Stetzer introduces McGavran as a missiologist and missionary who is considered the father of the Church Growth Movement. He writes that McGavran’s approach was refreshing and mission focused. He rejected the ‘come to us’ approach of the church and began to speak of reaching ‘people groups’ and thinking differently about mission. Good stuff.
In his second post Stetzer writes about the problems that came with the Church Growth Movement one of which was its ‘Americanisation’.
To be honest, we Americans are guilty of turning anything good into a business. The Church Growth movement is no exception. In The Church Between Gospel and Culture, Richard Halverson wrote, “When the Greeks got the gospel they turned it into a philosophy, when the Romans got it they turned it into a government, when the Europeans got it they turned it into a culture; when the Americans got it they turned it into an enterprise.” An unfortunate by-product of the Church Growth Movement is that growing God’s church can be as simple as 1-2-3 with guaranteed results. I call it methodological mania. Some in the Church Growth Movement lost their way when they became more driven by methodological mania than by a central focus on mission.
He’s right – that ‘Americanisation’ resulted in programs, conferences and packages promising to grow your church. ‘6 Steps to A Bigger Church’, ‘Breaking the 200 Barrier’ and so on were familiar titles of seminars. Most of us didn’t know there was a ‘200 barrier’ until someone named a seminar after it…
And as the Church Growth Movement expanded the Church Growth Industry followed suit. Those who grew the biggest churches held conferences telling other people how to grow bigger churches and the implicit message was that bigger was better.
An industry was forming and it was going to be massive and lucrative.
And how could you argue with the priority of church growth? Didn’t everyone want a big church? Wasn’t a bigger church a sure sign that you were on the money with what you were doing?
Just as the ‘Surf industry’ had an impact on surfing, so the ‘Church Growth Industry’ had an impact on churches and one of those inevitable impacts was the rise of competition between churches. If the goal was to grow bigger and bigger then you followed the formula given in the conferences and more people came to your church – even if they did leave other churches to do so. If the church down the road either rejected the new information or were unable to deliver the goods by way of better services and facilities then you were actually ‘doing a favour’ to those who moved church and joined you.
No doubt there were people still coming to faith in the midst of this, but there were more changing churches than there were converting. In the National Church Life Survey ‘switcher’s’ became a term to identify those who moved churches and people were doing it more often than previously as the range of ‘choice’ increased and as some pretty tempting scenarios were on offer.
So at this point I pause for anyone feeling this is a cynical rant. Its not. Its a disturbing observation of what has emerged in the last 40 years as we all drank the cool aid to varying degrees and we are all part of the ‘church industry’ in some way for better or worse.
I have no doubt the CGM began with the best of intentions – it was inspired by a missionary vision and a heart for people outside of faith.
But our methods are not neutral.
Read that line again. Our methods are not neutral.
Everything we do has a consequence and communicates a message about what discipleship to Jesus looks like. I am not at all romanticising the pre church growth era as frankly it had its own share of issues – it was bland and so batshit boring most weeks that I am surprised any of us still follow Jesus. But we didn’t know any different.
As with the rise of the surf industry the church growth industry has taken its toll on the church in numerous ways. I have no doubt some have found faith because of the initiatives spurred by the CGM, but I am not convinced that the long term impact is going to be what we had hoped.
If the 60’s and early 70’s church was a rejection of culture as evil and destructive then the 80’s-20’s church has been more about trying to embrace the culture and make it work for us. Part of good missiology is figuring out how to engage the culture, using the best parts and rejecting the worst. I would suggest that CGM unfortunately and unintentionally played right into the hands of the worst elements of the culture – selfishness and consumerism.
The phrase ‘church shopping’ may have been around in the 60’s but it certainly didn’t mean what it does today. In these times it captures the darkest spirit of our culture and it speaks to the ecclesial landscape we have been responsible for creating and it impacts and affects all of us in churches everywhere.
How does it affect all of us?
Thats for tomorrow…