Many Christians would declare their dissatisfaction with the culture, but churches have more to do with the culture than any other influence, based upon what scripture teaches. Churches decided to capitulate to the culture as a means of success. Most do that today, to the extent that most don't even know they're doing it any more. They now think that's just what churches do. If you're not doing it, you don't know what you're doing. You sort of don't know how to do church if you're not capitulating in some way to the culture. It reminds me of what some people say about professional sports -- "if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying."
The number of people now exposing what's going on in churches, as it relates to these church growth strategies, is small and relegated to insignificance. You'll hurt less from the critique than you will in not participating in the activities. Men feel more the external pain of unpopularity than the internal pain of conviction over capitulation.
I have called this "Hylesism," defined as "using human means to attract a crowd for evangelism." Could there be a better name? Many Southern Baptists and Presbyterians and Reformed and Evangelical Free and "non-denominational" haven't even heard of Hyles. A lot of Pelagians never heard of Pelagius, but his views are still Pelagianism. Why not Finneyism? Doesn't this go back to Charles Finney, really? I think there is a Finneyism, but it wasn't about church growth. What about Fullerism, because Fuller Theological Seminary has greatly influenced the church growth movement? The talk of "church growth" in the 1980s was Jack Hyles. Some evangelicals might argue that Fuller had more to do with the greatest of what we see today, according to the definition above. Renee Ouelette last year wrote glowingly of Jack Hyles as a church growth innovator:
They are always looking for a better way to get the job done, a more efficient method of disseminating the truth, a vehicle by which they can get the Gospel to more individuals. Dr. Jack Hyles was an innovator. He was largely responsible for the implementation of the bus ministry in many of our churches. He had a huge influence in encouraging us to engage in personal soulwinning. He used promotions in a way that had not previously been used. (Dr. Hyles gave free cruises as Sunday School prizes back in the ‘60’s!)
Hyles was at least at the headwaters of the church growth movement and no one did it better and faster and influenced more people in his day than Hyles.
Many different qualities distinguish Jack Hyles in a negative way. He corrupted the gospel. He was a revivalist, generating an atmosphere to persuade people the Holy Spirit was involved. He brought an unbiblical style of leadership. He dumbed down preaching. His pastor's conference reinvented "the conference" and spread the methodology far and wide. He popularized a unique brand of continuationist doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Hyles was many things, however, I'm focusing on this ideology: "using human means to attract a crowd for evangelism." I contend that focus to be the sine qua non of Hyles. He boasted the world's largest church and the world's largest Sunday School, and even though not everyone embraced all things Hyles, his tactics for church growth traveled well.
Hyles is gone, but Hylesism continues all over. Let me give one innocuous example that almost everyone today would say is harmless. The nation, even the world, celebrates what is called "Christmas." What is Christmas? Christmas is an opportunity to put on a gigantic production to lure unbelievers. The people in a church, who won't talk about Jesus, have the easiest time or occasion of the year to bring Him up in conversation at Christmas. It is the red carpet of church mention. The world gives Christians a pass at Christmas. The church designs an elaborate shindig of music so its church members, who won't even have to talk about Jesus, can invite people to the concert, a free concert and perhaps a dramatic production. People who wouldn't darken the door of a church will come to one of these things.
Who doesn't use Christmas as a method? Conservative evangelicals use Christmas. They will say it's one of their main ways of reaching the lost in their community. When they think the program through, they have the audience in mind. The entire program centers on what the lost will think. If they use Christmas, why not Easter? Why do this twice a year? Why not do it every week? If it works with the incarnation, why not use for all things Jesus? Jesus is turned into a commodity for church growth and especially His birth. Who can't resist a baby in a manger? It's a natural opportunity, they would say. This is all Hylesism.
Hylesism replaces the simplicity of biblical methodology. It is a form of deceit. There is more than a bit of showmanship with the lights and stage and microphones and sound with the indications of a club or an act. The acceptability now relates more to the degree, not the strategy. It's permissible "if it doesn't go too far." Is this right in the first place? Did Jesus do this? It's not what Jesus did. The methodology the Apostle Paul confronted in 1 Corinthians 1-3 is far more innocuous. He repudiated rhetorical techniques that would have still been less than the equivalent in the Greek culture. He's saying, "Don't do these types of things." Man isn't to receive glory for why everything works. The model of Jesus contradicts Hylesism and the Apostle Paul renounced it -- all of it.