Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. - Psalm 119:105

Church Leadership

The Problem With Most Church Growth Paradigms

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love...

The Church Growth movement has made major contributions to the Church over the years. It has also given us some major problems! Some church growth thinking that has done the opposite to the church. This thinking has caused churches to...

The Church Growth movement has made major contributions to the Church over the years. It has also given us some major problems! 

             However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" -- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:9-12) 


            The Church Growth movement has made major contributions to the Church over the years. It has opened the minds and challenged the perceptions and approaches of many church pastors and leaders. It challenged us to be better, to rethink how and why we do things, and to improve the way we do church, especially in the areas of evangelism and missions. These aspects have been good, but there has been a negative aspect in church growth thinking that has done the opposite to the church. This thinking has caused churches to close themselves off to the people God brings them, concentrate on research over Scripture, chase trends to the detriment of what God calls us to, and concentrate on pleasing people and not God.

            Most of what has been written in the last 40 years of church growth has, at best, fallen short of what Scripture directs and, at worst, is an abomination. The focus has been on manmade principles defused from business paradigms and comparative thinking. These principles have not always been based on what God clearly defined in His Word. Yes, there have been some good ideas and some of the church growth principles are from Biblical principles. What we need to do is define what the Scripture teaches - the wheat- and then get rid of the garbage - the weeds 

A Brief Overview of Church Growth 

In 1955 Donald McGavran (1897-1990), a third generation career missionary, wrote The Bridges of God. His basic assumption was that God wanted His church to grow, which, of course, He does. McGavran noticed that most churches were somehow opposed to this thinking. So, he focused his life on teaching the church that God indeed wants His church to grow. He was a great visionary, and father of the modern church growth movement. He founded the distinguished School of World Mission at Fuller Seminary in 1965. He also passionately woke up a complacent American church to see the vital role of evangelism and missions, saying, "We must evangelize out to the fringes." Which meant we should not leave anyone out, even those in the very far off and rural places of the world. In the area of church growth he asked and then applied two basic questions, which laid the basis for the church growth models: Why does the church grow in some situations, and not in others? What lessons can be learned from Scripture and contemporary experience to help churches to grow?

These are two great questions that we all must ask and seek. His questions were correct, but his error was in his methods. Instead of doing careful exegesis on Scripture, he spent most of his energies researching trends, and comparing churches to other churches. He came up with some very unbiblical ideas such as the "Homogeneous Unit Principlewhich states a church is to focus on its own culture and race, and ignore the others. One of his primary followers went so far to say, "Segregation is a desired end. (Wagner)" A very arrogant and prejudicial stance. He was a great man, but he was a missionary and not a theologian, and he did not have a good working knowledge of Scripture, which we can ascertain by examining his writings. He based his observations and theories on observed paradigms regardless of Scriptural precepts. People who came after him furthered his error by applying business principles and comparative reasoning over Scripture and what God calls us to do. We cannot always compare one church to another, because God may have a different call and purpose for them as opposed to another church (1 Cor. 2:9). Nor, can you compare human reasoning over and against Scripture; we are instead to compare our research to see if it is on par with Biblical precepts. McGavran and others would have been far more successful if they had placed the emphases on Scriptural principles and not on comparative thinking.

Having studied under McGavran and his protégés, I was amused on how often they would passionately express their theories, then a few years later radically change them and passionately extort them, and then change them again and so forth, while the truths of the Word remained stable. I followed their folly, as I changed and kept up with the latest church growth jargon and theories, only to see the churches that applied them fail. We changed the theories while ignoring the Word. The Bible was used as a mere buffet as we chose passages out of context to fit our thinking instead of going to Scripture and defusing what God calls us to do.

Another big mistake made was the concentration and overzealous adoration of numbers over discipleship. A bigger church meant a better church. This is far from true. A better church is based on the spiritual maturity of its leadership and members and what they are doing with their call. A good church base is in the solid teachings of God's Word, spiritual growth, and the response to both our Lord and to people. I have been to many mega churches that attract people because of the dynamics of the pastor and the entertainment of the service, but they were immature and undiscipled, a very sad sight. On the other hand, I have been to small churches that are on fire with the Word and their call from the Lord, growing in their faith. There are many reasons a church can grow that may not be from God's blessings.

The perceived success and result of most of the church growth drivel in my 20 years of experience was in "sheep swapping." People would flow to the "church of what was happening now (comedian Flip Wilson)," unconcerned with personal growth and obedience to Christ. As a result, these churches were not growing in the Biblical sense. I have seen churches that did not apply our methodologies, yet grew huge and influential like Calvary Chapel, the Friends movement in Southern California, and Saddleback (in its early years). Thus, the church growth community considered it a success when a particular church grew under their influence; yet, it was usually an ignominy and an anomaly to those who grew without their influence.

