grounds: the task is urgent, segregation works much better than what he calls creating conglomerate cells, and so is to be preferred. If the option is either building conglomerate congregations slowly or congregations of one type of people quickly, then the first is “a weak option.” (261)

While a concern for retention of existing members as well as of their children and for gaining new members will remain significant for Unificationists, I do not think that the Divine Principle allows social action and redeeming the world to become such a low priority as it is for most Church Growth thinkers. Church Growth produces converts whose over­whelming commitment is to multiply the church; the Divine Principle seeks to restore creation, to co-operate with God. Sun Myung Moon believes that engaging with the media, with economics and commerce and trade all have important roles to play as aspects of mission. Church Growth sees all this as misdirecting energy and resources: “Eternal salvation is more important,” wrote McGavran, “than temporal well-being.” (23) Yet if such activities are regarded as essential and even as priorities, then a smaller but dedicated group, what Newbigin calls “a foretaste of the eschatological future of the reign that has already begun” (Gelder 84), may do this better than a larger group whose interest is only to stem the cataract of souls going into eternal damnation.

Unification thought does not dictate to God who is or is not saved. Rather, it allows Unificationists to work with all people, regardless of faith, provided that they share universal values and the goal of a world centered on God. The goal is not the victory of one religion over others but the unification “of all religions through the new, ultimate expression of the truth.” (Exposition, 375) If the Church is to resemble the world that God wants, then a smaller multi-racial congregation may be more authentic than a large, homogenous one. If making the world a fairer, better, more just place and if correcting the damage that human greed has caused to the environment, are all tasks to which God has called us, then Church Growth practitioners need to re-visit their priorities.

But Let’s Keep the Baby as We Throw out the Bathwater

The above suggest that Unificationists might experience some problems in applying Church Growth principles without adjustment. On the other hand, the positive possibilities of Church Growth must not be overlooked. Any reading of Warren’s book yields good practical advice. For example, if you want your services to attract people, they must “create an atmosphere of acceptance.” Long before the preacher preaches, he says, “Visitors are already deciding if they will come back.” (Warren 1995, 211) “Do not embarrass visitors,” he recommends, “by inviting them to introduce themselves, which may cause them to die a thousand deaths.” (260) “The difference between an average service and an outstanding one,” he says, “is flow.” (256) Prayers, songs, readings must all knit together to form a whole. “Match your music,” he says, “to the kind of people God wants your church to reach.” (281) For Unificationists, this might mean developing a repertoire of songs that celebrate the type of multi-cultural world represented at almost any gathering of Unificationists, or of meetings sponsored by them. Warren also recommends separating the discipling from the perfecting task by offering two different types of services, one for enquirers and another for existing members, so that the latter can be nurtured to a more mature faith.

Warren advertised his Church as catering for “those who’ve given up on traditional church services.” (194) Perhaps a Family Church can attract people who have given up on what Churches traditionally look like, that is, assemblies full of people who all appear to be the same. Warren says that a good starting point is to ask the target group what they would look for in a Church. His target is “Saddleback Sam,” who does not look much like many Unificationists whom I know. However, Unification churches do have a target: people who value marriage and family life, or who wish to see marriage restored as a social ideal. Just as all Saddleback Sams have similar needs, so do families, regardless of their race, color or social status.

A Family Church, just like any homogenous congregation, can ask what its strengths are, what it can offer by “clarifying why the church exists and what it has to offer.” (86) “There is incredible power,” he says, “in having a clearly defined purpose statement,” which could be produced by a Family Church. It should set out “its purposes,” ideally “in a single sentence.” (99)

Warren ends his book by stating, “Successful ministry is building the church on the purposes of God in the power of the Holy Spirit and expecting the results from God,” which sounds closer to Newbigin than to McGavran. However, the book reads like a ‘how to grow the Church’ manual, and implies that if you use the right methods, results will follow. Saddleback’s own success suggests that these methods, in a similar context, do work, but whether the result is actually God’s, or Church Growth’s, is subject to debate. Is a large growing church that focuses almost exclusively on members’ spiritual health consistent with God’s will? Or, is a smaller church whose members work for social justice, for the reconciliation of all things to God, who hold material and spiritual concerns in harmony, a better ‘foretaste’ of God’s Kingdom?

 

References

Gelder, Craig van. 2004. “Gospel and Our Culture View.” In Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, by Paul E. Engle and Gary L. McIntosh. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Engen, Charles van. 2004. “Centrist View.” In Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, by Paul E. Engle and Gary L. McIntosh. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

McGavran, Donald. 1955. The Bridges of God. New York: Friendship Press.

McGavran, Donald. 1990. Understanding Church Growth. Revised and edited by C. Peter Wagner. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

McIntosh, Gary L. 2004. “Why Church Growth Can’t Be Ignored.” In Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, by Paul E. Engle and Gary L. McIntosh. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Newbigin, Lesslie. 1986. Foolishness to the Greeks. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Newbigin, Lesslie. 1989. The Gospel in a Pluralist World. London: SPCK; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Rheenan, Gailyn van. 2004. “Reformist View.” In Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, by Paul E. Engle and Gary L. McIntosh. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Snyder, Howard. 2004. “Renewal View.” In Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, by Paul E. Engle and Gary L. McIntosh. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Towns, Elmer. 2004. “Effective Evangelism View.” In Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, by Paul E. Engle and Gary L. McIntosh. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Warren, Rick. 1995. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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  • Mandi Matayile Thursday, 16 August 2012 14:49

    Hi, I am Mandi Matayile leading a newly church in areas around Cape Town. I am having a zeal and prayer of helping the church i am leading to grow. Sometimes I got discouraged because of slow growth. Please I need your prayers to keep me going.

    about 10 months ago
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