Evangelicals are not the only Christians who admire Rick Warren’s methods for church growth.  Others from mainline Protestant churches also borrow his techniques for revitalising failing congregations.  But should they?

Yesterday, we examined Warren’s association with the late management guru Peter DruckerGlorious Riches blog summarises the errors of employing Drucker’s theories to church, which Drucker (a non-believer) regarded as just another private sector institution:

– The Church is viewed as a business model. The bottom line is that church growth means numbers. This is absolutely contrary to the Bible’s teaching.  (John 6:60-66)

– The movement “builds” churches with marketing surveys [focusing on the congregation’s preferences] (2 Timothy 4:3)

The movement purports to get rid of anything that might interfere with the transition to the purpose-driven model, e.g., older members who don’t want to change.

– Church leaders are viewed as “change agents” instead of as servant ministers of Christ. This fits in with Warren’s social engineering approach to the Church.

– The movement constantly tests for results using humanistic psychological methods, e.g., Myers-Briggs, to fit people into slots.

And there are other influences, such as the Church Growth Movement, which dates from the 1950s.  Americans of a certain age will recall Pastor Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, from which a service was televised every Sunday. Schuller, now retired, was one of the pioneers of the movement. In 1970, he founded the Robert Schuller Institute for Successful Church Leadership.  Rick Warren — founder of Saddleback Church — was one of his students.

The Church Growth Movement is, as you would think, all about increasing church attendance and membership.  Yet, Rick Warren says not to worry about the growth, it is the health of the church which is important.  Have a healthy church and you will have a growing one!  Which is fine, except what about a small congregation that is faithful to Scripture but doesn’t grow?  Is that a problem?  Does that mean the small but steady congregation is somehow ‘diseased’?  Many pastors begin to worry.  Maybe they should be doing something more.  So, they look for a tried and tested plan.

As CIC Ministry explains:

The Church Growth Movement offers a modern, scientific, solution to the problem. Consistently on the cutting edge of Church Growth theory, research, and development is The Fuller School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth founded by Donald McGavran and further developed by C. Peter Wagner.8 Ideas that have come from this movement include the concept of ‘people movements’ that suggests a more group oriented version of becoming Christian than individual repentance and faith, the importance of ‘homogeneous units’9 that claims that people will more likely be attracted to a church that is made up only of people like themselves racially and culturally, and the idea of a strong, figurehead ‘pastor is master’ version of church government.10 Why? Peter Wagner writes, ‘The ethical issue is one of pragmatism.’11 Long before ‘outcome based’ became a buzz word, McGavran, Wagner, and others determined to base their movement on what is proven to work. That is why ideas like ‘homogenous units’ became part of their movement. Scientific studies showed that they work.

This is why over the past 30+ years, megachurches have mushroomed out of nowhere.  Each has its own character.  Some are for middle-class suburbanites, others are for those coming out of a New Age mentality but still drawn to the ‘experiences’ associated with that movement.  Most of these churches are comfortable environments: cushy seats, coffee bars, big stages — the types of things you would associate with a theatre or cinema.   Many attract thousands of people at each service held on Sundays.  But, is this the way Christ intended His church to be built, around us and our own comfort?

CIC Ministry has explored the Church Growth Movement, its techniques and its misuse of the New Testament as justification.  It examines three false premises (emphases mine):

False Premise No. 1: That God’s Will for Every Local Congregation is Numerical Growth:

The [NT passages often cited] have to do with the whole of Christ’s church, not the size of local fellowships. The church is growing world wide continually, as soul by soul, God saves them through the gospel. The cited passages prove that Jesus is building His church. The size of various congregations and whether they are growing or shrinking is a different matter all together. Likewise, missionaries who have only a few converts have added to the growth the church as described in the passages cited …

The outcome-based approach that judges results by numbers assures that churches will go where there are homogeneous units (i.e. people like us), where there are many of those people of this unit moving (i.e. growing suburbs), and in short, where they are not likely to “fail” by the criteria of the Church Growth experts

The advocates of church growth set up standards that require pastors to get people into their churches even if they have rejected the gospel. This causes them to search for some new message and new method that appeals to people’s unregenerate minds …

True fellowship is not the gathering of religious consumers with similar “felt needs,” but it is fellowship around the person and work of Christ

I claim that faithful preaching of God’s Word is mandated even if it is rejected. I furthermore claim that when God has established a congregation that meets the Biblical definition of a local church, such a congregation should be cared for by godly leadership even if for some reason it is not growing. Why throw God’s people to the wolves because the prospects for gaining ministerial prestige are greater elsewhere because of demographic considerations?

