The Church Growth Movement

In Christian bookstores across America and Canada, there are often entire sections of shelves devoted to books on church growth. These books and the concepts within them have spread around the world. Pastors are hungry to learn how to increase attendance at their churches, and they are often quick to adopt the advice of American mega-church pastors who are deemed successful by virtue of the size of their buildings and the number of people who attend on Sundays.

Those who are a little more discerning, however, realize that attendance and building size are not necessarily an indication of the quality of disciple-making. Some American churches have grown due to appealing doctrines that are a perversion of biblical truth. I’ve spoken to pastors all over the world who have been shocked to learn that multitudes of American pastors believe and proclaim that once a person is saved, he can never forfeit his salvation regardless of what he believes or how he lives his life. Similarly, many American pastors proclaim a watered-down gospel of cheap grace, leading people to think that they can gain heaven without holiness. Quite a few more proclaim a gospel of prosperity, fueling the greed of people whose religion is a means to gain more treasures that they can lay up on earth. Those are pastors whose church-growth techniques certainly should not be imitated.

I’ve read my share of books on the subject of church growth, and I have mixed feelings about them. Many contain strategies and advice that are, to some degree, biblical, making them worthwhile to read. But almost all are based on the 1700-year-old institutional church model, rather than on the biblical church model. Consequently, the focus is not on building the body of Christ through multiplying disciples and disciple-makers, but on building individual institutional congregations, which always requires bigger buildings, more specialized church staff and programs, and a structure that is more like a business corporation than a family.

Some modern church-growth strategies seem to suggest that church services be made more attractive for people who don’t want to follow Jesus, just for the sake of gaining numbers. They advise short, positive sermons only, non-expressive worship, lots of social activities, that money never be mentioned, and so on. This does not result in the making of disciples who deny themselves and obey all of Christ’s commandments. It results in professing Christians who are indistinguishable from the world and who are on the broad road to hell. This is not God’s strategy to win the world but Satan’s strategy to win the church. It is not “church growth” but “world growth.”