The Church Growth Movement Revisited

May 27, 2014

The church growth movement has taken a bad rap the past decade. Many unfair comments have been made in an attempt to either discredit it or make it obsolete. I’m sure there are many reasons for the attempts to either discredit or make the movement obsolete. At worst the attempts were the acts of incompetent pastors who didn’t want to be accountable to our Lord’s last command, and at best they were a result of the rise of a totally new way of understanding what it means to speak of the “church.” In either case, both parties have been unfair to the movement.

The church growth movement was never about numbers, nor was it merely about institutional church growth; it was about fulfilling the Great Commission by reaching various people groups around the world. Nor was it any more about numbers than was Acts 2 where it says 3,000 were added to the church. The church growth movement was about advancing the Kingdom of God throughout the world through the church.

What is needed today is a realization that the word “church” can take on many forms of meaning in today’s world. All it takes to constitute a church is “where two or three are gathered in my name.” This means the church can be anywhere at any time – at your home, your workplace, or the local pub. We have to stop thinking institution and start thinking relationships. When we think of the church as relationship gathered around Jesus, we have a place to begin dialogue on how to grow the church. You grow it through relationships that are focused around what it means to be like Christ. When we think of church that way we eliminate the numbers game and excuses not to go out into the community and share our faith.

Because we (21st Century Strategies) work with churches, we have to be flexible in our understanding of the meaning of the word. We can work with any form of church- as long as it is based on a relationship with Jesus. If it’s not, we won’t work with that church.

I’ve been a leader in the church growth movement since the mid 1980’s when someone gave me a copy of McGavran’s book Understanding Church Growth. Then I read Bridges of God. Anyone who has read one of these books knows that it’s not about numbers, but fulfilling the Kingdom. What I’ve discovered is that most people who rail against the church growth movement have never read McGavran. That’s a shame; it might help their church grow and that would mean the Kingdom should have grown also.

Question: What have you learned from watching the church growth movement expand? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

  1. Henry C Brinker June 2, 2014 Reply

    I too became involved with the Church Growth Movement in the 80's and it is the greatest thing that ever happened to me and the churches I have and am serving. It isn't about numbers it is about reaching the hurt, lost, lonely and marginalized people. The mission is to bring them into a loving relationship with God and one another in the body of Christ. It is about being and making followers of Jesus Christ. I am proud to be a theologically progressive denomination and church, which is different from my early days of being in a very conservative and exclusive denomination. It is exciting to see the growth and vitality that can take place. Just attended a denominational workshop Sat. and essentially the "expert" from synod offices essentially said it is okay to be a "private club" and tried to make me good about it. that it is not about numbers. She even boasted in having served a church for ten years that had 82 members when she came and 81 when she left.

    Will see you at Hastings Michigan June 21

    Rev Henry Brinker - First Congregational Church, UCC, New Baltimore, Michigan

  2. Terry Reed June 10, 2014 Reply

    I agree that the church growth movement has taken a bad rap the last few years. But in all fairness I think at least part of the blame falls on people who took church growth thinking and carried it to weird extremes. Many today know this nonsense as the church growth movement when it is actually a perversion
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

Leave a Reply