Drawing Them In... Or, Sending Them Out?
The church growth movement brought many good things to the Body of Christ over the past 30 years or so. We learned to reemphasize evangelism. We found ways of analyzing or exegeting our communities and culture. We saw some churches flourish and, frankly, millions were saved.
BUT, (and you knew there had to be a qualifier here didn't you?)...
At what cost?
After 30 years in ministry, much of which was spent trying to implement many of the church growth strategies fostered by great leaders such as Elmer Towns, Rick Warren, and others; I'm convinced that the biggest negative side-effect of our efforts was that we created an entire generation of consumers. We told non-Christians that our work was all about them--not so much in words, but by our actions as we used music styles, building designs, multimedia and other tools to draw them in.
In essence, the attractional model of ministry told a lost world, "It's all about you--we'll do whatever it takes to get you to church." Why would we do that? So that they might hear the gospel and be saved. That part was good. Many did respond. They chose the closest church with "their style" of music, decor, children's programs, length of service, pastoral personality, etc. They looked at finding a church like they might choose a restaurant for dinner....
But then, we expected them to "figure-out" that it REALLY wasn't about them, but that they were supposed to become sacrificial or service-oriented so that they could reach others and serve the community. It was a "bait-and-switch" method where after they "prayed the prayer," we told them, "Just kidding--it's really not about you. You have so serve, give, and evangelize your friends now."
Some of those new Christians did "make the switch." And, that's the good news. Still, my observation is that most did not. This is why many of our thousands of church plants failed and even those which survived often stagnated as the ultimate majority ceased to become outwardly-focused in lieu of what we often called, "the Holy Huddle." Small groups became interested in preserving "Us four...no more!" Churches born from the church growth movement, even the megachurch models we all coveted and tried to emulate, eventually devolved into the very narcissistic, selfish shells the movement reviled at its genesis.
So, what shall we do now?
I think the core issue is discipleship. By this I DON'T mean the transfer of Bible knowledge to new believers. Rather I mean the making of "little Christ's" (the literal meaning/implication of the word disciple). I mean creating Christians who live, speak, act, think, and worship like Jesus. Then, instead of focusing on drawing-in non-Christians, we ought to focus on SENDING-OUT those true disciples to make more disciples. Isn't that the foundation of Matthew 28:19-20?
What might our churches look like if we took 30-40 core members and discipled them to the point that they TRULY believed that they were called to make other disciples--leading friends to Christ, baptizing them, and teaching them to do the same things for others? Could it be that they would bring those new converts to church to be built-up a la (Ephesians 4:11-16)? What if our time and resources were sent prepping and sending-out Christians versus finding creative ways to draw-in non-Christians? What might that look like? How many more might be saved and matured as believers?
I pray we have a chance to find out as more and more churches make this change....
To that end,