Friday, November 23, 2007

Megachurches Found to be a Megabust


Bob Burney reports in Baptist Press that the leaders of the wildly popular seeker sensitive approach to worship, evangelism and church growth -- the so-called church growth movement -- have completed a study and found that their oh-so clever and oh-so contemporary new methods have not been doing precisely what they were thought to be so much better at doing than "traditional" (biblical) churches, i.e. gathering people not just into church, but into the Kingdom of God. Their success in growing local churches into megachurches was shallow enough for a purported lamb to wade in, but nothing more.

It was a "Science vs the Bible" disagreement. "Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting "felt needs" and sermons consistent with these techniques." Rigorous and conscientious adherence to God's way, as revealed in the Scriptures, in the face of the temptation to satisfy the interests of those who have no spiritual interest in Christ was scorned as unenlightened. "We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn't matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn't 'cutting edge' and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity."

Well, whereas studies showed that you have to give people what they want if you are going to bring them to Christ, now studies are showing that numbers in the door have not translated into saved souls and holy Christians.

Fundamentally, it does not seem that the Willow Creek crowd have learned their lesson. Bill Hybels, the movement's founder, admits that the measures they funded with millions of dollars didn't pay off spiritually, yet he continues to take his bearings from men rather than from God: "Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for." Whether it is answering a questionnaire or "crying out," it is the customer who has Mr. Hybels' ear.

Greg Hawkins, the executive pastor of Willow Creek and co-author of the published study, Reveal: What Are You?, also shows that in the end he has learned nothing: "Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet." Everyone up to this point has been wrong. We are the first to build the church of Christ on a scientific foundation. Hear the arrogance! The bombastic noise of it diverts attentions from the silence concerning God's grace and his mysterious will. Burney observes that, in Hawkins' statement, research still takes precedence over Scripture.

Jesus said, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). But it seems that Bill Hybels and these other twenty-first century followers of Charles Finney still think otherwise.

Folks in the equally everything-has-changed-and-we're-the-only-one's doing-it-right "Emerging Church" movement should take humble note of these developments.

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