The Bible is without error and sufficient. As a corollary to those two truths, scripture also contains everything anyone needs to know about church growth. When we look at the biblical teaching and example for church growth, we get everything we need for church growth. The New Testament contains so much about it that it could be said to be a, if not the, major theme.
When I write, "church growth," what am I talking about? I'm talking numerical growth, a church getting bigger. How does that or should that occur? Much recent material has been written about this subject. So much has now been said about how to make your church get bigger, that there isn't anything left to doubt. If you apply the techniques and use the formulas, your church will get bigger. If your church isn't getting numerically bigger, you are either unwilling to do what it takes, lacking in basic human ability, or you are ignorant.
The popularity of church growth relates heavily to a particular view of success. Almost no one today will credit a small church for success. Even if a small church is said to "know what it's doing," people still don't think it, and don't treat it as such. Even those who decry wrong methods and say they oppose the modern church growth movement give notice to those with larger churches. They too think something is wrong with a smaller church.
Success is bred into American thinking especially with capitalism and free market competition. You have your life in your hands, you make something of yourself, and a success story is a story of numeric growth. The American man pulls himself up by his boot straps and causes his own success. If he isn't doing that, he isn't worth emulating.
The bigger church with more people offers more benefits. That church and its leader(s) can tell you how to do it too, can add to your market, have more money, and can do more to promote you too. With more resources, the bigger church can promote itself better. It has more money to spend then on self promotion and perpetuates the growth through its own size. People know that bigger is more attractive because it comes with benefits. To leave big means going to less successful, which means you are less successful.
The nature of the flesh and pride, all at work in this world, side with a bigger church. Bigger is better. You order a meal and you did better with larger portions. You buy a house and you did better with more square feet and a larger yard. The 70 inch flat screen is better than 40 inches. On your finger is a bigger diamond, so it's better. The NBA publishes the number in attendance. The University of Michigan puts over 100,000 in the "big house." You are a better author with more book sales. You are a better leader in politics if you get more votes. America loves a winner! A bigger number of wins means you are a winner. If you don't get big, you're a loser. Do you want that? No!
Where else we're at today on this is that you are a very bad man if you criticize the big churches. You are sour grapes. You are bitter. You're a bad loser. You are against unity. You must rejoice in their growth. They are "blessed," and God is "blessing" them. That is big of you. That is to be a good loser. To not be very happy about their growth is to be envious. They can do it and you can't.
Actually, no, you can do it, but you won't. The bigger churches are playing off of the fact that they are different than your church. They do it all the time. They want the people to know you're a loser and they are a winner. That is a big part of their strategy. This isn't envy. They are wrong! They are the losers actually and then strutting all over the end zone and spiking the ball like they are winners. They are losers! They aren't willing to obey the Bible. They aren't willing to sacrifice. They aren't blessed. They are repugnant. Saying they're blessed is a lie. It alters the meaning blessing like they've altered all sorts of other biblical doctrines to get where they are.
Let's say that success really is obeying the Bible, the Joshua 1:8 idea of success. You sort out what the Bible says and leave success to God. You do no more than what the Bible says in order to grow, knowing that is God's way. Let's compare church growth in the Bible to modern church growth. This post will deal with only the first.
One, church growth in the Bible proceeded from a true gospel and modern church growth most often does not.
According to my observation or in my estimation, most modern church growth proceeds from something less than a true gospel, when all the church growth in the Bible came from a true gospel. Church growth from an altered or watered down gospel is a development in church history, and especially recent history. The gospel has been changed in three primary ways.
First, as the church growth movement has expanded, its gospel has become traditional. It sounds like the gospel to many, because it is what they've heard, so it must be right. People use the long-time corruption as if it were orthodox. Second, churches have just adapted the gospel to the church growth strategy, estimating that their alterations have kept it suitably intact to remain the gospel and still save people. Third, churches have kept a historic, biblical, and orthodox gospel, but the methods for church growth themselves alter the meaning in a more subtle way. People are not being saved because they are receiving it within a false context. Meaning can be denotative (dictionary) and connotative (emotional and cultural baggage).
Jesus and the Apostles didn't try to trick people. The point of receiving Jesus was to understand receiving Jesus. The person receiving needed to know what it was to believe or receive and needed to know who Jesus was. There wasn't an attempt to get to a decision, but to be clear about who He was. All the expectations were included. Anything that could offend was presented too.
Churches today are full of "saved people," who are not saved. They have made professions based upon false information. The churches operate in a way that a person like that can remain comfortable. That is part of the strategy. The way the "gospel" has been packaged has had much to do with their being fooled. This can happen even when everything is being done right and a true gospel is being presented. People can still be making a false profession and be unsaved. Scripture is replete with warnings about a mixed multitude and how to know if it is real.
In the Bible, we see the preachers wanting people to understand what the gospel meant. They were going to allow the gospel to be the basis for the conversion. Today the terms have been changed and the decision is most often more centered on self.
Nothing has characterized the placebo gospel than bifurcating Savior from Lord. This is cause for exponentially more professions and false ones, and then explaining why someone doesn't exhibit fruit of salvation. It brings people in on a false premise and then keeps them on a similar one. The door is wider at the entrance and then it's just easier to stay in, once in.
I find that people don't even want to hear the true gospel. Today's "evangelists" know that, and so they preach something modified to what people do want to hear. And now the modified message is what people are willing to accept. They compare it with the truth and like it better, so accept it as the truth.
The modern church growth movement doesn't grow based on the gospel. They might say that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, it isn't the power of God in their case. It is the power of their claim of power. You think you got something and you didn't, but it's still called getting something.
Churches know what people want and expect. They tweak the gospel to get there, through a type of negotiation. It's a deal to be made with people. It can be done in man's power. He's being offered a product, very likable, and there's the haggling about the cost. Now the church, like a modern company, keeps track of the acceptable threshold for people.
Even with churches that include lordship, the ones "buying in" can see that not much will change. Jesus is King and He's calling for subjugation, but it's like signing on for a timeshare. You go through the presentation and there will be some sacrifice, but you know that you get all the comforts. Life isn't going to change that much. Egalitarian marriages are welcome. All the worldly desires can stay the same. You can see that by looking at the other people in the church with the rock music called a service.
It isn't hard to understand the concept of preaching the gospel to everyone. We can just do that. So why isn't it done yet? People don't like it. They don't want it. Therefore, other methods have replaced that, which work better. Meanwhile, not everyone hears. This is because the biblical way doesn't work. People know that.
The gospel itself is great to a true believer. He gets the alternative. Hell. He knows sin offends God and pleasing God is what life is about. He loves the gospel. He wants to present even knowing that the world doesn't want to hear it. He keeps doing it because of the value of the gospel itself. That's what makes it great, not whether the world likes it or not. When someone changes the gospel, the good thing has been spoiled and the spoiled thing isn't worth talking about. Whether the world likes it or not, the gospel is great. The world doesn't know it because it is rebellious and deceived, but lovers of the gospel still tell it, because they do know it's great. Nothing is greater than God's plan.
(to be continued)