Exposing Ten Myths Of The Church Growth Movement

1239215_graph_1Brian Orme has an excellent article on the “Church Leaders” website titled, 10 Old Wives’ Tales About Church Growth. In this article he expounds on 10 myths that he has accumulated over the last several years in regard to the Church Growth Movement.

I must confess that as I read this article, I shuddered and groaned because I have fallen for these superstitious church growth myths. Let’s examine them to see how you measure up.

  1. If You’re Not Growing, Something’s Wrong
  2. The More You Grow, the Healthier You Are
  3. Contemporary Music Will Save Your Church
  4. Church Growth Can Be Manufactured
  5. If Your Church Grows, Your Leader Is “Anointed”
  6. If Your Church Doesn’t Grow, It’s a Problem with the Leader
  7. Good Preaching Is the Answer to Growing Your Church
  8. You Will Retain a Large Percentage of Your Visitors on Special Days
  9. The More Programs You Offer, the More Your Church Will Grow
  10. If You Build It, They Will Come

So, how did you do? Chances are you have also bought into some of these superstitious myths like me. But now you may ask, “Why are these myths?” They are myths for two reasons.

The first reason why they are myths is due to their failure to account for the church’s historical and Biblical means of grace. Properly speaking, the means of grace are the only means through which our Lord calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies and keeps the church in the faith. Can we speak of growth in the church apart from the means of grace? Churches may have growth, but I frankly question what kind of growth is happening when there is a dismissal or reduction in God’s Word and Sacraments.

Secondly, many of these myths commit logical fallacies. For example, several of these church growth myths employ what is called false cause logical reasoning. False cause logical reasoning presumes that there is a relationship between two things. In other words, false cause logical reasoning says that the changing status of one thing actually causes the other thing to also be changed. It assumes a correlation between two things, when in reality this may or may not be the case. Myth #1 and #2 say, “If you’re not growing, something’s wrong. The more you grow, the healthier you are.” Notice the false cause logical reasoning? Lack of growth is correlated to something going wrong or the church not being healthy. Is this always the case? In some churches that may be the case, however, it is not true all the time. Furthermore, it is assuming a correlation that frankly may not exist. Listen to Brian Orme comment on this more thoroughly,

“Growth can be healthy, and it can be a very good thing—it’s just not an automatic four-stars for healthy spirituality. Large numbers are no more an indicator of health than great wealth is an automatic indicator of wisdom. You can be wealthy or impoverished and still be wise or a fool. The same goes for church growth. You can have a lot of people or a little and still be healthy/unhealthy. Health deals more with what’s going on below the surface. Growth tells us something’s going on, but whether it’s good or bad, that’s another issue.”

For me to drive home my point on this let’s apply these first two myths to Jesus and His ministry. If growth is a sign of health and that things are going well, what do we do with Jesus’ earthly ministry? Jesus went from engaging literally thousands of people and having a band of faithful disciples to being slaughtered alone on a cross with only John, His mother, and what some consider a former prostitute named Mary Magdalene nearby. Assuming that declining numbers are a sign of an unhealthy and bad ministry, what do we do with Jesus?  Do we know of anyone else that has had the capacity to take a following of 5000 plus people and whittle it down to three people?  According to this false cause reasoning, Jesus would be ranked as one of the worst church growth individuals the church has historically known.

I commit this article to you for your own reading and I plead with you to esteem God’s Word and Sacraments.


About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


Exposing Ten Myths Of The Church Growth Movement — 22 Comments

  1. Tut, tut, Pr. Richard, you’re being logical… not to mention Lutheran!

    [There are people who think you can’t be both!]

  2. Perhaps Pastor Richard groaned because some say, “you must groan.” When you step back, some of these ideas are not so bad, eh?