False Premise No. 2: That the Needs and Sensibilities of the Unconverted Should Determine the Strategy of the Church:

What Church Growth thinking does is … Rather than convince people they have a need, they start with needs that people already feel. Having determined what those are, they design a church that meets those needs. If the church succeeds in adequately meeting the needs, it has satisfied customers. Satisfied customers are the best advertising for future potential customers. If the customers come from a “homogeneous unit” they are likely to enjoy the process corporately. Ideally this leads to a “people movement” …

Warren’s claim that anybody can be won to Christ if we figure out some key is false. There is no Biblical warrant whatsoever to this claim; and there are many passages that refute it. The passage in Matthew 7 about the narrow gate refutes it. The concept of the saved remnant found in Romans 9 and elsewhere refutes it. The fact that even Jesus, who as God knows the heart, lost Judas the “son of perdition” disproves it. The Biblical doctrine of election taught in dozens of passages (such as Romans 8:28-33) disproves it …

The Corinthian world of traveling sophists had a very high regard for human wisdom. Paul’s message of a crucified Jewish Messiah was foolishness to them. Nevertheless, Paul refused to give them what they wanted (human wisdom). On the contrary, here is ONLY what Paul would give them: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He refused to let their appetite for human wisdom change his message of Christ crucified …

1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 2 in themselves should be all any Bible believing Christian should need to see the fallacy of the “felt needs” premise of the Church Growth Movement. But for some reason, this movement is bigger and more influential than it has ever been, especially given Rick Warren’s sensational impact. The answer to why this is the case is likely complex. However, one simple answer that is readily apparent is that we have allowed the Church Growth technocrats to define both our mission, and the terms of success and failure. Having erroneously granted these, now we find ourselves having to buy their services in order to avoid failure. They have ingeniously created a “felt need” in evangelical pastors and now the growth experts are experiencing record sales of their products that promise to meet this felt need.

False Premise No. 3: That the Lack of Adequate Church Growth World Wide Proves the Need for a New Reformation:

Oh, dear.  This point will drive some of you a bit mad.  If you’re upset about the proliferation of churches and pastors, do sit down before reading this part:

… It seems confusing that we have four separate “reformations” on the table. One is going to give people more self-esteem, another make Christianity more feminine, another is going to give us later day apostles and prophets, and yet another is going to wipe out world hunger and other problems using a Purpose Driven paradigm. I will briefly examine each of these to see if they have anything in common …

Schuller wants to make the Christian message one that will create a world wide, religious, brotherhood of people who feel good about themselves …

The proposed feminist reformation is rather radical, but shares a similar purpose … [quotes an article from 1993]: “Many of the women who are working to change Christianity are gathered this week in Minneapolis to celebrate what they call “the second Reformation.”31 The article describes the work and ideas of those who propose this new reformation: “They are exploring the sensual and sexual side of the divine, rooting around in contemplative and introspective interplay with God, and talking about women’s daily experiences of the divine in every culture as central to theology today.”

The New Apostolic Reformation is based on the idea that apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church were never meant to be only the Biblical ones, but that living persons should occupy these offices until the church is perfected … Those who are privy to later day new revelations are apostles: “Apostles who receive the word of the Lord translate it into a concrete vision and announce to their followers that it is what the Spirit is saying to the churches for this time and place, thus opening the way for powerful ministry.”

Rick Warren’s reformation is also about changing the world through Christian action. He claims that he will mobilize churches and Christians to wipe out the ‘5 giants’. Here is his statement at his church’s 25th anniversary celebration: ‘Our goal will be to enlist ‘one billion foot soldiers for the Kingdom of God,’ who will permanently change the face of international missions to take on these five ‘global giants’ for which the church can become the ultimate distribution and change agent to overcome Spiritual Emptiness, Self-serving Leadership, Poverty, Disease and ignorance (or illiteracy)’

The lack of popularity of Christianity does not prove the need for some new reformation. It proves that Jesus was absolutely right when He said that His way was narrow and that few walked on it. The Church Growth Movement has shown a willingness to lay aside the clear teachings of Scripture in order to find success in this world. The “reformations” of this movement are all “deformations” and should be fully rejected.

As Christians we are called to remember that:

– The Gospel is unpopular and always has been.

– Jesus preached entry via the ‘narrow gate’ not the ‘wider gate’ of popularity.

– We are in this world but not of it.

– Jesus did not tell us to overcome any of Warren’s ‘5 giants’ but to preach the Good News and make disciples of all men (The Great Commission).

– We shouldn’t worry if we are in a small yet faithful church — God will watch over our congregation.

– A bigger church isn’t necessarily a better church.

– We shouldn’t worry if we lack ‘talent’ and the ‘wow factor’ — we can do God’s work as good parents, employees, grandparents and students just going about our everyday lives to the best of our abilities.

For more information, see:

‘Faulty Premises of the Church Growth Movement’ (Critical Issues Commentary)

Monday: More on Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church — is it about man or Christ?