How the Seeker-Sensitive, Consumer Church Is Failing a Generation

by Dorothy Greco, Christianity Today Guest  Writer

I found this in the Women’s Section of an August 2013 issue of CT Magazine. I’m not sure exactly how I came across it, maybe one of those Facebook  ‘Suggested Posts’. I’m also not sure why it ended up in the Women’s Section – maybe because a woman wrote it? While I’m not a great fan of Christianity Today (some call it ‘Christianity Astray’, and for good reason), but it’s a good read and as significant  nowas it was five years ago. Enjoy.

How the Seeker-Sensitive, Consumer Church Is Failing a Generation

 

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The millennial generation’s much-talked-about departure from church might lead those of us over 30 to conclude that they have little interest in Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, their spiritual coming of age has coincided with many Protestant pastors relying on a consumer business model to grow and sustain their churches. This template for doing church and the millennials’ hunger for authenticity has caused an ideological collision.

Seeker-sensitive services originally promised to woo post-moderns back into the fold. Out the stained glass window went the somewhat formal 45-minute exegetical sermon, replaced by a shorter, story-based talk to address the “felt needs” of the congregants while reinforcing the premise that following Jesus would dramatically improve their quality of life.

Contemporary worship had already found its way into the mainstream, but their new model nudged the church further toward a rock-concert feel. Finally, programs proliferated, with programs for nearly every demographic, from Mothers of Preschoolers to Red Glove Motorcycle Riders.

None of these changes were pernicious or even poorly intentioned. In the case of my previous church, choosing the seeker model began innocently. The staff endeavored to create a wide on-ramp for folks who might ordinarily bypass the sanctuary in favor of Starbucks. (As an incentive, we provided fair-trade coffee and bagels each week.) Trained not to assume that everyone was on the same page politically or spiritually, we sought to have friendly, nuanced conversations with visitors.

Being aware of those who come through the doors of any organization is a good thing. I have walked out of many services without a single person engaging with me. However, many churches gradually, and perhaps unwittingly, transitioned from being appropriately sensitive to the needs of their congregants to becoming–if you’ll permit some pop-psychologizing–co-dependent with them.

What does co-dependence look like within a church? Avoiding sections of Scripture out of fear that certain power pockets will be offended. Believing that repeat attendance depends primarily upon the staff’s seamless execution of Sunday morning–rather than the manifest presence of God. Eliminating doleful songs from the worship repertoire because they might contradict the through line that “following Jesus is all gain.”

Jesus was neither a co-dependent nor a businessman. He unashamedly loved those on the margins and revealed himself to all who were searching. He seemed quite indifferent about whether or not he disappointed the power brokers. Additionally, Jesus understood that the irreducible gospel message—that we are all sinners in need of being saved—was, and always will be, offensive. No brilliant marketing campaign could ever repackage it.

I have been following after Jesus for more than three decades and the gospel still makes me bristle. Love those who publicly maligned me? Confess my sins to a friend? You’re kidding Jesus, aren’t you? Only he’s not kidding. Both his words and his life clearly demonstrate that to align ourselves with him means that we must be willing to forsake everything so that we might become more like him.

Rather than helping congregants in this endeavor, churches that bend into their mercurial whims foster a me-first mentality. This actually plays into one of the potential root sins of this generation: self-absorption. While it’s all too easy for those of us over the age of 30 to poke fun at their selfie antics, I think young Christians actually want the church to help them reign in their narcissism. Writer Aleah Marsden told me, “We definitely want to see Jesus at the center because the rest of the world keeps shouting that we’re the center. We don’t need the church to echo the world.”

As they clamor for a communion supper with the best wine and freshly baked bread, the seeker-sensitive, consumer model has offered them treacly grape juice and dry cracker pieces, leaving them unsatisfied and frustrated. In an article about college students who turned from Christianity to atheism, Larry Alex Taunton wrote:

Christianity, when it is taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it… These students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable.

Based on the dissonance between Sunday morning and the other six and a half days of the week, it would seem that many of us have passively acclimated to a faith that demands very little of us. Perhaps millennials’ dissatisfaction with and departure from the church will motivate all of us to opt for more integrity and authenticity.

