DIVERSIFICATION OF CHURCH GROWTH TEACHING
In 1982 Wagner invited John Wimber to teach the course MC510: Signs, Wonders and Church Growth at Fuller’s School of World Mission. As a result of Wimber’s influence Wagner’s views on the work of the Holy Spirit, like spiritual gifts, began to shift. His shift moved even further in the following years through the influence of people like Cindy Jacobs and Chuck Pierce. While Wagner was still focussed on church growth, he was, however, looking at other factors of church growth that were not under the classical Church Growth radar like spiritual gifts, prayer and spiritual warfare. In the revised third edition of Understanding Church Growth (1990) (done with the consent of McGavran) Wagner added a whole new chapter on “Divine Healing and Church Growth”.1In Church Growth State of the Art (1986) there was a whole section consisting of four chapters on “Church Growth and the Holy Spirit”.2 One chapter was on the supernatural anointing of the Holy Spirit for ministry and another was on the importance of power encounter for church growth. The latter chapter being a contribution by John Wimber.
While Wagner’s shift did not in itself precipitate the diversification of church growth teaching, it however, left an open field for new ideas about church growth to be introduced3 by practitioners (pastors) demographers and church consultants.4 Gary McIntosh has drawn a helpful chart showing the various sub-branches of what he calls the “Popular Church Growth prong”: (1) Systems Research, (2) Survey Research, (3) Polling Research and (4) Anecdotal Research (Stories of Growing Churches).5
Many books published during this time were about principles and strategies for numerical church growth. They were mostly written from the perspective of the church as an organisation (albeit a biblical, living, spiritual organism).
The following is a sampling of such publications. Carl F. George’s How to Break Growth Barriers (1993).6 The basic thesis of his book is that if a pastor is to lead his church to growth he needs to move from being a shepherd to that of a rancher. In other words, instead of being the primary caregiver the pastor needs to develop others to care for the members of church and do the work of ministry. Gary L. McIntosh’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All (1999).7 He says that the size of a church determines how it “does church” including how it is structured, the role of the pastor, how decisions are made, and the strategies it deploys to overcome obstacles and grow the church.
From a more business approach George Barna wrote a highly controversial book called Marketing the Church .8 It was about using the marketing tools of the business world to reach out and to win a church’s target group. McIntosh comments, “This marketing emphasis effectively turned many people away from the popular notion of church growth, and caused a reaction toward a new paradigm of church health in the mid 1990s.”9
Then there were the books that proposed models of what churches ought to be and do so that they may grow and fulfil the Great Commission mandate. Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church (1995)10 was one of the first books that provided a balanced approach (The 5-Purposes) to grow a church. It detailed a process (The Life Development Process) depicted by the baseball diamond and a plan to move people from Community to Core. It also incorporated the HUP (although he does not attribute to it) by describing Saddleback’s target group, aka Saddleback Sam and Samantha.
As I draw the review of church growth literature to a conclusion, I return to the three questions I posed at the beginning of the article. First, is church growth teaching to be defined by and limited to McGavran’s and Wagner’s views during the classical Church Growth period? Advocates of CGM are adamant that church growth teaching must employ “as its initial frame of reference the foundational work done by Donald McGavran and his colleagues.”13 While I concur with this, I believe it would be limiting the usefulness of Church Growth teaching if it did not allow for additional structures to be built on that foundation. A case in point would be Wagner’s “discoveries” in the healing-prayer-spiritual warfare factor of church growth.14 He was disappointed that McGavran and others did not see that it was very much a part of and concerned the Church Growth field and agenda. Church health teaching falls in the same vein (I will pick up this thread again when I answer the third and final question).
The second question I posed was: what are the irreducible principles for church growth? From the review of church growth literature, I believe they would be:
- Quantitative and Qualitative Growth. Churches commissioned by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 must grow both numerically and in spiritual maturity.
- Research and Analysis. Research must be done to learn (a) about the people the church is attempting to reach with the Gospel, (b) the best means to reach this specific group of people, and (c) the hindrances to the growth of the church, and
- Strategic Planning. Determine the best strategies to be deployed based on the research and analysis to accomplish the purpose of the church with the use of planning and programming.15
However, to say that the above three principles of church growth are foundational does not mean that they are exhaustive. Upon these foundational principles of church growth I believe there should be an openness to allow for other well-tested tenets of church growth to be added to them. These would include the contributions of specific subjects such as church leadership, spiritual gifts and ministry strategies as they are applied in the church growth context.
Finally, what influence did church growth teaching have on the later development of church health teaching? Church health teaching came about as a response to church growth teaching, whether as a correction in relation to some of the misgivings of the latter or as a development of the latter. The bottom line is that we cannot separate the two. Church health is a necessary factor for church growth. The growth of a church, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, is dependent on the health of the church. I will look further into this as I review church health literature in a subsequent article.
by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches