We all know 85% of churches in the West are in decline, so I wont go into that other than to say I know the cause for this decline.[1]

The basic problem with Western Christianity rests on a misunderstanding of the Church Growth movement and the liberalization of the Western Church. Let me explain.

The Church Growth movement, under Donald MaGavran, was based on growth by disciples making disciples. All of his growth strategies were based on assisting disciple making. To MaGavran, evangelism and disciple making were dependent on each other. You couldn’t have one without the other if you followed his writings. His emphasis on numbers was based on this understanding of church growth. He never substituted growth strategies for disciple making.

In addition, MaGavran’s theology was based on taking the Gospel to those who needed it. There was never an attraction element in MaGarvran’s theology. Christians were to go out to those who had never heard the Good News. His model was not based on “ya’ll come,” but on “lets go to them” even if it was based on homogeneity.

MaGavran’s model of church growth worked well until the liberalization of Western Christianity. With the liberalization of Western Christianity evangelism became a dirty word and disciple making was equated with worship attendance at best and church membership at worst. To make matters worse God was dead; sin was replaced with therapy; eternal life was replaced with living a good life, and going to Church became a habit that few really enjoyed or saw much benefit in other than getting ahead in business. The result was a Church full of nominal Christians who were never transformed much less discipled and as soon as their children left home they left the church. The “Go” of the Gospel would never have been part of what little faith they might have had.

Now with the growing emphasis on planting churches the above problem could get worse unless we understand that planting churches isn’t the solution to the decline. Case in point- according to Ken Howard, the number of new congregations now outnumbers the total number of new Christians, which means we are adding congregations but not new Christians. [2]

We seem to be making the same mistake of confusing growth strategies with disciple making.

The problem is 85% of the churches in the West can’t even comprehend what we at Exponential are talking about. So we are left with a daunting task. We must focus on the 15% who might understand. What we can’t do is continue to plant churches based on church attendance, like most denominations are doing, or we just perpetuate the growth of congregations while the actual numbers of Christians continues to decline. [3]

That’s where the work of Exponential enters the picture. But helping Christian leaders understand a Level 5 Church is a really big hurdle. I’m glad God isn’t dead.

As for my mission, I’ve got to drive this message home to my Mainline friends who just don’t get it. At this very moment, there is a stirring within my denomination (UMC) for church planting, but I know it’s not based on disciple making but on pure growth strategies. It is true – we have met the enemy and it is us.


[1] The 2015 Pew Research poll shows that the percentage of people self-identifying as Christian has dropped for the first time since the founding of the country.

[2] Religious Homophily: A Of Conservative Church Fragmentation. Comparing the trend lines for total number of denominations and worship centers (i.e., discrete physical sites designated for worship17) worldwide with the trend line for the total number of Christians worldwide, it quickly becomes clear that institutional Christianity is, in fact, in the process of dis-integration. Denominations and congregations are increasing in number – mostly by breaking apart – at a much faster rate than new believers are being birthed by baptism to fill them. http://bit.ly/2fFzaZR

[3] I know this to be a fact because most denominational leaders measure the success of my coaching church planters based on whether or not they can accumulate enough members to charter.