The greatest danger of most church growth methods lies in the fact that they are depended on for increased growth. “Church Growth” is an ever-growing movement within fundamental/evangelical Christianity that emphasizes the great commission in combination with sociological awareness of those targeted. As previously mentioned the term “seeker-sensitive” is attached to those who are “un-churched” and “unconverted.”
First, just a brief mention and development of the Church Growth movement. Donald McGavran, a missionary to India published how theological discussions interacted with various sociological factors that would render or hinder receptivity to the gospel. In 1965 he developed the School of World Mission at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Second, this School became the headquarters for almost all Church Growth studies. McGavran published several books, works, articles, and surveys concerning this subject.
There are two main elements of Church Growth methods. The first is a passion for the carrying out the great commission. The second is a “willingness” to research and then apply the results of research towards the attracting of new members.
The "seeker sensitive" label is associated with some mega churches in the United States where Christian messages are often imparted by means of elaborate spectacles with elements drawn from secular popular culture, such as rock music, and mixed martial arts which may appeal to teenagers and other groups less drawn to traditional "stuffy" forms of worship.
In other words, through research discoveries are made as to what people want the church to be and to offer. Most of the time this includes the rejection of the authority of leadership, the centrality, sufficiency, and authority of the word of God, church discipline, biblical discipleship, and a strong emphasis on doctrine. These things are replaced with almost anything that will attract people. What is the trouble you ask with attracting people? There are at least four (4) things wrong with this methodology:
First – it abandons God’s method and substitutes a man-made system for growing the church. As we are going about our everyday life we are to make disciples who are added to the church. We don’t have to look for a method that circumvents biblical discipleship.
Second – it redirects the focus of the mission of the church in attracting members rather than adding members through conversions
I have already discussed this in previous posts, however, let it suffice to say, that nowhere in the Scripture is approval to “do whatever works” in order to attract people to the corporate gathering of the body. Most of the time churches are only gathering or collecting up disgruntled members, consumerist members, undisciplined members, or those who are uncommitted members. God gave the method in Matthew 28:18-20. We see it complied with in Acts 2:42-46. We see the results of complying with God’s methods in Acts 2:47; 5:14; 6:1. We don’t have to “attract” people to church with methods that appeal to their base or cultural desires. We just have to be obedient to God and His methodology and He will “add” members to the church as He sees fit.
Third – it is subject to the law of diminished returns. In other words, methods must continue to become “bigger, better, and/or more spectacular” in order to attract more people. When you attempt to survey or determine what people want in a church and you use that in an attempt to attract them, the “shininess” wears off of them. Therefore you must continue to develop methods that first “out-do” the other church, but second, continue to attract.
Fourth – what you get people with you must continue to use to keep people. If you survey a target group and determine that they don’t like biblical authority, doctrinal teaching, or an emphasis on holiness and you abandon these things, you can’t introduce them later. I could go into many so called mega-churches built on church growth methods and empty them in a very few short weeks by simply teaching expositional messages that call for holiness and commitment.
There is nothing wrong with having a passion to carry out the great commission. There is nothing wrong with wisely removing hindrances such as foolishness, divisiveness, unbiblical, offensive, and/or unnecessary things from a gospel presentation. The trouble lies in rejecting the process of making disciples by preaching the gospel, baptizing, and teaching/training new converts in favor of “lights, smoke, mirrors, and other man-made methods.
Many fundamental/ evangelical churches may need to change some things to facilitate biblical discipleship. Whether we use pews or chairs or adopt cultural dress verses suit and ties is not the issue. These things do not encourage nor discourage evangelism. We must be committed to the sufficiency and authority of the word of God and make disciples.