Introduction

The church in Zambia and Africa at large has witnessed a proliferation of huge churches (numerically) in the last ten years, like those in the West (particularly America). Could this be revival or apostasy? It is worth noting that most of these churches have close ties with the church growth movement, which began in America in the mid 1900s. The church growth movement (hereafter, CGM) has developed principles for church growth, which have been widely used to expand already existing churches and to grow new ones. We do well to heed the warning of holy writ in 1 John 4:1-3 not to believe every spirit but to test them using the bible as our standard, because false prophets have gone into the world. Well did the old testament evangelist say,” To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). We shall therefore examine the CGM under the following headings: Definition; a Brief History; Strength and Weakness; Effects on the Church; the Church’s Response; and Conclusion.

Definition

The very word “movement” suggests a difficulty in definition as is generally true of all movements. We cannot find one definition for the CGM but we can define it in terms of its facets and no one group within the movement can answer to all the various descriptions.

  1. Proponents of church growth in CGM can be best represented in this summary: Growing up (spiritual and sanctification), Growing together (Christian fellowship and unit in faith), Growing out (evangelism and resulting new converts), Growing more (church planting).

 

  1. Sometimes, the CGM has been called “Seeker-friendly” and sometimes “pragmatism” by its critiques.
    1. It is called seeker-friendly because it seeks to bring the unchurched people into the churches by ministering to their felt needs and also by removing barriers which present them from coming to church. Some of these barriers may be teaching hard doctrine or singing old-fashioned hymns etc.
    2. It’s called pragmatism because of its notion that true worth is determined by practical consequences i.e. increase membership of a local church and increasing the number of churches to a pragmatist, like most CGM leaders, any technique or course of action is not good, and must be abandoned (through Biblical), unless it produces the desired effects. For this reason, Rick Holland, pastor of Youth Ministries at Grace Community Church in California, defined the CGM thus, “It’s an organised effort and strategy to effect growth in the church which integrates biblical and extra biblical means.”(Cited from the paper done by clay Miller of Grace community which entitled Church Growth Gone Clad at the 2003 shepherd’s conference).

 

  1. One might also add that the CGM is a market-driven or consumer oriented gospel and church. It’s worth giving a contemporary example at this point. Pastor Robert Schuller of Crystal Cathedral church in California began this church by first taking a survey of the community and would ask unbelievers who unchurched questions are like: What would you like to see in church? What is preventing you from attending church? What can we do, or how can we build this church so that you will come to our church? Such trends are not uncommon in Zambia.

 

 

 

  1. A brief history

There are two big names in history who have influenced the CGM, namely Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) and Donald A. McGavran (20th century).

 

  1. Charles G. Finney: this man is not directly associated with the CGM but his theology and pragmatism has given birth to it. Like the CGM, Finney was deeply concerned with revival and placed emphasis on man’s responsibility at the expense of God’s sovereignty. He believed that we can put in certain measures or techniques to achieve revival. Finney introduced new measures to achieve mass conversions such as “the anxious bench” which we now call “Altar calls.” One can therefore easily see why Finney was hostile to the reformed doctrines of sin and grace, regeneration and the substitutionary atonement. Finney believed that a revival is as naturally a result of the right use of means as a crop is of the use of its appropriate means. Erroll Halse rightly states: “So powerful did Finney’s influence become that his theology of salvation and his basic methods in evangelism have become standard practice in America” (The great invitation, p 94).

 

  1. Donald A. McGavran: This man is rightly identified as the founder of the CGM. He developed church growth principles out of his frustration with slow growth in his Disciples of Christ mission in India in the 1930s. During the first thirty days, he observed mission fields and applied his principles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 1961, he established the “Institute for church growth” in Oregon and later moved it to Fuller Theological Seminary where in 1970 McGavran published his foundational treatise entitled ‘Understanding the church growth’ a product of his lectures at the Institute. The principles in this book have been widely quoted by many authors in the CGM and widely applied all over the world.

 

  1. Strength and weaknesses.

Though the CGM has a lot of undesirable beliefs and practices, it has also good elements that can be borrowed and used.

  1. Strengths: At this point, I will quote several from David Eby, Minister of North City Presbyterian church, in his book-Power preaching for church growth, pg 27.
    1. An emphasis on evangelism and obedience to the great commission.
    2. A resounding commitment to the agency, centrality and growth of the local church in evangelism: McGavran coined the term “Church growth” to mean “all that is involved to bring men and women who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ into fellowship with him and into responsible church membership.” This relationship should warm the heart of any pastor.
    3. A stress on spiritual gifts and every-member ministry.
    4. Attention to cross-cultured missions and sensitivity to cultural issues in communicating and evangelising abroad and at home.
    5. A pledge to the priority of evangelism and church planting over social action.
    6. A commitment to reaching the unchurched in every segment of society.
    7. The discovery of many helpful common-sense insights gained from a sociological diagnosis of the church
    8. The earnest insistence on real results: I feel compelled on this point to add my own comments that many times conservative evangelicals, particularly those of the Reformed persuasion, have a tendency to despise numbers both in terms of attendance and membership especially in what we may call “fast growing churches.” We should not overemphasise God’s sovereignty at the expense of our responsibility to work hard at bringing numbers into our pews.
    9. Weaknesses:

The weaknesses of the CGM are appalling. Again Pastor David Eby ably summarises them:

  1. “Pragmatism…tends to the worldly worship of measurable results”: CGM proponents are far more concerned with filling the pews with ‘clients’ than      filling the pulpits with the bread of life for hungry souls. They are more concerned with ‘how many’ than ‘what kind.’ After all, the same             techniques can grow mosques, synagogues and other Christian cults.          Pastor Rick Wells, a very influential figure in the CGM, from a    “successful” Southern Baptist Church, wrote in his famous book ”The       purpose driven church” – “Never criticise any method that God is   blessing.” This sounds good, but who defines blessing except the Bible?      The danger with pragmatism therefore is it places another authority          besides the Bible.

