Church Growth Movement: Outreach or Shepherding?


“We have the most wonderful pastor! He really preaches the Word. He preaches against sin and even calls sin by its name,” the member said. The my friend asked about the doctrinal content of the sermons (“Does he preach on doctrines like regeneration, justification, redemption, sanctification and so forth?”), the emphasis response was, “No! He doesn’t preach on those kinds of things!”

How can we reconcile a growing church with doctrine-less preaching? If doctrine is not being taught, can a church nevertheless consider itself a New Testament church? This is precisely where I found myself several years ago.

The church growth movement provided a good analysis of the weakness of crusade evangelism and the greater effectiveness of one-on-one evangelism. Stress is laid on pursuing the “fields that are white unto harvest” in efforts to reach the lost and grow churches. A strong emphasis on “disciple making” over against merely “evangelizing” helps to correct the attitude of bloating church rolls with uncovered members. Statistics provided by church growth leaders can give churches a better grasp of the spiritual needs in our nation.

The “church growth principles” meant an adherence to pragmatism rather than biblical Christianity. Pragmatism can provide increased numbers, but it cannot regenerate unbelieving men. As a pragmatist, I was interested in discovering what methods and devices worked to produce growth and in fully employing them in my church. Little by little I began to see these flaws in my own ministry and in the church growth movement as a whole.

In the 19th Charles Haddon Spurgeon was noted as the supreme example of a true evangelist. The scope of his ministry spread broader than any other man of his day. Spurgeon would have been repulsed by manipulation or man-centered emotional methods in evangelism. Yet no one would ever accuse him of proclaiming the gospel without persuasion or passion. The gospel itself rightly proclaimed, is persuasive! And such a gospel, when ravingly believed due to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, produces true disciples.

On the basis of this extremely Arminian (manipulative) view of evangelism, the church growth movement has thrived. Seminars, conferences, workshops, books, modules with the type of approach have flooded the ranks of evangelism Christianity. We must begin to rethink our approach to evangelism, discipleship and the church growth movement.

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