Most of those churches grew because the neighborhood grew and they were in the right place in the right time amongst disease-ridden churches that had isolated themselves. The surrounding churches were not growing because they did not want to, and the people were not growing spiritually. They then flocked to the growing church, even though that church may not have been doing things God's way. These have been successes in church growth, but only because the other churches were doing nothing. There are also those churches that were stagnating, and God used the church growth concepts to awaken them and cause them to re-examine themselves. If the big successful churches were not planted in massive growth areas, but rather in sections of the country where there was little to no population growth, they may have not survived. If Saddleback was planted in Huntington Beach or Pasadena, or anywhere in northern California instead of the massive growth areas of southern Orange County and Northern San Diego County, where the churches already in that area were mostly dead, then we would have never heard of it! A better wake up job can be found in Romans 13:11-14 rather than a CEO business approach. Incidentally, most of the church growth originations went under in the 90's and most of those assumptions then dissipated. Only now are they reprising their ugly heads.  

Do you have a hard time with what I am saying, does it go against what you have been taught or have presumed? Then, see for yourself. "What are the Premises and Principles of Church Growth? The premises that have been the heart of the church growth movement are four; that God wants his lost sheep found; that our choices of methods must be based on fact; we must pour our resources into winning channels, and people like to stay with their own people -- within cultural identities. The principles are sevenfold: pragmatic research, scientific research, people movements, social networks, receptivity, priority, and purpose." ("Church Growth Principles at a Glance" which appeared in Ministry Advantage, Vol.7 No. 4, the hallmark and flagship newsletter of the church growth world) 

Most of the principles seem sound - or do they? Look carefully at each of the principles. Can you honestly see Christ teaching them? Can you find them in Scripture?  

God wants his lost sheep found? Of course, He does. However, if God is sovereign, and is truly God, are His sheep lost? This is of theological debate, but this is a Biblical and right emphasis for motivating the church. So far, so good!  

Our choices of method must be based on fact. Yes, it is. However, what are the facts? Usually it is in the following of categories and not in His Word!  

Pour your resource into winning channels. What is working in one church must also work in yours. This is not true, because most churches fail under these principles! Numbers tell us that God is with us, but this is not true either! This is also not Biblical! Numbers can be misleading, and what we may see as a winner, God sees as pathetic and foolishness. Read the book of Proverbs! God looks for faith, devotion, love, and obedience, which are all missing from this church growth model! Strong leadership never means a strong willed personality, but a servant's heart after God's heart, which is contagious to others. That is God's winner!  

People like to stay with their own people: This is as far from the Bible as you can get without setting up alters to Satan! Yes, we do like to stay with our own people, but this is part of our fallen sinful nature that we are to change, not encourage!  

Pragmatic research & Scientific research: Yes, we should look to good research so we can be the best at our programs and outreach. However, let this never distract us from Biblical precepts. Always consider what God calls us to, not just what people want!  

People movements: Go where the people are, yes, we are! However, we are to be the salt and light without being taken in and effected negatively by those people. We are to never take the philosophy and trends of the culture, rework them, and put a Jesus stamp on them when they are against Jesus' teachings and character!  

Social networks: This is one good aspect. We need to strive to be better at being a people, at modeling Christ-like behaviors, so we can be the people of God in the world!  

Receptivity: YES! Christians can be cruel gossipers and filled with hypocrisy, and who do a much better job at turning people away from the gospel than a legion of demons. This is also a good aspect, one on which we have much work to do!   

Priority: Whose priority? This is perhaps the biggest problem in the North American Church. Our priorities are all skewed, chasing trends and ignoring our Savior and call! Are we being poured out to Christ, or to our way of thinking? Are we in church leadership roles to glorify God or make a name for ourselves? What are our true priorities and are they what God has directed?  

Purpose: Whose purpose? Is it God's or yours?  

             Did you notice what is missing? It is God and His purpose! Do you see what is emphasized? It is mostly unbiblical, slap-in-the-face-of-our-Lord drivel! Yes there are some good ideas and place we all need to grow. However, you cannot build His church by your means! All that you will accomplish is what a dog accomplishes when he chases his own tail. It may be fun and amusing for a while, but nothing is accomplished. It is good for a dog, but detrimental for a church! While we need to realize that God does want His church to grow, growth is found in spiritual maturity and in contagious obedience, sharing our Christian faith with others around us. Good research is essential as it can help us make our programs and paradigms better, but these are to be useful tools, not the point of our devotions and emphases. Of course we are to make people feel comfortable and at home, but do not forget that it is all about building the Kingdom of God and glorifying Him! This prime directive is absent from most church growth principles!   