On a practical level, that will require them to remain faithful to the bride and to commit to love and forgive the church despite her many imperfections and failures. One 20-something, lifelong believer nailed this dilemma; “I believe our greatest desire and hunger is to find a cause worth committing to, yet we’re a commitment phobic generation.”

The body of Christ, though broken, is a cause worthy of our devotion and commitment. But that inherent worth does not exempt her from making much needed course adjustments.

Millennials’ intolerance of hypocrisy necessitates that those of us in leadership do more than preach about values that this demographic holds dear. According to Parkview Community Church pastor Ray Kollbocker, this demographic “wants Christianity to be more than information. They want to see how Christianity actually changes the world not just talk about the change.” A church which claims to value diversity and equality needs to do more than promote white males and refer to all humanity with a masculine pronoun. Because millennials have such an intense hunger for transparent relationships and truth, churches could foster intergenerational mentoring within their communities rather than depending upon the more impersonal leadership classes.

Finally, those who preach will serve everyone by exploring troubling sections of the Bible rather than pretending they don’t exist. Mercy Vineyard pastor Jeff Heidkamp explains his strategy: “If there is a part of a Bible passage I’m preaching that simply baffles me, such as why God allows the devil to torture Job, I will say what it is I don’t understand.” Such humility invites dialogue and exploration rather than dogmatically closing the door on any questions.

If the Barna Group statistics are accurate, more than 8 million 20-somethings have given up on church or Christianity. Do their actions indicate a need for us to, as David Kinnaman suggests, “change our church structure, guided by the unchanging truths of Scripture to nurture their unique gifts and calling?” Or is their departure an invitation for all of us who consider ourselves Christians to prioritize transformation into the image of Christ, rather than going about business as usual? Or, could it possibly be both?

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Dorothy Littell Greco divides her time between writing, making photographs, pastoring, and keeping three teenage sons adequately fed. She lives and works in the Boston area and is a reluctant Patriots/Celtics/Bruins/Red Sox fan. You can check out more of her words and images at dorothygreco.com.

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Image Credit: Acoustic Dimensions / Flickr

Numbers Driven Church Growth: The Natural & Unavoidable Consequence of the Seeker Friendly Movement

Don’t you just love those “Suggested Posts” from Facebook? Maybe, maybe not! One I often wonder what the algorithm looks like that they use when a “Christian” is identified and they want to send us more stuff to read. It seems that more times than not, the results look like the programing schedules for TBN and God TV – mostly ‘spiritual’ junk food, or downright poison.

I received another one recently that said I could receive free training that could make me an expert at reaching my community and growing my church. One endorser was quoted as having doubled the numbers of people in his church and that the methods advertised were great!

Literally everything offered was geared to numbers. Like the question “Are you tired of folks walking in the front door and leaving out the back?” The bottom line for church growth is ALL about the numbers. There are some free videos and I watched the first one, which was a little over 5 minutes long and about creating your church Home Page on the Internet – making it appealing to those you want to get in the door. The second one promises to be about energizing your community to get more people through the front door, but I couldn’t figure out how to get/find it. (The first video link arrived in my email inbox.) In short, it’s about appealing to the ‘unchurched’ and maybe those unhappy with their present church to join yours.

It’s ALL about the numbers, and not uncommon in today’s evangelical environment. Much of this trend can be laid at the feet of the ‘seeker friendly’ movement that assumes that everyone is a spiritual seeker at heart and if you give them (the unchurched) what they want to see/experience in ‘church’ they will visit yours, and often hang around (at least until someone else’s church offers more (or better) of what they want than yours does).

And therein lies the rub. In order to get happy pagans into your church, you have to entice them with stuff that happy pagans like and want, and happy pagans don’t ‘want’ God. They are fleshly minded by nature and unable to please God (Rom 8-7-8). Granted, you probably will attract some who are not involved in a church and who are actually seeking and want God, but that would be because God had opened their hearts to hear the gospel (the Lydia principal in Acts 16) or they are already genuine believers.

Add to that the ‘cost’ of pleasing happy pagans and you end up with no choice but to focus on sheer numbers (giving/tithing posteriors in the theater seats) in order to be able to afford (or not get into too much debt over) the rock concert quality praise band (some churches actually hire musicians), light shows, smoke, stage ‘sets’, presentation media (PPT and video clips) etc., etc., etc.. Get the point? Do you see why the numbers are essential?

