God has a different agenda with growth. He separates unto Himself a people who will glorify Him forever. He is building a kingdom and using the church to do it. A church could attract numerous attendees in different manners and do more damage to the kingdom than if it never existed, at the same time getting great credit from evangelicalism or fundamentalism for doing a great work.
During last presidential election, President Obama said the now famous "you didn't build that" statement. When it comes to a church, he would actually be right. And if it's true that you didn't build it, then you're actually doing a good job.
I was reading tonight about how hard it is to build a business in the United States today. It's harder doing business in America than ever. It's not unusual for people to want to make a quick buck, explaining the popularity of the lottery. This also explains the Great Depression, the dot.com bubble, and the mortgage crisis. People bought overvalued Facebook stock with hopes of a future Apple or Microsoft. Men are also looking for an angle for church growth, which explains the popularity of the conferences and books intended to explain it.
Actual church growth doesn't take a seminar. There is no secret. Whoever complicates church growth with lengthy explanations, as is often the case today, isn't telling the truth about it. It is not difficult to figure out. The secret now really is that there is no secret. It was never intended to be secret or complicated. It is so simple that anyone can figure it out. It's very simple -- it's just not popular. The means of growth wasn't intended to make sense, because God is the one who takes care of it. What's contradictory about modern church growth is that it does make sense and it is more complicated. You need seminars for it, or even a D. Min. to figure it out. Church growth today is much harder to understand than the Bible.
As I said, the biblical way doesn't make sense. But how could modern church growth be more complicated and yet make more sense? It makes sense to men for something to be more complicated. But simplicity is what it is, whether that makes sense or not. When it is complicated, more complicated than the Bible, and you're the one who understands it, well, you know who gets the credit for that.
Recently I've been listening to, watching, and reading Tim Keller. He went to New York City as a middle aged man in the late 1980s and started from scratch, and by reports, Redeemer Presbyterian has 4,000 gathering on Sundays there now. As I read him, four thoughts stick out to me, in no particular order.
One, he needed to go to New York City to change in his thinking about church growth. He would not have rethought church growth without being in such an impossible place for typical church growth to start. By the way, why would someone, who had read through the New Testament, and knows it, be rethinking church growth? How could there be something new about church growth after 2,000 years of the church? That doesn't make sense at all to me, in every way that I judge in the most obvious fashion. And yet it does make sense to many people. It reminds me of the James Carville, Bill Clinton, presidential compaign for the 1992 election: change and not more of the same. More of the same doesn't make sense. Change does. That's why it makes sense to people that there's something different to be learned about church growth after 2,000 years that had been missed. Change is a key. Not really, but really.
And number one does connect to number two. Number two is a new look at Luke 15. Keller calls it "the third way" and he explains that in his book, The Prodigal God, and then his church growth book, Center Church (I'll be writing some more about this idea in future posts hopefully). That transformed his thinking about how churches grow. People were approaching this thing all wrong, who didn't have this particular understanding of Luke 15. The third way is Clintonian too. Clintonian triangulation, the Sister Souljah moment in the campaign. The third way was a new way to do politics and Keller is also offering a type of triangulation. The Center Church is in the center for a reason, centrist. Keller has tapped into a third way, which is a new way, which has been his key to church growth there, which he wouldn't have known without going to New York City. Is there a secret way, a way we hadn't really known before, that is found in Luke 15?
The third part of it is that people don't want to work without results. Little known is that your labor is in fact in vain without the numbers. I know what the Bible says, but trust me. They want the secret for doing God's work and seeing the results they want to see. One of the merits of Keller's way, which isn't the first recent innovation in church growth, is that you don't have to totally sell out on doctrine to get it done. When people attend Redeemer, they feel like they just got something the equivalent of a very good about 35 minute classroom lecture. I can take a very good 55 minute classroom lecture, but you don't want to press this too far (from what I've read, 35 minutes is about 15 minutes longer than the typical PCA sermon today). This approach does not insult anyone's intelligence. Not everyone is seeking after signs. There is a way to attract those people, especially who look like they walked off a Friends episode, but it is quite a bit messier, and you can find yourself feeling like the circus-master. Grimy. Lowest common denominator. Either way, the attraction is the results. He's got them, and as Jack Hyles once said, "I've got more people in my bathrooms at any one service than you do in your auditorium." So there.
The fourth part is everything that comes along with numbers. Can you see yourself putting up with missing all that?
No, church growth comes from means clearly spelled out in the Bible. The biggest problem as you read those means in scripture is that people won't like them. Modern church growth is about turning this process into something attractive, and then justifying that by piecing it together with a bewildering extrapolation of verses. Facepalm. Why couldn't I have seen that? But who am I to question the results? Those are easy to see. And I wouldn't want to criticize these professions just because of my own sour grapes. And the body is a diverse group of parts. And they might differ on the non-essentials, but we're all the same on what really matters, so let's just welcome what's happening. Hope the best.
The above means are not how Jesus or Paul did it. The simplicity is preach the gospel to everybody. A few will want it and most will not. Those who do not want it will in general hate you. You'll have a lot of people hating you. Your church will be way different than the world. You won't be able to explain the growth because of those big differences. Something supernatural has obviously taken place. You keep teaching the Bible to the converts, they grow, they preach to others. More preaching occurs until everyone in your area hears. All of those saved keep assembling and worshiping the Lord to His glory.
There is no guaranteed way that your church will get big in number with a scriptural means. The Bible reads mainly the opposite. Keller and others sort of offer a guarantee. There's a way that will work if you implement it correctly. That's what you need seminars for. Numerical church growth is actually simple to understand and not hard to figure out. It's a matter of whether the churches and their leaders will obey it.