    01) You need to do some reflection once in a while, and yes, we pastors may be doing something wrong. This is why we go to Symposia, Good Shepherd Institute, etc.
    02) Growth is good and is one mark among others of success. Would anyone argue about some new baptized babies and well-catechized Lutherans?
    03) Contemporary will not save the church, but as I love Franzen, Luther, Bach, Gerhardt, etc., does not hurt to look at new music of good lyrics, etc.
    04) Hmmm, don’t we manufacture? We take God’s plan in Scripture and put it in action.
    05) OK, a cool title would be neat, works nice in Chicago. But yes, I will stick with pastor.
    06) Sorry all, the leader is many times the problem and must take some time to reflect, take criticism, accept praise, get better as we go.
    07) I thought preaching IS important, the president said we need to do a better job. We got the best theology, let’s proclaim it.
    08) You may not get anyone retained, but you may begin a relationship that leads to salvation, mission work.
    09) Bible study, etc. OK, they are programs, aren’t they?
    10) I thought we all hate small groups in houses, we need churches. Also, sounds like early Lutheran mission, now we do have too many churches. Or is it time we get back to Church as the people of God in the building reaching out.

    I guess my point is, let’s not toss out everything that smacks anti-Luttheran 101, we can learn from others. We should.

  3. There is a vast difference between attempting to make a congregation grow in numbers through human effort and preparing (planning) for it to grow as a blessing of the Holy Spirit’s work.

    Preparing for growth proceeds from faith. Why should we not expect that it is God’s desire to save the lost through the faithful witness of each congregation? This says nothing about numbers.

    Our congregation experienced the ramifications of poor planning several times in the past when failure to anticipate led to over-crowded Sunday school rooms, an overtaxed sanctuary and no available spaces in the parking lot. There was literally no room to turn around. There was no NEED for growth, so why prepare for it?

    Each time this occurred worship attendance subsequently declined. We finally acknowledged that planning for growth rather than waiting for growth is the only way to be good stewards of the ministry given to our congregation. It is interesting that each time we prepare for growth, God brings additional souls.

    I do not consider this to be “church growth” but simply growth of the church. Maybe this blessing will continue or perhaps God has other plans for our future.

    Preparing for growth is like planting seeds in dry soil. God may send rain this season or he may not. But what good is the rain if there are no seeds waiting for it?

  4. For those who are full out church growthers or for those who are flirting with it: go read 1 Corinthians and repent. The church which tries to manipulate people into believing are themselves being manipulated by Satan. It is a spiritually immature and arrogant church which tries to “do” such things and call it “church”.

    @rev. david l. prentice jr. #3
    I think before we learn from others we should not presume to already know who we are (we don’t as the recent LW letters to the editor made very clear). Once a Lutheran has mastered the Book of Concord, thoroughly studied Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, Walther, and countless other direct fathers in the faith, then I guess they could dilly-dally with the heterodox and apostate to try to “learn something”. I have yet to meet any single Lutheran pastor or theologian who actually has thoroughly studied all of what Lutheranism has to offer.

  5. Read Broken: 7 ”Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible. That is if/when you can find a copy.

  6. @rev. david l. prentice jr. #3


    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I groaned when I read the original post by Brian Orme because it made me lament my past sin of minimizing the means of grace and missing the central message of Christ-crucified within my past church growth context.

    I’ve journeyed down the Church Growth road before–way down the road. I’ve read the books, implemented the ideas, and served a church that modeled Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. Yes, we can indeed learn from others, but unfortunately for myself what I learned steered me away from the Gospel towards a man-centered spirituality.

    God’s grace and peace to you this Christmas.

  7. @rev. david l. prentice jr. #3
    As somebody coming from the evangelical world, Reverend, I can assure you that you and the other confessional Lutherans who embrace the Lutheranism that I am coming to embrace are missing NOTHING from the “pop-Christianity” side of the church. Don’t be fooled by the bright lights and big shows you see over there.

  8. @Pastor Ted Crandall #8
    Thanks for giving the link. I should have done so in my orig post.
    I know that Amazon is sold out and I think CPH is as well. Which is why I said if/when. Fortunately I preordered two copies, one is for loaning out.

  9. Out of curiosity, did I miss a book review or plug for “Broken” here on BJS? I kind of expected maybe an article or two about it.