And not only do you need to get them through the front door, you gotta keep ‘em! There’s more training available for that. Did I mention that everything isn’t really ‘free’?. It never is. ‘Free’ stuff is always offered with these church growth gurus, but usually you are also offered some kind of package to learn more, and get even better at growing ‘your’ church. In this case there was a bargain deal on a DVD set that is marked down significantly from a 3-digit (before the decimal point) price to a 2-digit cost. More than likely the DVD set was NEVER worth a 3-digit price, but they always make it look like they are sacrificing ‘profit’ because they care ‘sooooo much’ for the Kingdom!

I’ve seen a lot of other ads like the one described in this post and they all make me mad and sad at the same time.  Enough said.

Of course, there are other natural and unavoidable consequences of adopting a ‘seeker driven’ church model. Having to play the numbers game is just one of them.

On the other hand………if you leave church growth to the one who says that HE will build HIS church (Remember the focus on ’your’ church in the Facebook ad?), you just might end up with a smaller church filled with genuine believers in the Christ who bore the wrath of God on their behalf (the ‘sheep’), instead of an auditorium full of deceived ‘goats’.

Timely Thoughts?

A few days ago there was a Facebook post by a man I know that said, in part:

“When hate filled violence of ANY sort is considered justified, we are in serious trouble. When public leaders at any level don’t condemn ALL violence, the trouble is even worse. It’s called ‘inviting’ anarchy to rule the nation. Folk’s, it’s happening.”

One commenter posted this:

“Sad, but very true. Do you see hope or despair on the horizon?”

This was the reply to that comment:

“I see both in the pages of scripture. Lawlessness will wax worse and worse, but Christ will continue to save his people from their sins of that they can be lights in ever increasing darkness.”

What are your thoughts?

Expository Preaching: Cheating & Easy?

At least that is what Andy Stanley said in a recent interviewclip_image002
when asked what he thought about preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible. That is his first of two reasons why he does not believe in expository preaching.

It is obvious that Andy Stanley has never preached verse by verse through any book of the Bible because if he had, he would never make that statement. It is a challenge to give the true and real meaning of the text as intended by the author and as understood by the original recipients when you have to consider such things as historical background, the meanings of the original languages, the literary context, etc.

What is cheating because it is easy is what Andy engages in, topical sermons where you find verses to hang on your petty human thinking so that you meet the “felt needs” of people.

“In what more resembles “sermonettes for Christianettes”, casual discourses are becoming increasingly focused on massaging “felt needs” rather than allowing the biblical text to expose real needs.” – Steve Lawson(Famine in the Land)

Furthermore Andy does not believe in verse by verse preaching because that is not how you grow people. Andy is right. Ok now, just breathe for a moment and recuperate from what you just read. Andy is right in that simply preaching the Word is not how any person grows people. If you want to grow people, then follow Andy’s pattern. But if you want God to grow people, follow the pattern of the early church.

So how did the early church grow?

Answer: The conviction of the Holy Spirit and the sovereign call of God:

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” – Acts 2:37–41

Answer: Simply the Lord:

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:47

Answer: The Word of God

“But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” – Acts 4:4

“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” – Acts 6:7

And why did the word of God continue to increase?

“And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” – Acts 6:2-4

Andy Stanley must consider himself above the early apostles who considered it “not right” to give up preaching the Word. Instead of devoting himself to the ministry of the Word like the early apostles, Andy has devoted himself to “growing people” through marketing the seeker-sensitive way.

It would behoove Andy Stanley, and anyone else who is not committed to expounding the Scripture verse by verse, to heed the following prophetic words!

“To an alarming extent the glory is departing from the pulpit. The basic reason for this gloomy condition is obvious. That which imparts the glory has been taken away from the center of so much of our modern preaching and placed on the periphery. The Word of God has been denied the throne and given a subordinate place. Where such exposition and authoritative declaration of the Word of God are abandoned, Ichabod, the glory has departed, must be written over the preacher and over the pulpit from which he preaches.” – Merrill Unger

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HT: No Compromise Radio

Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? – Part 2

Last November Christianity Today published an article with the above title, minus the ‘Part 2’. That article can be read here at The Battle Cry. The article, while seeming to applaud what it termed the ‘orthodox’ Pentecostal movement. i.e., Assembly of God churches, at the expense of non-Pentecostal Protestantism. Those whose comments haven’t been exactly in agreement with the praise heaped upon the Charismatic Movement were counseled about abiding by the ‘rules’ of debate, some comments ‘edited’, and at least one ‘blocked’ (that would be me).