            As a church growth consultant, I also propagated some of those principles for many years. I glanced over Scripture and conformed God's Word to my ideas and those of others instead of really bowing to His Word. I shutter to think I asked questions to church boards such as, "Is the pastor a leader and not just a teacher? If not, you have to get rid of him because you must have a leader." "Does the pastor really want the church to grow? Is he willing to pay the price for it?" I did not ask questions such as, "Is the pastor growing in his faith and practice, spending quality time in the Word for himself outside of sermon and teaching preparation?" "Is the pastor surrendered to the Word?" "Is the pastor following the precepts of 1 Timothy 3:1-9 and Titus 1:5-8?" What is real church growth? I believe Campus Crusade for Christ nailed it, as we will see in a bit.   

What Are the Main Church Growth Models? (Matthew 13: 24-43) 

The Traditional Mainline Church: This is the average church on every corner from Reformed to Pentecostal, from liberal to conservative. They hold to good and solid Biblical origination and precepts in their core essentials of orders and doctrine. Even the Catholic Church, at its core, is mostly solid. Some of these churches are vibrant and thriving, living out the call of our Lord, while others are apostate.

The Positive: These churches have good organization principles, and the majority has good doctrine in their confessions (when practiced), as well as history, visibility, and infrastructure.

The Negative: Most of these churches have lost sight of their orders and doctrine. They practice what they think is best and do not seek after God's call and purpose. They do not want to change because they do not think anything is wrong. This leads to infighting, gossip, and liberal thinking, while the neighborhood is unreached, and God's people are undiscipled.  

The Purpose Driven Church: This is perhaps one of the best models that I'm aware of. This came out of the teachings of Campus Crusade, Young Life and Sun Life in the 70's, researched and produced by the Fuller Institute In Pasadena, Ca in the late 80's, and popularized by Rick Warren and Saddle Back in the 90's. 

The Positive: This model has a good premise, seeking God's purpose, making disciples, focusing on the power of God and His purpose, maintaining effective programs, practicing good values, providing leadership training, and teaching discipleship. 

The Negative: Churches tend to make only surface changes. They do not implement needed changes. Like white washing a rotten fence, it may look good for a while, but, unless you fix the fence, it soon it will fall.  

The Seeker Model: This came out of Willow Creek Community Church in the 80's. The target is the person who is thinking about God, and feels there is something missing in his life, or is the attempt to bring back those who have left the church in disgust.

 The Positive: The basic heart and strategy is good. We need to do a much better job in bringing people in the church. We can pick up a multitude of good ideas from this model.

The Negative: Their theology is off. We do not seek God. He seeks us. Most of the time, it is just semantics. They also water the Gospel message down and concentrate on entertainment rather than on teaching and discipleship. Most of the growing churches are teaching solid expository Bible messages, not just "feel good" stuff!  

Meta/Cell Church: This too was developed the Fuller Institute in Pasadena, as well as with Serendipity in the 70's and is based on small (Meta means small) groups as the primary structure, care, and teaching machine in the church.

The Positive: Small groups are essential, and every Christian should be involved in them! This is a great model! We can dig out an abundance of good stuff here.

The Negative: Unless the leaders are adequately trained, the groups will become social in nature, and no real discipleship will result. Effective care and ministry will not happen. This model over-emphasizes small groups to the detriment of other areas, such as other ministries and calls of the church.  

Servant Partners Model: This model developed by Viv Grigg of New Zealand in the 80's, seeks to bring Christ into the inner cities and to the urban poor with the love and care He has called us all to do. It emphasizes servant hood through discipleship and community transformation with the pillars of worship, evangelism, reconciliation and transformation on the foundation of Jesus the Living Word.

The Positive: This is the church model that Christ would have us do!

The Negative: This model over-emphasizes (if you can do that?) the premise of helping the poor, while sometimes neglecting other areas and calls of the church, such as discipleship. Compare this to spending all of your time working on your car's engine and neglecting the chassis and drive train. Of course, most churches neglect the engine and only paint their cars while the rest of the car rots! Yet, this is a great model, and we can learn a lot from it. We all must seek to incorporate it in our lives and churches!  

Apostolic Movement: This is a new movement that was started by one of McGavran's protégés, Clarence Peter Wagner. They set up large training centers and what they call harvest meetings.

The Positive: This model emphasizes prayer, which is one of the quintessential aspects of exercising our faith, call, and role in the church! It also opens our eyes to the reality of spiritual warfare.

The Negative: I personally worked with Wagner for over five years. He was a friend and mentor to me. I was at one of his harvest meetings recently, (11/01 Pasadena, Ca), where I was shocked and appalled! They are on the verge of cult status with crazy, unbiblical doctrine. They claim to be real apostles, they search for demons under every bush, and they lift prophecy over and against Biblical precepts. They have a total disregard of solid, essential Biblical doctrine. They ridicule people who hold to the Bible, while they lift themselves up rather than our Lord! If you are very, very, very discerning, you can pick up some good insights on prayer and some other things, but it will be like digging through trash to find bottles!  

