The second challenge with the church growth movement is their belief that there are people seeking God. Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek phenomenon in Chicago are often thought to have created the Seeker-Sensitive Movement that plagues evangelicalism today. Hybels and his ilk certainly refined the idea and ran with it but they did not “invent” it.
When Henry Ward Beecher in the late 19th century began preaching a “loving” and “accepting” gospel, he in essence was preaching what he thought people wanted and would respond to. He began to fill his buildings with what he thought people wanted to hear and would hear rather than what the bible actually taught.
Norman Vincent Peale
Peale came along in the 1930’s and introduced “the church” to secular humanist psychology. He popularized the “power of positive thinking” psycho-babble developed by Charles Fillmore. Peale attracted thousands of people who were seeking a “spiritual experience” coupled with mysticism and the occult. He taught than one could turn one’s wishes into realities by the power of the unconscious mind. Needless to say Peale was both a heretic and a false teacher. He is mentioned here for two reasons. First, he presented a message that people wanted to hear. Second, he heavily influenced Dr. Robert Schuller of the former Crystal Cathedral fame.
In 1955 Schuller went to Garden Grove, California where he founded the Garden Grove Community Church, the forerunner to the Crystal Cathedral. Having been heavily influenced by Peale and his power of positive thinking he set out to find what people wanted in a church. He surveyed large areas of Garden Grove and surrounding areas asking people why they didn’t attend church and what they wanted in a church. He then gave it to them. Schuller also was a false teacher preaching a false gospel. Schuller has been a friend, mentor, and a heavy influence on Rick Warren of Saddle Back Community Church and Purpose Driven fame.
The church growth movement is built on the false assumption that the unconverted are actively seeking after the God of the Bible. As a result many in the church growth movement advocate making the church and the services as “use-friendly” and seeker-sensitive as possible. The change that this philosophy has brought into the church is disastrous. It has been disastrous to the spiritual health and well-being of the individual churches.
In order to make both the church and the services seeker-sensitive congregations have removed any intimidating item from a “church” building including crosses, pulpits, religious art, stained-glass windows to clothing. These things do not keep people from attending the corporate gathering of the body of Christ. Décor or methodologies are not the answer.
The Bible makes it very clear that people are not seeking God. There are no seekers. Therefore the church growth/seeker-sensitive movement is seeking to be sensitive to a non-existent entity. Romans 3:9-18 describes the condition and attitude of every living human being. The scripture is adamant that no one is seeking after God.
“as it is written: None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:10-11, ESV)
No one, no living human being prior to conversion seeks after God. They may seek after relief from guilt, a spiritual experience, a better mind-set, spiritualism, mystic experience, happiness, inward peace, satisfaction, acceptance, and many other things. They are not seeking the God of the bible.
Scripture refutes this notion of individuals seeking after God in at least three (3) ways:
First – (Unconverted man) has no fear of God (Romans 18)
Second – Unconverted man held court, assessed the evidence of God and determined to reject, suppress, and did not honor (value) God as God (Romans 3:21)
Third – Unconverted men hate the light and love their darkness (John 3:19) Since God is light, men in their unconverted state, hate God. They are God-haters. Unconverted men do not seek after God. We think that we can remove our neckties and jackets, wear jeans with holes in them that the unconverted will see our sensitivity toward them and they will come seeking. Removing the pulpit will not make the service any more appealing to the unconverted. It merely sends the message that the word of God is no longer thought of as sufficient or authoritative.
“And this is the judgment: the light [Christ] has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20, ESV)
When individual, local churches subscribe to church growth methods they have in essence cried Uncle. They have usually abandoned things like fervent, passionate, Spirit-filled prayer meetings, they have abandoned expositional teaching and preaching of the word, they have abandoned biblical fellowship with all the members of the body, and the regular meals together which include the Lord’s supper. More importantly they have abandoned the only means by which true biblical churches flourish by and that is discipleship. Church growth methods center on programs, personalities, and promotions rather than faithful obedience to the great commission.
The only church growth plan in the New Testament is found in Matthew 28:18-20. As each individual member of the body of Christ goes about their normal daily life they are to be making disciples. Those disciples once made are to be baptized and then taught everything that Jesus had taught.
To be continued...