The conclusion of the author of the original article, Ed Stetzer, based on a survey of faith groups, was this concerning those faith groups that are declining in numbers:

“Most are mainline, a few are evangelical, but most simply are not as excited about what they believe—and don’t think it needs to be propagated as much—as the Pentecostals.”

Well, having been in the ‘orthodox’ Pentecostal camp for a number of years (Assembly of God), and have observed/participated in the ‘excitement’, I have to agree with Ed Stetzer, up a point. At that time, as a recently ‘returned home’ prodigal, I found the excitement and evangelistic fervor of my Pentecostal brethren both genuine and contagious. I wanted to be part of a body of believers who were as excited about their salvation as I was, and many were. Others, however, were more ‘excited’ about the ‘higher’ life defined by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, especially ‘speaking in tongues’. If there was ‘something more’ than just salvation that God wanted me to have, I wanted it! And who was I to argue with any of the ‘spiritual’ leaders who were telling me there was indeed /something more’?

It’s more than a few years since we moved away from Pentecostalism and I don’t intend to get into all of the reasons why we left that church environment. The reasons are many and I think very sound. What I would offer is what I consider as the very bottom line concerning the above question. Here is my answer to the question “Why do these Pentecostals Keep Growing?”, and in my mind, it’s rather simple.

The Pentecostal/Charismatic community/churches are growing and will continue to grow because they are at their core based on OUR EXPERIENCE and thus man-centered and focused on what WE can/should have as believers in a quest for the ‘higher’ life. Not only have I ‘been there, done that’, a quick Google search on “History of Pentecostalism’ will return documents from Pentecostals themselves attesting to the centrality of ‘experience(s)’.

Mr. Stetzer didn’t want to discuss the validity of Pentacostalism in his article, which I found rather disconcerting. To just assume all of the excitement and experiences are genuine moves of God and accept his conclusions would have been for me, rather pointless.

I wish I hadn’t been banned from commenting on the original article, because this just popped up over there, and was directed to me:

“Hi Daniel – I am convinced, especially in such an opinionated world, that direct experience with God through the Spirit causes church growth. We have way too many doctrines for our own good. I am glad you are excited about your salvation. However, skipping out on hell is just the beginning. Once we are sons and daughters we have no need to lay foundations of salvation in our lives any longer. Church growth seems to need excited senior saints to infect a younger generation with the glory of a Spirit-filled life.”

If that isn’t a declaration of personal experience trumping doctrine, I don’t know what does. And when subjective experience trumps objective truth…”Houston, we have a problem!”

‘Nuff said……….

Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing?

Many evangelical churches and denominations are in a state of plateau or decline. Why aren’t Pentecostals? |

Ed Stetzer

There are parts of the globe where the greatest church growth is happening through the Pentecostal movement. One of the most asked questions is, “In a world where the church seems to be declining in many areas, how they are bucking the trend?”

There is never one reason why a movement succeeds. But some factors rise to the surface. Pentecostals will say they are growing because the Spirit is moving in a powerful way. I get that, and actually would affirm that as part of the reason, but from a sociological perspective, other things are happening and worth exploring.

was recently asked (by Pentecostal leaders) what some sociological reasons might be. So, following that meeting, and in this brief post, I want to explore how the beliefs of Pentecostals actually promote and produce growth, compared to other, more “mainstream” groups.

Pentecostals Value Their Shared Experience

From a statistical perspective, Pentecostals tend to be less “nominal” than other believers. The reason is often obvious—the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In almost all Pentecostalism (as contrasted to other continualist streams) speaking in tongues follows the Holy Spirit’s baptism. After that experience, it’s hard to say, “Oh I don’t take this whole thing serious, I don’t even know if it’s real.”

When you believe you’re speaking in another language, that belief reshapes the way you think about faith!

Being a nominal Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist is easier; though there are some outward expectations like baptism (among credobaptists) that can mark a spiritual commitment. But Pentecostal believers and churches constantly emphasize spiritual practice and engagement.