The Toronto/ Vineyard Model: The Vineyard church started off great, with solid Biblical teaching getting to the root and having God-seeking hearts. Then, their founder, and leader, John Wimber, went insane. This is not a personal attack, but a fact! This was very sad for me as he, too, was a prime mentor to me for many years. He began expounding false doctrines, changing, conflicting and untrue prophecies, and then he died. The church split. Some went back to their roots and the Bible and are all right, while others went totally the opposite, like the Toronto Vineyard.

The Positive: They seek to bring the church to a simpler model of worship and faith. If you are looking for worship insights, this is the place.

The Negative: Many of the churches still hold to untrue, false, and dangerous doctrines, although the denomination is in the mist of reform. Hopefully, the disease-ridden churches will be cut off. The bad churches are in total apostasy, with holy laughter, holy vomiting, false healings that any stage hypnotist can do, and seeking sensationalism, not Christ! Even some of the solid churches have doctrinal errors that seek new anointing for experience sake, and not discipleship. We are to seek His face, not just His handouts. Therefore, be discerning!  

Each of these Seven Models have positives and negatives as they are a reflection of our human reasoning in defining God's purpose and call for the church. As a leader, you must be in prayer, be discerning, and be a careful steward of His sheep. Therefore, you have to pick and choose the principles that are Biblical and that work. To make this easier we have provided you with a compete Primer on How To Lead and Mange Your Church on our leadership channel, with numerous solid Biblical articles to help guide you. There, you can go over the Biblical principles in prayer and develop a model from God's call for your church.  

Here is a taste what your model must contain: 

Real church growth is found in the precepts of His Word: And these precepts are: 

"Fifteen Health Factors for American Churches" from a Campus Crusade Training Manual © 1977 

1. PURPOSE: Growing churches each possess a common purpose and a common philosophy of ministry. 

2. PRIORITIES: Growing churches have arranged their responsibilities according to Biblical priorities. 

3. LEADERSHIP: Growing churches have effective leadership. 

4. LAITY: Growing churches have mobilized their people according to their Spiritual Gifts and what is revealed in the Scriptures. 

5. LIFESTYLE: Growing churches have members whose lives are contagious. 

6. EVANGELISM: Growing churches emphasize Evangelism. 

7. DISCIPLESHIP: Growing churches encourage their people to be involved in the process of Discipleship.   

8. WORSHIP: Growing churches experience corporate worship. 

9. FELLOWSHIP: Growing churches establish a strong sense of belonging through various fellowship groupings. 

10. SMALL GROUPS: Growing churches develop deep, interpersonal relationships through the dynamics of small groups. 

11. DIAGNOSIS:  Growing churches diagnose themselves and their communities. 

12. PLANNING: Growing churches plan effectively and organize their resources efficiently. 

13. PROGRAMS: Growing churches use only programs that work.  

14. TRAINING: Growing churches place a high value on training. 

15. PRAYER: Growing churches can verify the effects of believing prayer. 

Did you notice the date? Just imagine what if the church growth people were teaching these principles instead of their nonsense! I showed this list to McGavran and many of the church growth gurus as I went from being on staff with Campus Crusade to seminary were McGavran taught, and I was told this was "unscientific gobbledygook not based on real research and global happenings." Well, he recanted that a year before he died, and said he was wrong, sadly too late for the other "church growth gurus" to catch on!

            I do not want to sound harsh or that I am putting down these great visionary people in the church growth field. In fact, I know and have worked with many of them, and I have great respect for them! Their hearts and desires are to see Christ's Church grow! They have opened the minds, and challenged the approaches of many church leaders and pastors to see that the result can be better. We can rethink how and why we do things, and improve our methods of doing church. They have helped awaken the church out of its compliancy into action. As a whole they almost certainly have done far more good than bad! I am not attacking them personally. I am attacking the idea that anyone can force his will of determination without cause or concern for the Word of Truth. I am not attacking what they are trying to do, but how they are going about it! We cannot elevate our reasoning above and against Scripture, even if it works. We always have to compare whatever idea or theory we come up with to the precepts of the Bible. If they are good, and concur with the call and character of Christ, then we should use them. If not, we should throw them out! We can do a much better job of finding His sheep if we follow His precepts! Let us get into His Word and not into our self!  

            I pray you will not make the same mistakes that I once did. Check out our totally reworked Church Leadership channel. We have added dozens of Biblically based church growth articles and tools that would cost thousands of dollars if you hired a consultant. We offer them for your use to learn and grow!  


Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of 'Into Thy Word Ministries, 'a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word and is also a pastor, teacher, speaker and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant.

© 2002 Rev. Richard J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries  

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