Evaluating the Church Growth Movement

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Listening to three buddies share about their church life and thus Christian life was very enlightening (thanks for their openness). What’s interesting is a comment I heard today on how the environment they are part of keeps moving and going with no sign of a “pause” to reflect and ask “needed” questions. What they’ve been sharing seems to be (in all honesty) the unheard stories of so called “successful”, “growing”, “Megachurches” (in Malaysia I think the 1000 attendance mark would probably qualify as a Malaysian version of the beginnings of a “mega church” form and style).

On the other end of the specturm, I hear stories of “micro churches” (or house churches) and the stuggles that comes with that “package”.

After lunch today, I realize that the talk about numbers, church growth, methodologies are important starting points but one must not stop there. Because deeper beneath the surface we’re asking about the nature of the church (there’s much theological vibrations actually going on), what it’s really all about (the yearning for genuine community and spirituality is present) and then how does our practices (with all its imperfections or at least inadequate executions) attempt to embody what we perceive as faithfulness to a Kingdom vision and values. Of course, we aren’t just interested to be a huggy warm fuzzy club. There needs to be “space” for us to honestly talk about this.

A T-shirt caption caught my attention last night .. “Deconstruction is the beginning of Construction.”. I’m hearing more and more stories of “deconstruction”. I hope that beyond the listening (which is so necessary) I could serve as an encourager towards the emergence of “construction” stories.

That’s the more personal dimensions of what requires a vigourous “relook” at the church growth movement (which I sense had a strong hold of many Malaysian churches) at a macro level. For starters, here’s an excerpt:

“When you hear the term church growth, what words or phrases come to mind? You may think of megachurches, small groups, numbers, contemporary worship, marketing, or a host of other concepts that have occasionally been promoted as popular church-growth theory.

In contrast, you may identify the term church growth with effective evangelism, church planting, church extension, making disciples, church multiplication, or other aspects of outreach that seek to win people to Christ and enlist them as responsible members of his church.

These differing perceptions of the term church growth, and the emotions that arise from them, clearly point to misunderstanding and disagreement regarding the term, as well as the movement. Church growth is one of those ideas that cause us to draw lines in the sand. We are either for an emphasis on church growth or against it. There seems to be little neutral ground. Donald McGavran, the father of the modern Church Growth movement, recognized early on the divisive nature of Church Growth thought in a letter to his wife, written from Costa Rica on September 8, 1961: “It is clear that emphasizing the growth of the churches divides the camp. It is really a divisive topic. How strange when all are presumably disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Dr. McGavran’s words still ring true today. Church Growth continues to divide the camp, as the five viewpoints expressed in this book will demonstrate.”

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