Taking stands for the truth has cost me friendships. That will most likely happen again. Not that I intentionally sabotage my relationships–I don’t. But neither can I pretend to agree with practices that go against the Bible. And the pragmatic nature of the Church Growth Movement, precisely because it relies on human strategies rather than the sovereignty of God, definitely goes against the Bible.
I agree with those who charge that doctrine divides (a frequent charge of those in the Church Growth Movement). Indeed, Jesus brought violent division to First Century Jews to such an extent that many of His followers suffered persecution and death at the hands of those who believed themselves to be devoted followers of the one true God. He said, quite explicitly, that He would cause division to the degree that people would equate persecuting His disciples with serving God (see John 16:1-4).
So I don’t want to bury truth simply to keep myself comfortable. But neither do I want to speak truth in a malicious manner. People I love are caught in churches that promote Church Growth strategies, and many of them are genuine Christians. I don’t mind angering false converts (especially those who prefer deception over truth), but the Lord would have me be patient with those who know Him truly (Galatians 6:1-3). I also have belonged to churches that promoted error, and I remember how gently and gradually the Lord corrected me.
Having said all that, I can’t apologize for my concern over churches that measure themselves by the number of warm bodies that fill their seats (and consequently their offering plates) on Sunday mornings. Popular Church Growth leaders like Rick Warren need to be held accountable for influencing churches to jettison Biblical preaching in favor of marketing methods and more palatable presentations of “Christianity” in order to attract young families with earning potential.
Though leaders in such churches convince themselves and their congregations that they employ worldly strategies out of a desire to advance God’s kingdom, I know from first-hand involvement in two such churches that they primarily seek to expand their organizations. To be fair, I know that the leaders of both churches honesty did care about seeing lost people come to Christ. Yet I saw them express more concern over whether the offering plates filled up than about seeing genuine conversions.
Numerical growth, I agree, can be a blessing. Acts 2:41, for example, certainly celebrates the fact that 3000 people came to salvation in response to Peter’s Pentecost sermon. The church that John and I currently attend prays for revival in New England, longing to see many people return to the faith of the godly men and women who first came to Plymouth Rock. So please understand that I do see great value in a church’s numerical increase.
Quantity, however, must always assume a second place to quality, especially in relation to church growth. Rick Warren’s supporters defend his marketing techniques on the premise that “he brings so many people” into churches. Yet many people who purportedly “get saved” through his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, come through a grossly watered-down presentation that barely resembles the Biblical Gospel (page 58):
“Right now, God is inviting you to live for his glory by fulfilling the purposes he made you for . . . all you need to do is receive and believe…. Will you accept God’s offer?” Again, he offers a sample prayer, “I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity, “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.”
That’s woefully inadequate, but much more attractive than confronting people with their sin and using Scripture to present the Gospel. He fails to explain why his audience needs salvation, or even how Jesus accomplished salvation. It isn’t until much later in the book that Warren bothers to mention repentance. Basically, Warren reduces the Lord to a life-improving commodity. That way, more people will, he believes, come into our churches.
But we must desire that men and women come to a real knowledge of Christ. And the Lord said very candidly that only a minority of people would truly experience regeneration.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)
Yes, we by all means ought to pray for more people to fill our churches. But we must pray even more for true conversions, even if doing so means half-empty pews and smaller offerings. Numbers, as exciting and affirming as they are, simply don’t reflect surrendered hearts that focus on glorifying Jesus.