That helps make a more robust faith.

So, more often than not, stagnation is not as compatible with a real Spirit-filled experience. The end result—it’s harder to be a nominal Pentecostal—the beliefs of the movement tend to weed out nominalism. Because of what is happening in church and the community of faith, people tend not to just hang around as casual observers.

Either you join in it, or you move on. Many join. Movements populated by nominals are usually in decline. Nominals don’t populate Pentecostalism, so it grows.

Pentecostals Want to Share Their Values

Not only does a valued distinctive encourage participation and growth in the local body, but it also provides an imperative for growth outside of the local body. When you appreciate what you have as much as Pentecostals do, you aren’t satisfied to experience it yourself. You think others should have the same opportunity to partake of the movement of the Spirit of God.

When I meet with Pentecostal leaders, they’re strategizing about where to plant a church. They break out the maps and determine where they need to focus their attention.

Never mind there are already six churches in a 10-block community. To them, there’s not a Spirit-filled church in that community until they plant one. So they are often avid planters, not just in their own area, but also around the world.

Worth Sharing The Spirit-Filled Experience

Pentecostals believe in their approach. Their Christian walk has benefited, and they think everyone should have access. While others are figuring out what to do now to achieve growth, Pentecostals are focusing on who they are and are achieving growth.

When you think your expression is worth sharing (be it Pentecostal, Calvinist, or Anabaptist) you are more likely to share it with others, start new churches, and more.

So, What Does It Mean for the Rest of Us?

One key to growth is for you actually to believe what you have is so important that propagation to other contexts in its current version is necessary. The Vineyard Church movement exploded in growth in the 1980s for this reason. They thought that people needed to experience what the Vineyard had to offer.

Baptists thought that way in the 50s. Methodists thought that way in the Second Great Awakening.

Pentecostal believe they have something worth propagating. And that’s worth learning from.

Odd Distinctives

Of course, to non-Pentecostals, all this seems odd. Sometimes for younger or dissatisfied Pentecostals, they want to de-emphasize the supernatural.

Well, I’d have some theological nuances I’d like to bring in, but from a sociological perspective my response is, “I wouldn’t downplay what is in the engine.” You don’t care for some of their expression? That’s fine. But Pentecostals are trying to reach the lost and grow the Kingdom.

Their distinctives apparently aren’t hindering their growth—their distinctives are propelling growth globally.

People Want a Faith With Flavor

One of the dangers today is “bland evangelicalism.” Many evangelical churches and denominations are in a state of plateau or decline. Some groups are trying to downplay their distinctives to be more acceptable. Who wants to duplicate that? Nobody.

Sometimes the difference between an expanding movement and one that is retracting is how they deal with their distinctives. Some are in protection mode. They feel like they have to preserve their specialness by locking it down and guarding it. Ironically, they end up smothering the mission by covering the light that would shine through their specially designed glass.

Others embrace and celebrate their unique values and expression. In doing so, they attract people who are seeking something more than bland.

For example, I recently reviewed the stats for the 25 largest faith groups in the United States. In the year I reviewed, the only two orthodox Christian groups growing on the list were the Assemblies of God and Church of God (Cleveland). So, what do all of the declining denominations have in common?

Most are mainline, a few are evangelical, but most simply are not as excited about what they believe—and don’t think it needs to be propagated as much—as the Pentecostals.

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I commented a few times, but was finally blocked. I dared question the idea that church growth is not just numbers. I also suggested that ‘Pentecostal’ church growth has a lot to do with ‘experience(s)’ since I spent several years in what he would call an ‘Orthodox’ Pentecostal church. That sentiment was echoed by another commenter who suggested that true church growth is tied more to the 5 Solas than anything else. He was warned also concerning the ‘rules’. It was clear to me that Ed Stetzer was not interested in discussing the issues that the very subject of his article invited. If a mark of a ‘growing’ church is being excited about what they believe, one can find any number of non-pentecostal, evangelical churches that have thousands of members excited about Jesus having died for their ‘best lives now’. Having said all that, I found the article lacking any real theological depth and lacking in intellectual integrity.

