The regrettable shortage of multiplying churches can be explained, at least in part, by the lingering implications of the wholesale adoption of business principles and pragmatic schemes that distinguished the church growth era. Today, we awaken to a church growth hangover that colors our thoughts on what we should do next.
While it’s easy to critique the outcomes of the Church Growth Movement, one need not diminish the hopeful aspirations of many of its courageous architects.
Driven by a zeal for Jesus and propelled by a deep evangelistic fervor, men and women sought to leverage their cultural ingenuity to create churches that appealed to the masses and made it possible for many to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. As with any culture-driven ecclesiology, the upcoming implications of these ideas were hard to predict, though we are now better able to appreciate the challenges that were created.
The Challenge of Faltering Methods
The reality is that many of the methods used during the church growth era are no longer producing the same results. As once responsive geographies become less susceptible to the skillful merchandizing toward Christian memory, we find our tools feeble, ineffective, and dull.
And when our tried-and-true methods stop producing, many are propelled toward greater pragmatism—thinking that a procedural change is all that’s needed to get the old machine revving again. A sacred silver-toned bullet.
Change is difficult, particularly among churches that have internalized corporate pragmatism to such a degree that their foundations are the unspoken and unquestioned basis for most metrics of success. Pragmatism tends to skip the messy grind of disciple-making for a more untroublesome operation of producing busy churchmen. We get bigger results with less spiritual energy expended.
But churches powered singularly by a church growth operating system seem to find it impossible to foster effective disciple-making environments merely by programming in a new app into their cultural offerings. The problem is bigger than better programs can fix.
The Challenge of Future Leadership
The prodigious advance of super-churches is the natural fruit of church growth principles exceptionally executed. Throughout history, there has often been a handful of large churches, but our day is the first in which the megachurch casts such a large shadow over our ecclesiastical landscape.
By virtue of girth, large churches demand a high level of complexity merely to operate and require a massive expenditure of energy and resources in order to expand. Often, the complexity of its systems hinders its ability to multiply and instead co-opts a disciple-making mission into a volunteer placement agency. Hundreds of mini-roles scheduled and staffed in order to deliver on the values of extraordinary excellence.
It becomes very expensive addition. But perhaps its highest price cannot be calculated in simple monetary terms, but in the effect that the “extraordinary excellence” has had on the church’s ability to produce multiplying disciples. Addition cannot easily be upgraded to multiplication because of the level of leader required to run the machinery.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jeff Christopherson