Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Church Growth and Its Relation to Evangelism

Church growth is that discipline which investigates the nature, expansion, planting, multiplication, function, and health of Christian churches as they relate to the effective implementation of God's commission to "make disciples of all peoples"(Matt. 28:18-20). Students of church growth strive to integrate the eternal theological principles of God's Word concerning the expansion of the church with the best insights of contemporary social and behavioral sciences, employing as the initial framework of reference the foundational work done by Donald McGavran.

This definition, though wordy, includes some of the basic tenets of church growth. First, it emphasizes that church growth is a discipline, that is, a field of study or a system with distinct characteristics. Church growth is accepted around the world as a discipline worthy of recognition. As is evidenced by the number of classes taught at countless seminaries and that Bible colleges and professorships of church growth are increasing in number. Second, it shows that church growth is interested in disciple making. It is not merely a number-counting emphasis. Third, this definition demonstrates that church growth is founded on God's Word. Both implicitly and explicitly there is a high view of Scripture in the literature emanating from church growth writers. Fourth, it shows that church growth integrates social and behavioral sciences to help determine how churches grow. For example, demographic studies are one of many church growth tools. While demography is not necessarily a biblical concept, neither is it unbiblical. Any tool or method that is not contrary to the Bible can be used in understanding church growth. Finally, church growth, as a modern-day movement, began with the work of Donald McGavran in India. His book The Bridges of God, published in 1955, is the "birth certificate" of church growth, and is still often referred to as the foundational work on church growth principles.

Since the Bridges of God was published in 1955, the concepts of evangelism and Church Growth have been joined to such an extent that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. In many ways it can be suggested that evangelism is the purpose of Church Growth, whereas Church Growth is the process of evangelism. With that in mind it would be important to remember that while the definition of evangelism has largely remained unchanged, the process of evangelism (Church Growth principles) have changed dramatically in the past fifty years. The greatest reason that the process of evangelism has changed so much in the past fifty years is that there has been a great paradigm shift in our society. That shift has incorporated five basic changes in our culture.

First, the emergence of what may be called the "new paganism." Until the late 1960s Christians could use Christian language with a level of assurance that most of America understood them. However, in the span of about one generation, our culture has changed dramatically. Today, the typical lost person has little to no working knowledge of Christianity or its language. Second, the amount of free time to the individual has become very scarce. As such, time is a fiercely guarded. Because of this, many consider an evangelistic visit as an invasion of privacy or a theft of time. Third, a focus on unmet needs. Evangelism which does not recognize the hungering for fulfillment will not communicate the gospel effectively. Of course, the need for a Savior is the greatest need for humanity. Yet, most of the time other more temporal needs must be met to gain a hearing. Fourth, the break up of relationships, which discourage lasting, life-changing relationships. Finally, Lack of relevancy. Most churches today simply are irrelevant to most of society. The language, methodology, music, organizations, buildings, and sermons typically do not reflect the world in which most people live.

Church Growth methods have begun to change in order to address this paradigm shift. This can be seen in the Church Growth movement’s emphasis in areas such as small groups, the rescheduling of services, the relevancy and meaning of worship, and a new emphasis in evangelistic training methods.


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