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Genuine Church Growth–It’s NOT about Numbers

Church growth means that attendance/membership numbers are on the rise. An increase in numbers however does not necessarily indicate genuine church growth. By genuine church growth I mean an increase resulting from the addition of truly regenerate, saved sinners. Please allow me to explain.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Those are Jesus’ words, to Peter of course, and I ‘m convinced that those few words speak volumes about genuine church growth. I just want to share a few thoughts.

First of all we are told that there is a “rock” that is the foundation of the church. What is that “rock”? To understand “the rock” we need only examine the immediate context and a couple of other passages in the New Testament.

“He said to them (his disciples), "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:15-18)

With his words, Jesus was replying to what Peter had answered to the question he had posed to them “Who do you say that I am?”. Peter correctly responded by identifying Jesus as Christ, the  Messiah (deliverer) they had been looking for throughout Jewish history, and that Jesus was the Son of God. Because the Greek name ‘Peter’ is similar to the Greek word ‘rock’ there are those who will say that Peter himself was that rock of which Jesus spoke. Was he?

“So then you (believers) are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20) (Emphasis mine)

I assume we will all agree that the ‘household of God’ refers to the church on earth. Note that the apostles and prophets form the foundation of the church, and that Jesus himself is the chief cornerstone of the foundation. Peter was one of the apostles in the foundation, not ‘the rock’ of which Jesus spoke. The rock was Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the one identified by the Apostle Paul (also part of the foundation) as the Chief Cornerstone.

What does that mean in terms of genuine church growth? Thanks for asking! Here’s the critical phrase from our beginning passage, Jesus’ words:

”. . .on this rock (Jesus is the Messiah) I will build my church.”

No rocket science here. Jesus claims ownership of the church and it is built on the truth that He is the Christ, the One who delivers us from our sins, who was crucified in our place. It is when a lost sinner makes the same confession as Peter, calls on the name of the Lord for salvation, that a new member is added to the church, the body of Christ. And just how does anyone come t the point of calling on the name of the Lord for salvation? We have the answer in Paul’s words to the church in Rome

“For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" “(Romans 10:13-15)

Genuine church growth begins with the ‘preaching’ of the gospel by ‘sent’ ones,. equipped with Holy Spirit power. At least that was the pattern during the infancy of the church. When Stephen was stoned to death by an angry Jewish mob, great persecution arose and believers scattered from Jerusalem fulfilling what was spoken by the resurrected Christ to his disciples in Jerusalem:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Then came Pentecost. The rest is history.

Does that mean numbers being added to a local church somewhere? Of course it does! The new birth generates a desire for fellowship with other believers. When lost souls are added to the universal church, the body of all believers, local churches grow. The numbers are a natural result of preaching the gospel to God-opened hearts. Numbers added to a local church are merely a by-product, and should never be the main goal of man-made schemes and methods. Jesus said “I will build my church.”

That being said, when I look around today’s evangelical landscape, I keep seeing all sorts of church growth conversations in which numbers themselves seem to be the main focus. I was at another site just recently that had a post titled “8 Reasons Your Church Won’t Get Past The 200 Mark.”While I’m convinced the author of that blog post genuinely  wants to see unsaved people saved, I am equally convinced that creating a church that the ‘unchurched’ (euphemism for lost, in bondage to sin, spiritually dead folks) love to attend is NOT the way Jesus intended HIS church to be built.

I think I pretty much explained Jesus’ method for church growth. I probably should say ‘non-model’. In Jesus’ ‘non-model’ there are no Peter Drucker management techniques being used, no state of the art entertainment productions that mimic Guns and Roses or AC/DC, no cheerleaders posing as worship teams to get folks all worked up (not all worship teams are like that), no Barna style surveys to isolate certain demographic segments for the church’s target audience, no leaving out the issues of sin and repentance. And the list goes on, and on, and on.

Genuine church growth comes from the preaching of the gospel – the one that Paul was not ashamed of, that “Christ died, was buried, and rose again for OUR sins for out sins” (See I Cor 15:1-4). That preaching can happen just about anywhere, in fact should happen more outside the church building than inside it, as believers are equipped to being ‘scattered’, and just like the N.T. believers, they preach the gospel wherever they are! (See Acts 8:4)

So what is the goal of genuine church growth, if not numbers?

Dear friends and fellow believers, the goal of church growth is to bring the ‘unchurched’ to the foot of the cross of Christ, NOT through the doors of our church!

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