(Scott’s posts are archived on the Regular Columns page under the title “Apologetics: Apply Liberally.” This is the third post in a series on the TCN program. It is also posted on his website Stand Firm.)
The Transforming Churches Network: Part 3, Eliminating Regressive Attitudes
The base assumption that drives the Transforming Churches Network (TCN) and the revitalization “process” is that a church that is not growing is an “unhealthy” church:
It has been estimated that 80% of the congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are plateaued or declining in Sunday worship attendance. While a great deal of excellent ministry occurs in many of these congregations, the lack of growth is a constant concern. Typically such congregations are preoccupied with issues of institutional survival which is counterproductive to outreach. By making the needs of unbelieving people and the lifestyle outreach of church members the focus of the ministry, many of the regressive attitudes and disabling circumstances so prevalent in the institution will give way to hope, new life and new members. (online reference)
Dan Southerland, another Church Growth Movement (CGM) expert, states “According to recent studies, 80 percent of churches in North America are plateaued or in decline” (Transitioning: Leading Your Church Through Change, p. 13). This 80% figure seems to have become something of an urban legend, perfect for maintaining the heightened sense of urgency required to facilitate the CGM paradigm shift.
TCN asks: “How will we know when a congregation has been transformed? Well, when it is regularly and consistently making new disciples, and it renews it members so that they’re making new disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit” (quoted from TCN video). Do these quotes from TCN materials sound like the work of the Holy Spirit to you?
Congregational consultations, quality research on what the Holy Spirit is doing, developing leadership skills, stump speeches, strategies, bench marks, scorecards and time logs, extensive statistical research, accountability, pilot projects field testing materials, and using the pulpit to cast vision and to create a sense of urgency.
If not, then how does the Holy Spirit work?
First off, God does not deign to share with us His “church growth plans.” At times He grows His church with increasing numbers. At times He grows His Church with decreasing numbers. It is a theology of glory to claim that a church is healthy only if it is growing. As the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Church Growth Study Committee reports,
Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:
– When it is thought that saving faith can be imparted by human market strategies or that the growth of the Holy Christian Church can be adequately or accurately measured by numbers (Matt. 7:13–14; 16:18; Acts 2:47; Col. 2:19).
– When a congregation sees itself as necessarily more faithful because it is not growing. Or, conversely, when a congregation views growing numbers and income as an indication that Christ is necessarily building His church. Numbers, large or small, are not a litmus test of the Gospel’s power (Matt. 7:24–27).
– When anything other than faithfulness by pastor or people to the pure Gospel and Sacraments of Christ is used to measure the “health” of a congregation (1 Cor. 2:2).
What happens when church growth becomes so important that it eclipses all other considerations? Those holding to the CGM “vision” develop “strategies designed to reach certain bench marks which are consistent with the national revitalization definitions. These benchmarks include a minimum of 5% growth in worship attendance each year, and increased percentages of adult to child baptisms and confirmations. Growth in healthy small group life and community involvement are also measured” (quoted from the online TCN page “Coaching the Pastor and Leaders of the Congregation). It comes up with bullet points such as these, quoted from the Groups Ablaze! PowerPoint “Revitalization Learnings”:
Holding [District] staff accountable enables them to seek to hold pastors and congregations accountable.
Underachieving staff receive no raise or are let go.
Pastors need to be held accountable for results.
Ineffective pastors are asked to move on.
When these types of bullet points are advocated, it’s obvious that those involved have abandoned their trust in the Word, and have placed their trust in man-made results. The pastor is no longer considered the called and ordained servant of the Word, but is now considered an expendable “equipper.” (One TCN document warns “Expect resistance from the pastor as he shifts from ‘care-taker’ and ‘shepherd’ to more of an equipper role” (online reference)). If Jeremiah were around today, he too would be “asked to move on;” his congregation had definitely “plateaued.”
Coming up next, we’ll take a closer look at the TCN congregation consultation weekend, where these “plateaued” congregations receive their “inward focused” label.