“A de-emphasis on the priority of prayer as effective for effective                                             evangelism”

  1. “A trust in marketing techniques and practices that betrays a sell-out to doing the lord’s work in the world’s way and down plays spiritual problems that inhibit evangelism and growth.” Once marketing techniques          are employed to attract unbelievers, you to continue using them to keep           the unbelievers. The result is that the preaching of the gospel is       undermined or replaced with consumer-oriented sermons (to this, we shall        run)

 

  1. In an effort to contextualise and break over cultural norms or values, the church has become worldly, in order to attract worldlings.

 

 

  1. “The tendency to replace pastoral skills with management expertise as the highest quality and value for pastoral leadership…the church shifts from family/organism to enterprise/business…from organic family growth to production and productivity management.”

 

  1. A lack of confidence in God’s word: Gospel preaching is replaced with ‘motivation speaking’ on psychology, business success, politics, entertainment or anything which can keep the people listening and happy. Pastor Robert Schuller once wrote in ‘Christianity Today’ the issue of 5th October 1984: “I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ…that has proved destructive to the human personality and hence counter-productive to the evangelism enterprising than the crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. ” Pastor Schuller believes in positive-only sermons on motivation and self-esteem. Again, we have seen more of this kind of preaching on our Zambian TV screens and in churches. No doctrine is taught at all because this is perceived as food for the soul, but as divisive.

 

  1. Effects on the Church

 

The CGM certainly has had an adverse effect on the church. These effects are several but I will just mention three.

 

  • False Conversions and Apostate Churches

 

The gospel that saves is the gospel, which shows God’s righteous requirements, the utter sinfulness and helplessness of man and the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The church growth guys cannot preach such a gospel because it humbles the pride of man and exalts God. Their market-driven ‘gospel’ cannot transform the heart. The result has been proliferation of mega churches with a huge unconverted membership (quality sacrificed for quantity). Such a membership is obviously worldly and therefore apostate. What has been called revival is actually apostasy! To borrow the language of pastor Conrad Mbewe; the CGM leaders have become like shepherds, who intent on building a big sheepfold, have gathered into their churches any four footed beast! For this reason, scandalous sin is not uncommon in church members.

 

 

  • Corruption of worship

 

The worship in most churches is no longer God-centred but man-centred. Effort is made to keep people entertained either by playing worldly music popularly known as gospel rhumba or gospel rap. Sometimes, there is a drama performance during worship. A particular case was one mega church in Lusaka’s Matero constituency where businessmen and women were asked to organise an exhibition day for their products on a Sunday morning! Now corruption of worship is most contagious and most churches are struggling to maintain the purity of worship.

 

 

  • A Dishonour To The Lord’s Name

 

The CGM has created business-oriented churches, which are up to nothing but financial success. The world is therefore pouring scorn on the church and its leaders because of this money-mania. The result is people’s hearts have been hardened towards the gospel because even genuine preachers are also perceived as mere money-maniacs by the unconverted.

 

  1. How Should the Church Respond?

 

  1. The church should continue to proclaim the gospel unashamedly. We may not be successful in terms of numbers and popularity, but the lord will bless faithful labour with genuine conversions. We should not succumb to the temptation of CGM success (1 Tim 4:1-3, 13-16; 2 Tim 3:1-4:5).

 

  1. A call to prayer for revival: We will not contain the situation unless the lord intervenes. Such things are bound to occur but believers, corporately and individually must spend time in much prayer, (Neh 1:1-11).

 

 

  1. Engage in apologetics: We can’t stand and watch the situation deteriorate further when the biblical injunction is “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3.

 

  1. Conclusion

 

Let’s remember that the church has a mission in this world and it is to preach the gospel of the lord Jesus Christ to a world sinking under to hell under the weight of sin. This gospel will determine the eternal destines of all men- either in eternal bliss or eternal torments! Therefore we can afford to attempt man-made techniques such as those common in the CGM. We shall be answerable to God! Let us not build “Religious entertainment clubs” but a community of the called out ones, who seek to “live soberly righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Remember that though you succeed herein men’s eyes, you shall be exposed on the day of reckoning dear Pastor and though you haven’t s seemed successful in men’s eyes here, God will reward you before all for your faithfulness in ministry on the day of reckoning.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

  • David, E. (1998) Power Preaching for Church Growth. Ross-shire: Mentor.

 

  • Hulse, E (1986) The Great Invitation. Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press.

 

  • O’Hara, D. (2003) “Church Growth Movement: Revival or Apostasy?”

 

  • Miller, C. (2003) “Church Growth Gone Mad” Grace Community Church.