  10. J. Dean :
    @rev. david l. prentice jr. #3
    As somebody coming from the evangelical world, Reverend, I can assure you that you and the other confessional Lutherans who embrace the Lutheranism that I am coming to embrace are missing NOTHING from the “pop-Christianity” side of the church. Don’t be fooled by the bright lights and big shows you see over there.

    Was the Church Growth Movement adopted by Lutheran churches to address an image problem?

    Over the past several years, I have met former Roman Catholics who now attend a non-denominational seeker church. They did not consider becoming Lutheran, but Evangelical. Most Evangelicals would also never consider the LCMS as a safe haven from the “big haired” preachers and their incessant law pounding. I was taught in confirmation that the Lutheran church was a “third way” between the Catholic and Evangelical/Reformed churches.

    How does the LCMS (and Lutheran denominations in general) witness to disaffected Evangelicals without becoming like them doctrinally in the process?

  11. Lumpenkönig :
    Was the Church Growth Movement adopted by Lutheran churches to address an image problem?

    Some of them have. We (my family and I) bypass a more “hip” Lutheran church in order to travel to another confessional Lutheran church.

  12. @Pastor Matt Richard #7
    Peace to you as well. One thing you say, you have gone down a journey and I cannot call what you did as sin, unless you preached heresy, and I don’t think you did. You tested things, used your mind, and came to a conclusion that the path you travelled down went the wrong way. I pray this all made you a better caring pastor, because you tested the water and found it lacking and not tasting good. I think you did this because you truly cared for your people.

  13. Rev. McCall :Out of curiosity, did I miss a book review or plug for “Broken” here on BJS? I kind of expected maybe an article or two about it.

    That is very strange. Pr. Fisk has spoken at BJS conferences and is also BJS editor Pr. Rossow’s assistant pastor.

  14. I’m pretty sure I saw an article, or two, here on Pr. Fisk’s book…also think he was on Issues talking about it. Do a search.

  15. @rev. david l. prentice jr. #3
    The irony in your comment is that this list was NOT written by a Lutheran. I think I heard that the author was Baptist. So this is not the complaints of a crusty confessional Lutheran trying to eliminate everything that is non-Lutheran. On another list, someone said this list did include some of the same things many confessional Lutherans had been saying about church growth. He went on to say that, since a Baptist was saying it, some of our Lutheran brethren might finally pay attention. 🙂

  16. In all honesty, the church growth movement has been largely abandoned throughout evangelicalism. There are a few who still advocate for its principles, but by and large, very few are still talking this way. It was largely a master illusion, that attracted more Christians from smaller congregations and pooled them in one location, that gave a perception of “growth” while Christendom nationwide was still declining. Frankly, the LC-MS only really started seriously flirting with the CG movement as the rest of evangelicalism was already starting to leave it behind. What is happening now, in the best strains of what could be termed “emergent,” is something far more acceptable. It cherishes tradition, while also having a deep compassion and concern for the culture and cities in which we live. It’s actually somewhat anti-programmatic, focused more on being a witness through community, but also through individual vocation. You can see some examples of this through organizations like 3DM (Mike Breen), or the Soma Communities, or in the writings of Hugh Halther, Alan Hirsch, etc. This missional movement is actually pretty antagonistic to church growth ideology as well, and frankly it is more biblically based. I find it rather refreshing. There are, of course, pit-falls as some of the advocates are not Lutheran… it can (in some strains) lead back into a social-gospel sort of mission if the pendulum is allowed to swing too far, but if understood in a Sacramental context, by and large, I find it a welcome change on the front of evangelicalism.

    So — while Church Growth isn’t entirely “dead” it’s on it’s last breath. It isn’t really a fervent opposition to it that has killed it — more that it was seen within its own circles not to be producing the sort of fruit they had hoped for. A tree is recognized by its fruits…

  17. Great article. BTW- Jesus Himself said that the kingdom cannot be observed, but exists within us. Do numbers matter at all? If so, then our Muslim/Mormon friends might just be on to something! (smile). Not to mention Joel Osteen’s 30,000! (laugh). My two cents!

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