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Understanding The Modern Church Growth Movement

Updated on February 1, 2016

Discerning the good and bad of modern church growth

Visit any christian church or christian web site and you probably will be confronted by modern church growth in some way. There are thousands of church-growth, seeker friendly courses and webinars. I recently participated in a Healthy Church Project Seminar. These courses can run from a few hundred to several thousand dollars and can take from a couple hours to months to complete. This particular program offers three programs to fit the large, medium or small church. There is the VIP Gold, VIP Silver or the frugal basic. Money changers from at least the time of Jesus conducted their business in Gods' House. And like Jesus in His day they must be chased out once again.The History Of The Modern Church Growth Movement can be traced to D.A. McGavran who stated: "It is God's will that women and men become disciples of Jesus Christ and responsible members of Christ's church." McGraven first wrote about church growth in 1936 and with this slight rewording of Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20, The Great Commission reads - Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”, McGavran allowed himself to be compromised and therefore an enemy of The Kingdom Of God. The Movement quickly added others who added expertise.

C. Peter Wagner is its systematician.

Win Arn introduced America to church growth principles.

And Lyle Schaller, not really connected with the roots of the movement, is a guru of church planning whose advice is respected by those who are at the root of the Movement.

Notes and links from Susan Conway

Since then church growth has morphed into a multi-media, multi-billion dollar industry. A new field of experts have sprung up to assist willing pastors transform their stagnant congregations into spiritual havens for the unchurched. Minister of Church Growth and Education and Visitor Retention Administrator are popular fields for those with social science degrees. The Word Of God, The Bible, says we (the church) have a responsibility to The World. The metaphor of salt and light is used to highlight that responsibility.

Matthew 5:13-16:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?

... You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

That responsibility has promises attached to it but only if we glorify God through, not because of our "good works". Modern Church Growth maybe a good work but does it bring glory to God.

And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. Luke 16:15

Modern church marketing strategies led by men like Rick Warren author of the bestselling book and media spin-off Purpose Driven Life, Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Centre of Baton Rouge and member of the Board of Directors of Church Growth International, David Yonggi Cho, Bill Hybels and Lawrence Khong share a common spiritual father in Robert Schuller whether directly or indirectly. Schuller considered by many to be the "father of TV Evangelism" is definitely responsible for discipling many new age church growth leaders. There is a saying in the religious world " you can compromise your method but never your message". But Jesus left a simple method and message that couldn't be compromised. Marketing had nothing to do with The Gospel Of Jesus Christ. Marketing is an economic term that has been grafted into the modern church. It is as unnatural as a pope in a baptist church. A fitting description of the Modern Church Growth Movement is a church proverb or aphorism attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux translated thus: the road to hell is paved with good intentions .

Jesus warned us about deception, false prophets and wolves in sheep clothing and too many of us still make wrong choices. Wisdom is ours for the asking, as is discernment and understanding. Wake up before you get caught with no oil in your lamp.

The Players

The Movers and Shakers of the Church Growth Movement

An examination of the Church Growth Movement will bring you face to face with modern pillars of the Church. The founding father of the Church Growth Movement, Donald A. McGavran, defined Church Growth as " enterprise devoted to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and to persuading men to become His disciples and dependable members of His Church". An "enterprise" ? Enterprise has many related definitions but the one that best describes what the modern Church looks like is this: "a company organized for commercial purposes; business firm". The modern church is a business. Pastors use "Church membership" to fund other investments especially in nondenominational models. Nondenominational church models are not restricted by boards or oversight committees. Most pastors of nondenominational congregations don't even share the important business of "the church" until after they have acted on their vision. Members are then told what he/she has been led to do and then the price of the move or project is revealed with the appeal to support it as the will of God. If you are a member of a nondenominational church chances are you will never know how much your pastor and staff is paid through tithes and offerings. You will never know how much goes to missions or community projects. Of course you can always leave and find another similar run enterprise with the same mode of operation or you can stay and help restore God's Church.

Ephesians 6:12 in the Lamsa Aramaic Bible has a different meaning than most western translations. The Aramaic says "we wrestle not only against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Most western translations conveniently leave out "only" so as to take the focus away from the rulers of the church enterprise and place the struggle in the spiritual realm where accountability is much more difficult to place.


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    There is a youtube 2 hour film called, "Warning! The purpose driven church heresy". It's done by Dr. R. Klenck. Poor quality film, but very, very informative-- worth the time you put into watching it.

  • ThePastor profile image


    7 years ago from California

    People may agree with you or they may disagree with you, but one thing is for sure, they won't misunderstand you. Great HUB!

  • MickeySr profile image


    7 years ago from Hershey, Pa.


    I think, for my generation anyway, Evangelism Explosion is kind of the godfather of today's modern church marketing strategies. D.James Kennedy developed the Evangelism Explosion program kind of based around the question "If you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?" What is interesting is, this question comes from an incident when Donald Gray Barnhouse (a fellow Presbyterian) asked it of a friend - but in a circumstance that strikes me as, not merely dissimilar to, but downright contrary to the scheme of Evangelism Explosion.

    It's so tempting to try to present Jesus, Christianity, the gospel message, etc, in as appealing a manner as we can . . . it seems so reasonable to try our best to appear fun and successful and desirable - the trouble is we so easily and regularly 'get' Jesus, Christianity, the gospel, etc, wrong that all our attention should be to present Jesus, Christianity, the gospel, etc, accurately.

    It's God's Spirit that convinces men of the truth, not our cleverness or plotting. We must be careful to be a stumbling block to no man, to never offend, etc . . . but man's heart is his heart and the gospel is the gospel - we're not tricking anybody by playing just the right kind of music, offering 'cool' pastors, or dumbing down Biblical theology.

    Thanks for bringing attention to this.

  • sherrylou57 profile image


    8 years ago from Riverside

    That is correct, wake up before it is to late.


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